The Misogyny in George Orwell’s 1984 Disturbed Me More Than Big Brother

With the Trump administration and advent of “alternative facts,” there’s been a lot of renewed interest in classic dystopian fiction. At the forefront is George Orwell’s 1984, which was one of Goodread’s most read books in January and recently shot to Amazon’s best-seller list. I’ve had it on my shelf for years, lauded by many of my trusted friends as one of the greatest of all time. What the hell, I figured. I’ll jump on the bandwagon.

Most of you are familiar with the plot. In fact, I think I’m one of the only people left in the world who hadn’t read it, so I’ll spare you the plot details and will not be shy of spoilers.

You’ve probably seen this meme on Facebook.

1984 was meant to be a warning, not a guide

Which is funny, because the last 100 pages of the book pretty much read like a guide to me.

Orwell’s dystopia of thought control and the robbery of privacy is every bit as bleak and worrying as expected. Was I unsurprised? Unimpressed? I don’t know. I wasn’t shocked. But I am reading it nearly 70 years after its publication date. There is no doubt in my mind that this novel shook the world when it was released, and influenced every novel in the genre to come.

Is it really relevant though? If anything, it’s the opposite of relevant. As much as Trump is trying to emulate “2×2=5” with “alternative facts”, what’s happening now is evidence that 1984 will never happen. He says he had the largest inauguration ever, and the internet blows up with photos to prove the contrary. He brings up his penis size in a Presidential debate, and statues appear all over the country proving the contrary.

People. We live in the internet age. We have fact checkers. No one is buying it. The government lies, and whistle blowers go off in every direction. We have instant, opposing eye witness accounts on Trump’s weapon of choice – Twitter. Is Trump’s Twitter megaphone going anywhere? I think not.

I repeat, 1984 will never happen.

Want to know what was actually disturbing about 1984? THE MAIN CHARACTER.

Winston

Holy shit, why doesn’t anyone ever talk about how horrifyingly misogynistic this novel is?

Winston is casually described as a man that “disliked nearly all women, and especially the young and pretty ones.” He describes his ex-wife as having “without exception the most stupid, vulgar, empty mind that he had ever encountered” and “there was no imbecility, absolutely none, that she was not capable of swallowing.” To make matters worse, she has the audacity to make him have bad sex with her! If only he could have “a woman of his own”.

Manic Pixie Dream Girl comes along and agrees to have lots of sex with him. For pillow talk, he tells her how he fantasized about murdering his wife. In response, Little Miss Pixie Dream puts on some make up and prances around exclaiming how exciting is it to look like a real woman! She even put on perfume! Winston is very impressed by the transformation, and will not be killing this one any time soon.

When cardboard cut out girl asks him what he first thought about her, he answers,

‘I hated the sight of you,’ he said. ‘I wanted to rape you and then murder you afterwards. Two weeks ago I thought seriously of smashing your head in with a cobblestone.’

WHAT IN THE ACTUAL FUCK.

And she laughs. She laughs! As if this is a perfectly normal thing to think when meeting a woman.

You guys, I can’t even with this. How is this never brought up? I’m seriously stunned at the amount of feminist friends I have who’ve recommended this book.

Some could argue that it’s a product of its time, blah blah, this was normal. Okay, sure, but does that mean I should enjoy it? I mean, the old people who we’re mad at for voting Trump in are also a product of their time. A huge reason so many are unhappy with Trump is because he has exactly the same views of women as Winston. This is not okay.

It would be one thing if this were presented as a character flaw, and Julia challenged him on it. Instead, the bigger of a jerk he is, the more Julia falls in love. It wasn’t a flaw in Winston’s character, it’s an author fantasy bleeding into the story.

Remember: We are supposed to identify with Winston. He represents us.

My position is that 1984 is not a novel. 1984 is an essay, in every respect. From Oceania, to Big Brother, to the 100 pages of The Book you’re subjected to. These are all metaphors for things Orwell saw or feared in the real world. The characters and plot are simply vehicles to his conclusions on government, privacy, and language. If this is the case for these things, then it is also the case for misogyny.

Winston or Orwell? Is there really any difference?

Winston or Orwell? Is there really any difference?

I have no problem with the existence of a misogynistic character, because people are flawed and we shouldn’t shy away from dealing with issues like that. By all means, present the viewpoint and deal with it. What I have a problem with is the viewpoint being preached at me. I have a problem when a story either assumes I feel the same way, or tries to persuade me into it.

Most disappointing of all, is that 1984 hardly deals with this totalitarian rule. A majority of the book is spent in either Winston’s room, at his work, or in their hideout. Kristen Stewart, who’s starring in an upcoming adaptation of 1984, described it as, “an epic love story.” While I disagree with her use of the word epic, I can’t argue with her. 1984 is a love story. It’s a story about a man who hates women until he finds the ever-elusive one. They just happen to live in Oceania.

Winston & Julia

After a bunch of torture, Winston finally betrays Julia… only to find that Julia had already betrayed him, a long time ago. Was this the entire point? No matter how much sex the girl will have with you, she’s still a girl and will stab you in the back?

Maybe I just don’t get it, but Big Brother didn’t frighten me half as much as the main character did. Fans of 1984, you can have this dystopia.

I’ll pass.

1984

2.6

Characters

1.0/10

Story

1.0/10

World Building

7.0/10

Pace

2.0/10

Ending

2.0/10

The Good

  • It inspired a lot of great dystopian fiction.

The Bad

  • Characters are vehicles for the author thesis.
  • So misogynistic that it is unreadable.
  • Less of a story than an essay.
  • Classic novel, so you are going to make yourself read it anyway!

8 Responses

  1. Kim Wells says:

    I’m 60 pages into 1984 and was wondering if anyone agreed with me that the misogynistic elements and distasteful main character both make the book unreadable. I googled Was George Orwell a misogynist. Bloody hell.

    Thanks for helping me feel ok about putting this one down.
    Your article was way more enjoyable and relatable than this ‘classic’.

    • Germ says:

      Glad I’m not the only one!

    • lily says:

      Hi Kim, I am currently reading this book at school and it is utterly disgusting the way George Orwell portrays Winston Smith. He describes women like objects and makes Julia sound manipulative. Totally misogynistic if you ask me! There is no respect for women in this book at all.

  2. Ian Blanding says:

    This is beyond the dumbest thing I have ever read in my entire life.

  3. S Roman says:

    I’d say the first example is justified, I took it to mean more that his former wife was another one of the empty headed drones milling about, and she was if you paid close attention.

    Furthering on what you wrote about the wife and then about Julia as well, tell me that at no point in your life have you ever immorally coveted a woman (or man you do you) in your head. Doesn’t mean you acted upon it. We all have corrupt thoughts from time to time and that is the point.

    It isn’t a normal thing to think when you see a woman either, what Winston had, but this isn’t an ordinary meeting and not an ordinary occurrence. If you suspected a man or woman of wanting nothing more than to sell you out to secret police, you’d be wanting to do horrible things to them too.

    Finally, I think it’s unfair that you dismiss the entire rest of the story as subpar because of some pre-concieved notion or interpretation you have of a character.

  4. John Morgan says:

    Re-read it, and the first thing I did was type ‘Orwell and misogyny’ into a search engine. Turns out I’m not the only one who felt like this about it. Orwell had always bothered me in other regards, but re-reading this now I’m older, the main thing that stood out was exactly what you have described here.

  5. Danielle says:

    I do agree with you, and yes, the misogyny is frustrating, but 1984 is still a well-written and interesting book. Im a feminist and eventually did grow to like the book a bit more after it initially disappointed me with the sexism. The reason it didn’t offend me too much is because it was written a long time ago; the beliefs of a man in the 1940s intimidates me as much as 18th century doctors thinking blood-letting actually works. I simply don’t feel any strong emotional bond to an old work of literature or film. But at the same time it’s important that we acknowledge bigotry from older pieces of media and not completely dismiss the piece of media or ignore its bigotry.

Leave a Reply