Feminism in George Orwell’s 1984

Orwell identifies lust, love, friendship, sex/orgasms and family to be what makes us human and therefore what the Party must destroy. Orwell displays a lot of liberalism here: he sees no hierarchy between lust and love (Winston’s encounter with a sex worker and with Julia are favourably compared to sex with his wife. His later love for Julia is not presented as superior to her earlier lust for him).

Nor does Orwell see any preferred types of family. But in 2013 nuclear families are given the highest status and young and single parent families the lowest. Most governments try to control family life and sex, from the Nazis to Republicans and our own government’s tax allowance for married but not non married couples. The Party tried to split up couples so people would be loyal only to the government and not spouses while our present government tries to push people into marriage and keep them from divorcing so that the government’s conservative moral values will be preserved against our will and against the best interests of families.

Orwell thinks that laws stop the government from oppressing us or at least limit the oppression. We tend to think that with no law there can be no crime. But Orwell thinks that without any laws anything can be a crime. Any sex that the government does not approve of is a sex crime in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Similarly sex outwith marriage is criminalised in Dubai, cheating is criminalised in Iran and sex work is criminalised in most American states and criminalised for purchasers but not service providers in Sweden.

Orwell appears to have understood that rape is violence and not sex long before feminists brought this to public attention. Orwell presents Winston as fantasising about raping and murdering Julia because he hates her and because she is celibate. He doesn’t victim blame Julia for being slutty or wearing revealing clothes. In the contrary it is her celibacy and political ideas which make him want to rape her. She wears the same uniform he does. This was long before the SlutWalks so it’s very impressive that Orwell was so reasonable and understanding.

Julia is also a very ‘slutty’ character for the era in which Orwell wrote. She pursues Winston, has had many lovers since she was 16, only wants casual relationships and works fast, succeeding in sleeping with Winston almost immediately after they’re alone. But Orwell never suggests she is dirty or worth less because she enjoys sex. Instead Winston seems to admire her more because she is confident enough to do what she wants instead of submitting to the sexual repression of the government. Orwell never suggests that ‘sluts’ deserve to be raped or can’t be raped – an attitude which clearly survives to this day.

Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia are clearly the same state under the same government. This is hinted at numerous times (Julia’s comments that the government itself is firing the rockets and doubts about whether the war is real). Doubts about the realness of Goldstein and the Brotherhood were proved right which seems to suggest that other doubts might be right too. The three states share the same ideology, social system and level of technology. They are three parts of a world government which continuously fakes a war to control its subjects.

The world government swaps round the fake alliances to weed out and identify citizens who can’t do doublethink. Orwell could have been hinting that ideologies or groups which seem very different from each other can oppress the citizen in the same way. Personally it is my belief that a Christian or Muslim theocracy and a radical feminist government would all oppress women and deny freedom of speech and sexual expression in similar ways. Obviously this wasn’t what Orwell was writing about and I’ve no idea if he’d agree with me but the principle is the same.

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9 thoughts on “Feminism in George Orwell’s 1984

  1. Jeff Griffith November 3, 2013 at 12:26 am Reply

    “Personally it is my belief that a Christian or Muslim theocracy and a radical feminist government would all oppress women and deny freedom of speech and sexual expression in similar ways”. I completely agree.

    War is Peace
    Freedom is slavery
    Ignorance is strength
    Feminism is equality

    “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

    Feminism is the Party
    Men are Goldstein
    newspeak words like “patriarchy”, “privilege”, “problematic”, etc…Object to narrow the range of thought. “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”
    The Party tries to destroy the family as radical feminism does. No biology only culture.
    Thoughtcrime – see UofT feminists Warren Farrell (“we don’t tolerate that kind of thought here”) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iARHCxAMAO0
    compare with: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vvvPZd6_D8

    “They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal.”

    “And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

    “2 + 2 = 5” patriarchy

  2. Gaius Baltar September 8, 2014 at 3:22 pm Reply

    This is fascinating.

    I’ve started suspecting that mainstream feminism IS the backlash against women’s liberation, a sort of internalized misogyny addicts club that convinces women they are universally hated and that the world revolves around making them suffer for the sake of suffering.

    It serves to identify the women who are chafing against the traditional feminine role, and put a hamster wheel under them that shifts around the reasons for their compliance without asking them to alter their behavior (basically, using feminism to pinkwash capitalism, heteronormativity and white supremacy).

    A radical feminist could probably explain the internalized misogyny in pop feminism better than I could.

  3. markpostgate October 21, 2015 at 5:33 am Reply

    Have you been following the Annie Teriba story. This statement from her accusers is Orwellian:

    https://web.archive.org/web/20151021030515/http://niiwdel.tumblr.com/

    Three times she is forced to rewrite her confession. The accusers only decide to let her drop the word “rape” because they are informed that if she includes it the police will get involved. They’re forcing her to make a public confession but they won’t let law enforcement get involved because then Teriba might actually get a trial!

    Is this not some scary shit?

  4. Ham Burger April 1, 2016 at 7:32 pm Reply

    I would counter argue some points in this article.
    Oceania is the state they are in. They are always friends with one state and enemies with another East Asia and Eurasia and must constantly rewrite history to justify this. To be able to understand double think one of the main motifs to propell major themes of psychological controll.
    To say that clearly they are the same state is COMPLETELY UNSUPPORTED in the book.
    Also Julia is not dressed the same as Winston. When he first sees her protesting in the Junior Anti Sex League . She is wearing a Scarlett red sash around her waist.
    Also Winstons despising her is a result of years of sexual repression which according to Orwell is done by government policies that make men and women enemies. Like offering cash rewards to women who leave their child’s father.
    Winston was never married in the book either . Don’t know where ya got that from.

    • Millicent October 13, 2016 at 9:44 am Reply

      Yeah he was married, it mentioned it. Her name was Katherine but he despised her so they went their separate ways.
      ‘”Winston’s wife. She was a tall, fair-haired girl, and, according to Winston, remarkably vulgar and stupid. Technically, he is still married to her, though they’ve lost track of each other. They parted ways about ten or eleven years before, after only fifteen months of marriage, when they realized that she could not get pregnant by him. The Party has declared that the only reason for marriage is procreation, and in fact it is illegal to have sex simply for pleasure. Therefore, there was no reason for Winston and Katharine to stay together. The Party does not believe in divorce, just separation, so Winston and Katharine just sort of drifted apart.'”

  5. AlayiaRehila April 6, 2016 at 12:34 pm Reply

    Hi, I’ve been reading through your article on feminism in 1984, and it’s really good. I am currently writing an essay on the way female identity is shown in 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale, and I wondered if I would be able to use ‘Orwell never suggests she is dirty or worth less because she enjoys sex. Instead Winston seems to admire her more because she is confident enough to do what she wants instead of submitting to the sexual repression of the government’ as a quote in my own essay? I think that it would be perfect for my argument, especially since I need a feminist literary criticism quote. I would of course reference this article in my essay.
    Thank you
    Alayia

    • Slutocrat April 22, 2016 at 12:07 am Reply

      Sorry for the late reply, Alayia, and thanks for commenting. Of course you may quote this blog. Good luck with your essay!

      Slutocrat

      • AlayiaRehila April 24, 2016 at 7:52 pm

        Thank you, I really appreciate it!
        Alayia

  6. monkeyjustice November 20, 2016 at 3:07 pm Reply

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