A review of Nancy Johnston’s “The Rendez-Vous: The True Story of Jeanetta (Netty) Wilcox” in Bending the Landscape: Science Fiction (The Overlook Press, 1999)
By Derek Newman-Stille
Nancy Johnston’s “The Rendez-Vous: The True Story of Jeanetta (Netty) Wilcox” is a wonderful feminist discourse on the tendency of men to overwrite the narrative and words of women. This is a story about erasure and the abduction of the female voice and the uncertainty of historical or narrative “truth”, particularly highlighting the way that narrative “truths” are often constructed in a gendered landscape.
Coached as a story that is nominally about abduction, Nancy Johnston’s science fiction short story points to the fiction of science and its constructed nature. The story is written as a report about the UFO abduction of Jeanetta (Netty) Wilcox. This report structure to the abduction narrative highlights the way that women’s words are mediated through others. The narrative is constructed as a “truthful” account, requiring the reader to read the obvious markers of assumption in the reporting of events in order to find Jeanetta’s actual narrative and her alternative vision of the occurrences that took place.
Jeanetta’s story is shaped through the perspective of her now ex husband Willard as he attempts to discern why she disappears every night and seems to be lethargic about all of the domestic duties that he thinks she should be conducting happily as his wife. He assumes initially that her concerns may be due to menopause, illustrating his own sexist reading of her body. Later, when he can’t find a method of making her less lethargic and disengaged, he seeks medical support and the doctors, supporting the notion that women should be happy to be relegated by patriarchal control to the domestic sphere, assume that they must be missing a medical problem with her and prescribe mild sedatives… which similarly do not stop her feelings of disengagement.
Never questioning the assumptions of patriarchy, Willard then latches on to the story of a UFO enthusiast that there have been alien visits to the area and tells his wife that she must be regularly getting abducted by aliens and forgetting her own experiences. The male voice here overrides her own and he and other males (doctors, journalists) seek to tell her what she “actually” experiences even over top of her own very direct denial of this. Her own observations are erased by people telling her that she has thrown up blocks to her own subconscious.
Although nominally an alien abduction narrative, “The Rendez-Vous” Johnston’s story is about the tendency of men exercising patriarchal power to override the voices of women and the likelihood that by ignoring women’s experiences and voices, they are going to miss the obvious and construct fallacies that reinforce their own power structures.
Women talk more than men, on average (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2281891/Women-really-talk-men-13-000-words-day-precise.html), but in contexts where status is at issue men dominate conversations (http://www.pbs.org/speak/speech/prejudice/women/ ) – just some interesting science to bring to the conversation.