My feminist politics is seemingly getting in the way of my enjoyment of time-honoured literature.
Yes, I’ve finally got around to reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. But, just 50 pages in, I’ve found myself driven to anger, on two separate occasions, by its gross misogyny. Now, when I complain about this sort of thing, my very dear and feminist-positive husband seems to think I’m getting worked up over nothing, or that, perhaps, I’m just too easily riled. It makes me wonder, am I overreacting? So I thought about it and came to the conclusion that, no, I am not. It’s a product of its time, yes I know; however, this doesn’t make its rape rhetoric any more palatable in the here-and-now, thank you very much.
“She was a bold-looking girl, of about twenty-seven, with thick dark hair, a freckled face and swift, athletic movements. A narrow scarlet sash, emblem of the Junior Anti-Sex League, was wound several times round the waist of her overalls, just tightly enough to bring out the shapeliness of her hips. Winston had disliked her from the very first moment of seeing her. He knew the reason. It was because of the atmosphere of hockey-fields and cold baths and community hikes and general clean-mindedness which she managed to carry about with her. He disliked nearly all women, and especially the young and pretty ones. It was always the women, and above all the young ones, who were the most bigoted adherents of the Party, the swallowers of the slogans, the amateur spies and nosers-out of unorthodoxy”,
is pretty bad. The narrator, Winston, dislikes this woman because of her seeming chastity and the fact that he’s made an assumption that all women are mindless zealots and general busy-bodies?
But it gets worse. During the Three Minutes’ Hate,
“Winston succeeded in transferring his hatred from the face on the screen to the dark-haired girl behind him. Vivid, beautiful hallucinations flashed through his mind. He would flog her to death with a rubber truncheon. He would tie her naked to a stake and shoot her full of arrows like Saint Sebastian. He would ravish her and cut her throat at the moment of climax. Better than before, moreover, he realized why it was that he hated her. He hated her because she was young and pretty and sexless, because he wanted to go to bed with her and would never do so, because round her sweet supple waist, which seemed to ask you to encircle it with your arm, there was only the odious scarlet sash, aggressive symbol of chastity”.
It was at this point where the crickets started chirping in my mind, so dumbstruck it was at the words it just read.
S-E-R-I-O-U-S-L-Y, Orwell? Not okay.
Now, I know George Orwell wasn’t dumb. I’m not dumb either. I know this is classic foreshadowing. But whatever the result of this foreshadowing is, I know that this language, these visuals, are gratuitous, excessive, unnecessary, unmerited, irresponsible.
Especially for a book that “haunts us with an ever-darker relevance” (Independent).
Yeah, it is relevant.
Loads of dick-bags like this narrator still walk our streets, thinking these things.
FEEL MY FEMINIST IRE, ORWELL, YOU TWAT!