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The Feminists

The Feminists by Parley J. CooperThe Feminists front
Pinnacle Books, 1971
Price I paid: $15

THE STORY THAT HAD TO BE WRITTEN—SO TIMELY, SO FRIGHTENINGLY POSSIBLE, YOU WON’T BELIEVE IT’S FICTION!

Take a look into the future…women now rule the world—or most of what’s left of it—and their world is not a pretty place to live in. Men have been reduced to mere chattel, good only for procreation. THE FEMINISTS are working to eliminate even this strictly male function…

Men must get permission to make love to any female—even if she is willing—or the penalty is death!

Follow one man’s story as he is hunted for just such a crime. In desperation, he stumbles upon the hide-out of the subterranean people—others, like himself—both male and female—who have broken the law of THE FEMINISTS. Hiding in abandoned subway undergrounds, this group of gallant and desperate people wage a guerilla war to overthrow their enslavers.


This week’s review is something special. For one, it was recommended to me by Joachim Boaz over at Science Fiction Ruminations, who I must add is crazy knowledgeable about science fiction and usually has something interesting to add in the comments section on my own reviews.

For another thing, I broke my barely-held rule about only spending a dollar on these books. See, back when Joachim first suggested the book to me, we scoured the Internet in an attempt to find it. Amazon, eBay, AbeBooks, none of them had it. A few weeks ago I just happened to remember the recommendation and gave a cursory glimpse at Amazon to see if maybe they had a copy. It turned out they did, and the book was just way too promising not to spend fifteen whole dollars on it.

It was totally worth it.

To start, this book is one of the most blatantly misogynistic things I’ve ever experienced. The women in charge of the world of The Feminists are depicted not only as fascists, but also as basically incompetent. Look at that cover. That woman is basically a Nazi. While not as outright pornographic as something like Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, there are definitely shades of that kind of thing here. Ilsa, incidentally, was made four years after this book was written, so I suppose we can’t cite that as an influence.

We meet the “hero” of the book, Keith Montalvo, as he is being hunted down by Feminist soldiers for the crime of having consensual sex with a woman. He’s hiding in an attic like some kind of really lame Anne Frank. His escape leads him to the lair of the Subterraneans, a group of terrorist men and women who are doing their level best to bring down the Feminist regime by blowing up buildings.

In the meantime, the mayor of New York has become concerned with the level of terrorism in her city. She’s decided that she needs a scapegoat to blame, somebody she can pin the whole thing on and then catch and kill so that the city will be pacified. She chooses, of course, Keith, based entirely on a picture of him she sees in a file on her desk for an unrelated reason. She bases her decision entirely on the complete dislike she feels for him upon looking at the picture.

And so begins a large part of the misogyny in this book. Mayor Fredericks, like many of the women in power in this novel, acts entirely according to her emotions. Rationality has no place in a woman’s world, apparently. Even the women that are fighting against the regime act that way. It’s infuriating.

Oh, one of the things that keeps coming up is the fact that women have a completely innate and instinctive fear of rats. At one point, while on the run from the authorities, the Subterraneans have to flee down to the sewers. The narration comments explicitly on this innate fear, and all the women just go to pieces. All because of the rats.

This bit of weirdness is taken to an extreme in the fact that the women are in fact reluctant to use the word rat. I mean, what’s up with that? I’ve known a lot of people, both men and women, who don’t like rats for some reason or another. My mom can’t stand them and would sooner burn the house down than have rats in it, but she’ll at least use the word.

As soon as Keith meets the Subterraneans he also meets a member of their group named Angela. He and Angela hit it off immediately. To a really stupid degree. She’s never even seen this guy before, for all she knows he could be some kind of spy or something, and she immediately starts swooning over him. If the non-feminist women in this book act like that, I’m all for the feminists.

Angela is, of course, utterly gorgeous and Keith is all about her, too. They never actually do the horizontal loco-motion, but you can tell they want to. Keith, of course, has already gotten into some deep doo-doo because he can’t keep it in his pants, so you’d think he’d be a little more critical about who he starts getting all puppydog over.

Because Keith is the protagonist and therefore immediately trustworthy and capable, they let him in on the plans they’re hatching for overthrowing the Feminist government. Their first goal is to assassinate the president. They know she’s coming to New York and that she intends to go see a play on October 1, that being the anniversary of the inauguration of the first woman president and the woman who started the whole world down the tubes.

Since when has inauguration day ever been on October 1? The book doesn’t say anything about the first woman president being put into office following the death of the previous president, so surely that’s not it. This is a pretty basic fact, author.

We don’t learn much about the first female president, unless it turns out that it’s the same female president who is presiding over the nation at the time the story takes place. The book takes place in the far future world of 1992, but it’s never explicitly stated when this whole revolution thing went down. It could have been very recently, I suppose. What we do know is that the Vietnam War ended when the first woman president and the first woman Soviet premier sat down over tea and crumpets and worked out a solution.

Tea and crumpets. Seriously.

When I read that, I seriously began to think that this book might possibly be satire. Poe’s Law might be in effect.

So the terrorist heroes decide to bomb the theatre with the president and several other top Feminist leaders inside. Keith is not invited to this particular party, since he would be immediately recognizable to everyone because he’s so masculine and handsome. Also he has a price on his head.

Keith’s job is to create a distraction (read: stay out-of-the-way) and blow up a supply train on the other side of town. I’m not sure what the terrorists were actually hoping to accomplish with this mission, but Keith succeeds but manages to get captured.

The bombs go off at the theatre but don’t manage to kill the president all the way. She loses an arm and she’s in critical condition and things in the administration begin to go haywire. Mayor Fredericks is also there, but her female intuition tells her what’s up and she manages to get her head down just before the first blasts, surviving unscathed.

All this serves to fuel her completely irrational hatred for a man she’s never met.

Keith is in prison and he’s being tortured. He is due to be executed publicly. Angela hears about it and goes all weepy and womanly for a while.

Angela’s backstory, incidentally, is that her mother was one of the original Feminists, working alongside the current president and Mayor Fredericks. Angela’s mother was unusual, however, in that following the revolution she decided to raise her own child at home. One of the first things the new regime did was create state boarding schools where children could be deposited without ever knowing their parents. Her father was a meek and mild man who catered to his wife’s every whim. Apart from women, this book really lambasts the “emasculated” men who just sat back and allowed the Feminist revolution to happen. Angela, however, has fond memories of her father and decided at an early age to go against the revolution her mother championed, and as such decided to become a terrorist.

The Subterraneans decide that the best way to risk their lives and rescue this almost total stranger who couldn’t avoid getting caught would be to break in to the mayor’s house, kidnap her, and demand Keith as ransom. Everyone seems to think this is a good idea, so that’s what they do.

Shocking twist, though, the mayor’s not at home when they get there! That whole exercise was for nothing! So they burn down her house.

Following the fire, it turns out that the only piece of the mayor’s belongings saved from the burning mansion was a chest of old memorabilia. Normally Mayor Fredericks wouldn’t consider herself a sentimental person, that being one of the female stereotypes she cast aside when she became a radical feminist, but in this case she decides to go through it and look at some pieces of her past and rise to power and so forth. One of the things she comes across is a picture of her ex-husband and the child she gave away to one of the state boarding schools as she was coming up in the world. This, of course, leads to the revelation that I saw coming from the very start of the book.

Keith is her son.

Her previous completely irrational outright hatred turns immediately to irrational outright adoration (a common theme in this book when it comes to Keith) and she rushes to the scene of the forthcoming execution, which is incidentally to be by guillotine. Her adoring public turns to a mob when she reveals that Keith was actually innocent of all wrongdoing and the entire thing was a sham. She forces Keith to escape and the point of view quickly switches to Angela listening to the thing raptly on the radio while the radio announcer relates to us that the mob has forced the mayor onto the guillotine and the book ends.

Ugh, not only was this book a pile of misogyny wrapped in “This could happen tomorrow!” but it also had a really unsatisfying ending. I was hoping Keith would get his head chopped off. It would be the only really noteworthy contribution to the narrative that he could provide.

So yeah, we’ve got your standard-issue useless protagonist, but I think in this case it’s especially egregious because the book keeps going on about how women can never seem to get anything done. See, they’re really well-suited to political intrigue and all that stuff, but the world is falling apart because the women can’t figure out how to shut the water off when the toilet is overflowing, am I right guys? On top of that, the book mocks the men who just sat back and let all this bad stuff happen. In the meantime you have Keith, ostensibly the hero of this book, who can only blindly wander into a Subterranean hideout, follow orders, get captured, and then get rescued. What kind of alpha male is he supposed to be?

I pointed out that the women in this book are considered incapable of running the world. While that’s mostly true, I was surprised by one bit of exposition. The narrator at one point cuts in that part of the reason the world is going to crap is because the women have to spend all their time, money, and energy in this constant struggle against men who wish to regain power. As a result the economy has gone to crap and the environment is completely shot. When this came up all I could think was “Is this guy being critical of the Cold War? Could the whole book be a commentary on global Communist revolution?”

And you know what? I think I’m going to stick with that. Yes, the book is almost completely an effort to hate on women, and in particular the Women’s Lib movement, but I actually think that that wasn’t the original basis of the book.

I think the book was an honest attempt to recast the American/Soviet relationship into a different set of terms in an effort to show its flaws and problems. This is a Cold War book, not an anti-woman book.

Now that I’ve said that, here’s where the problems lie. For one, if we’re equating women in this book with Communists, that’s bad. But also they act like Nazis, which isn’t all that surprising since in a lot of people’s minds at the time there was no difference between Communists and Nazis, despite them being completely incompatible viewpoints and in fact the Nazis persecuted Communists.

Since at the time of this writing the Communists were the worst of all possible enemies, casting women in the role of global revolutionaries is just a plain bad move.

I have decided not to think of this book as hate speech, but rather as stupid speech. I know those two things are usually inseparable, but there is a difference between them. I don’t think Parley J. Cooper necessarily hated women, he just had some really idiotic and outdated thoughts about them.

On the flip side of all that are the Subterraneans, I found it interesting that they weren’t fighting to regain male supremacy at all. They had both women and men fighting for the overthrow of the Feminist government, and it was made clear that they were fighting for equality. They explicitly said on multiple occasions that male dominance didn’t work for most of human history, but it became quickly clear that female dominance didn’t work either. The only real and sane option is true equality, not supremacy on either side. I find that interesting.

I also find it interesting that male dominance is presented as lasting most of the course of humanity, while it took female dominance a quick couple of years to collapse and fall. Again, not hatred, just stupidity.

Lastly, I want to point out some history that might make this whole debacle of a book have a bit more perspective. When we today think of the word feminist what we tend to think of is a person trying to fight for equal rights for women, whether in the workplace or the government or at home or whatever. It’s a pretty non-controversial viewpoint for a thinking person, and so the idea of a book decrying feminism as a Nazi-like man-hating world-ruining movement is just ludicrously offensive.

But allow me to quote Wikipedia on the nature of the radical feminist group from the time this book was written that called itself, simply, The Feminists:

According to Germaine Greer, it promoted not having leaders in society, “characterized men as the enemy,” considered “Love” to be “‘the response of the victim to the rapist'”, and believed that marriage as a “proprietary relationship” and uterine pregnancy would “no longer prevail.”

That, in a nutshell, describes the ruling women of this book.

The book isn’t about mainstream feminism from today or 1971. It’s about a very select radical revolutionary group that would have been in the headlines at the time this book was written.

So yes, the book isn’t actually as misogynistic as I thought it would be. God knows the front cover didn’t help with that perception. I mean, seriously, “Top dog is a bitch!”

I’m not saying this book is tolerable. It had a lot of mistakes beyond the stupid treatment of women. At one point it spelled pacifists as passivists. And it was very, very degrading to women. More than one woman was described as buxom. Which is to say that was the only way she was described. This book very definitely had a breast fetish.

But, all told, and I might pick up some flak for this, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.


9 Comments

  1. Joachim Boaz says:

    “The book isn’t about mainstream feminism from today or 1971. It’s about a very select radical revolutionary group that would have been in the headlines at the time this book was written.” — satires like this are hard to tackle. The exact position of the author is quite difficult to uncover. Do they really believe that radical elements of a group might take over? Or are they pointing out what will happen if they do to act as a foil for — in this case — perhaps some Communist take over or an ultra patriarchal society? Hmm.

    For example, I just read The Bridge by D. Keith Mano which satirized the radical elements of the environmental movement — i.e. a small group of people in the 60s/70s who actually said that we all need to die out to save the planet. I highly doubt he believed they would actually take over but he wanted to create a weird dystopic future.

    So, I guess the book fits rather well with your “schlock” theme? hehe.

    Like

  2. frankloon says:

    It’s a worthy landmark of the time. Unmistakably, a time travelling wanderer (…like me!) would immediately know where he stumbled through the tides of time.

    I know here I immediately recognized the good ol’ 70’s. I think I could suspect this book was made from the necessity of an author to make a point whatever the point may have been. It’s not very clever is what I’m getting at.

    Also, this could have been written 2 years ago as a reverse parody to the entire feminist movement. I mean: I wouln’t be able to tell them apart!

    Even to this day, crappy reused science fiction concepts and poor theme exploitation are destroying everything that’s nice and introspective about the genre. The vehicle that is SF isn’t carrying the message anymore… This book seems cheezy enough but somehow the essence of SF remains. Strange…

    Plus, the ridiculous way it is portrayed makes for a laugh-read, face-palming with joy through the pages. I’m seriously thanking you for the future fun read! :)

    Frank ” Marty McFly ” Loon

    Like

  3. Oh so it’s terrible to portray liberal feminists as nazis, but it’s a-ok to portray radical feminists as nazis? Typical liberal double standard.

    Like

  4. I want to rewrite this book!! I love trashy mental fiction and earlier sci fi. It would be nice to see female domination as separate from feminism.

    Like

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Notice this dystopia is set in “the Far Future of 1992″. Either it was compressing its future trying to put everything”Within YOUR Lifetime!” or adhering to the trope of the time that “Humanity WILL become extinct before 2000 via Inevitable Global Thermonuclear War”.

    And there was a lot of shlock on the SF paperback scene a few years each way of 1970. Ever heard of Runts of 61 Cygni C? “An alien world, twin to the sun, where one-eyed runts play endless games of sex.” Now THAT’s Shlocky!

    Like

  6. Sonya Heaney says:

    “I pointed out that the women in this book are considered incapable of running the world. While that’s mostly true”

    Are you trying to be funny, or do you really believe Stalin, Hitler, Napoleon and friends have done a better job than women could manage?

    Like

    • I’m afraid I didn’t make myself clear enough, and I apologize. I only meant that the women in this book were incompetent rulers, not that real life women are or would be. While Parley J. Cooper and his MRA buddies might be of the opinion that a matriarchal society would be a fate worse than a Fourth Reich Stalinist Taliban, I do not share that belief.

      Like

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