Nineteen Eighty-four, viewed through the lens of gender politics
A personal note
I first read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four in its titular year, the year I turned 13. It’s a good book to read young, and to keep returning to as you age, because it’s a text that ages with you. I’ve re-read it more than a dozen times and, every single time, I’ve found a new aspect of the book that I didn’t fully appreciate previously.
Also, as we will see, events in the real world change the way the story can be viewed, often tempting one to wonder if Nineteen Eighty-four was prophetic or has provided a template for totalitarianism. The answer is more the former than the latter. Orwell was a socialist, highly critical of both the far-left and the far-right, and had enough experience of both to see where their methods overlapped and the one became indistinguishable from the other. He was, after all, the original Blairite.
The purpose of this essay isn’t to suggest some shadowy gender organisation is diligently working their way through the novel, applying the techniques that were only a step or two ahead of those Orwell had seen in real life, but rather that Orwell had already seen how those with an ideology could come to see it as the only thing in the world with any meaning and, from there, reason that any methods used in its name were justified.
Nor do I want to get too drawn into mere superficial similarities, such as saying that both the ruling party in Nineteen Eighty-Four and the gender supporters want to eliminate sex. It’s true, in both cases, except the latter wishes to remove sex as a biological classification, whereas the former wants to eliminate the sex act itself (ironically, of course, by 1984 they would have had the means to do so, but Orwell didn’t foresee test-tube babies, and settled for reducing the sex act to an annual, loveless, formality).
Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. The sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card. We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now.Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 3, Chapter 3
The closest Orwell gets to the current meaning of eliminating sex is with honorifics, rather than pronouns.
‘Mrs’ was a word somewhat discountenanced by the Party–you were supposed to call everyone ‘comrade’–but with some women one used it instinctively.Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 1, Chapter 2
For the same reason it would be incorrect to draw sexcrime into the discussion. Again, that’s a reference to the sex act, rather than it being a crime to recognise that sex exists. The similarities between Orwell’s world and the gender wars is deep enough that we don’t need to dwell upon superficial similarities.
Finally, I do sometimes get asked why I write so much about trans people. In truth, I don’t think I have ever written about trans people. Why would I? My interest is only in the ideology and its methods, which I have argued against and mocked. Trans people have my best wishes. Their lives are their own, to live as they wish. When they, or more commonly people claiming to speak on their behalf, insist that the world adopt a secular religion, complete with all of the commandments, ahistorical stories and anti-scientific pronouncements of such, they infringe upon my freedom and the freedom of everyone who does not wish a religion imposed upon them.
This essay, then, is not about trans-people, it is about gender theory and ideology.
And, of course about Nineteen Eighty-four
About Nineteen Eighty-four
The story, in case you’re not familiar, is fairly slight. Winston Smith lives in dystopian 1984 London and works at the Ministry of Truth, altering old newspaper articles, so that they always reflect the current views of the ruling Inner Party. He begins an illicit affair with another ministry worker, Julia, and the two of them set up a love-nest in a rented room above an antiques shop. Together they join a covert organisation, dedicated to the overthrow of the party. They are arrested and the final third of the novel details Winston’s torture, within the Ministry of Love.
The birth through death of Winston and Julia’s affair is just a mechanism for Orwell to take the reader on a tour of his own vision of totalitarianism. The first act of the book takes us through the details of everyday life on Airstrip One. Act two shows us how the lives of the inner party are different and, when Winston gets a copy of the book by Emmanuel Goldstein, the arch-enemy of the people, we get to see how the wider world works. The final act reveals the true motivations and methods of the party.
The novel has given the English language the terms Thought Police, Room 101, Big Brother, and, of course, the adjective Orwellian, almost all them misused every time they appear. That said, it’s hard not to have some grudging appreciation for the idiots promulgating the #1984IsHere hashtag, after Twitter removed Donald Trump’s account. The Party, you have to feel, would have loved Twitter. The idea that with a single keypress you could remove everything that a person had ever said, every photograph they’d shared, every link to every friend they’d made, everything they liked, would be irresistible to them. Twitter moderation is The Party’s wet dream.
And above all we do not allow the dead to rise up against us. You must stop imagining that posterity will vindicate you, Winston. Posterity will never hear of you. You will be lifted clean out from the stream of history. We shall turn you into gas and pour you into the stratosphere. Nothing will remain of you, not a name in a register, not a memory in a living brain. You will be annihilated in the past as well as in the future. You will never have existed.Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 3, Chapter 2
During the course of the novel, Oceania (the superpower bloc that contains Airstrip One, formerly the UK) changes alliances, and shifts from being allied with Eastasia to being at war with them. The change is instantaneous. Angry crowds tear down propaganda poster which claim that Eurasia is the enemy. Winston and his colleagues have to work flat out changing old newspaper articles, so that they now correctly identify Eastasia as the enemy. It is not sufficient to recognise that Oceania is now at war with Eastasia, Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.
Who controls the past controls the futureParty slogan, Nineteen Eighty-Four
From 1984 to the 21st century
At the start of December 2020 the actor formerly known as Ellen Page announced that they were a transgendered man, called Elliot. Within hours their IMDB and Wikipedia entries had been edited, to reflect this new reality, even when such edits were nonsensical at points where they clashed with reality.
Page also received recognition for his role in the film Hard Candy (2005), and won the Austin Film Critics Association’s Award for Best ActressWikipedia entry for Elliot Page (emphasis added)
From the point of Page’s announcement anybody suggesting that nothing material had changed, that Page was female, or ever had been female, would be guilty of misgendering them. To refer to Elliot as Ellen would be to deadname them, a term worthy of inclusion in the B vocabulary of Newspeak.
The B vocabulary consisted of words which had been deliberately constructed for political purposes: words, that is to say, which not only had in every case a political implication, but were intended to impose a desirable mental attitude upon the person using them. Without a full understanding of the principles of Ingsoc [English Socialism] it was difficult to use these words correctly. In some cases they could be translated into Oldspeak, or even into words taken from the A vocabulary, but this usually demanded a long paraphrase and always involved the loss of certain overtones. The B words were a sort of verbal shorthand, often packing whole ranges of ideas into a few syllables, and at the same time more accurate and forcible than ordinary language.
The B words were in all cases compound words […] always a noun-verb
No word in the B vocabulary was ideologically neutral. A great many were euphemisms.Nineteen Eighty-Four, Appendix: The principles of Newspeak
It’s staggering how well deadname fits Orwell’s rules. Aside from being a noun-verb compound word, with the stress equally on both syllables, it cannot be easily translated into Oldspeak (standard English). Deliberately calling someone by a name they formerly used, might be as close as it’s possible to get, but that fails to convey the ideological overtone that this is a malicious or hateful action. It is even euphemistic, given that as the old name is removed from records and official documents, even, in some cases, birth certificates, it becomes not the name of one who is dead, but one who never existed. People lifted from the stream of history.
As the appendix notes, as of 1984 no-one used Newspeak for their day-to-day communication, although its words and grammatical constructions were becoming more common. This is analogous to our current situation, where only a small percentage of the population would be comfortable with terms like misgender, deadname, cisnormative, or gender-fluid, and their ideological overtones are not yet fully integrated into the outgoing language…#1984IsNow
It would be easy to dismiss similarities between Orwell’s Newspeak and the terms of gender ideology as an amusing observation were it not for two things. Firstly, how closely one mimics the other. Indeed, it takes only a few word changes, and a loss of none of the sense to turn Orwell’s essay into a discussion of the current language of genderism. Second is how not just important but fundamentally intrinsic to Orwell’s vision of totalitarianism the use of language is. The language is not designed to simply describe the world, but to enforce a particular worldview, to make any argument against that view literally impossible, even to curb the limits of thought, by denying heretical thoughts a form in language.
Trans women are womenPopular nonsense
Newspeak even has a word for forcibly preventing oneself from thinking anything heretical. Crimestop.
CRIMESTOP means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. CRIMESTOP, in short, means protective stupidity.Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 2, Chapter 9
Look through any on-line debate on gender and you’ll see crimestop in action and you’ll see crimestop everywhere someone, almost always a woman, is being polite but firm. Crimestop is the sudden block, the “Muting you now,” response, it’s in the ever-popular “Shut the fuck up, terf” graphic and, indeed, in every other insult and threat thrown out there. Why does crimestop exist in Orwell’s world? Why has it become such a motif on Twitter? Because gender ideology shares what Orwell called the special feature of Ingsoc…the denial of reality.
We know about this denial of reality from relatively early on in the novel. One of the novel’s most famous lines comes towards the end of chapter 7, The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential, command. Orwell, however, tricks us into believing this is simple lying, for political purposes.
For example, the Ministry of Plenty’s forecast had estimated the output of boots for the quarter at 145 million pairs. The actual output was given as sixty-two millions. Winston, however, in rewriting the forecast, marked the figure down to fifty-seven millions, so as to allow for the usual claim that the quota had been overfulfilled. In any case, sixty-two millions was no nearer the truth than fifty-seven millions, or than 145 millions. Very likely no boots had been produced at all. Likelier still, nobody knew how many had been produced, much less cared. All one knew was that every quarter astronomical numbers of boots were produced on paper, while perhaps half the population of Oceania went barefoot. And so it was with every class of recorded fact, great or small. Everything faded away into a shadow-world in which, finally, even the date of the year had become uncertain.Nineteen Eighty-Four, Chapter 4
Our first indication that the underpinnings of Oceania aren’t so aligned with our own political expectations comes in Part 2 of the book where, through Winston, we get to read part of Goldstein’s banned book. Goldstein tells us that the constant war between the three superpowers, with ever-shifting alliances, isn’t a struggle for survival, or a battle to protect borders, and that there is, in truth, no real differentiation between the three ideologies. Instead, it suits each of the three to have war continue indefinitely, with no prospect of any power being defeated, or of defeating the other two. War is desirable because it provides a cause to rally the people, it allows endless production without ever raising standards, it delivers an excuse to give for The Party doing whatever it must do.
Yet it is within the Inner Party, the very people who understand that the war is a sham, that Goldstein tells us that we find those most convinced that the war is a necessity. The people who understand best that it cannot, and should not, be won are those most convinced that it will end with Oceania triumphant.
In the gender-wars we see the same thing. Those who must be reminded every single day that they are not who they claim to be are the most adamant that they are, and that the rest of the world is mistaken. The people who fundamentally understand that no amount of validation will make them as they wish to be are the ones who fight hardest for more validation.
The war is eternal because it can never be won. Just as no external force can conquer any of Orwell’s super-blocs, so no external force can deliver to trans people what they think they want. Oceania is at war with itself and the trans-rights movement is at war with the irreconcilable dichotomy at its own heart, TERFs are just the people who remind them they can’t possibly win such a battle.
In his capacity as an administrator, it is often necessary for a member of the Inner Party to know that this or that item of war news is untruthful, and he may often be aware that the entire war is spurious and is either not happening or is being waged for purposes quite other than the declared ones: but such knowledge is easily neutralized by the technique of DOUBLETHINK. Meanwhile no Inner Party member wavers for an instant in his mystical belief that the war is real, and that it is bound to end victoriously, with Oceania the undisputed master of the entire world.Nineteen Eight-Four, Part 2, Chapter 9
Doublethink is Orwell’s term for being able to hold two, or more, contradictory ideas as being simultaneously true. It is to believe what you are told without question. To use crimestop to prevent oneself from noticing the glaring logical inconsistencies that arise. It’s tempting to think of this as akin to cognitive dissonance, but that recognises that the mind is conflict by contradictory facts, doublethink implies no such mental torture and, rather, a straightforward acceptance that mutually exclusive statements can both be true.
How else would we see doctors and scientists insist that transwomen are women, while carrying out jobs that require them to know that they are not; that there are differences between the sexes and that sex cannot be changed, except at a superficial level.
Until the final act of Nineteen Eighty-Four it’s still possible for the reader to believe that they are still seeing ‘normal’ political lying, that those in a position of power tell untruths to keep themselves there and deny knowing any different. The events after Winston’s arrest undermine that view.
At first he is merely tortured, interrogated, forced to confess to crimes real and imagined, but then, a physical and emotional wreck, he is delivered to O’Brien.
‘I am taking trouble with you, Winston,’ he said, ‘because you are worth trouble. You know perfectly well what is the matter with you. You have known it for years, though you have fought against the knowledge. You are mentally deranged. You suffer from a defective memory. You are unable to remember real events and you persuade yourself that you remember other events which never happened. Fortunately it is curable. You have never cured yourself of it, because you did not choose to. There was a small effort of the will that you were not ready to make. Even now, I am well aware, you are clinging to your disease under the impression that it is a virtue.Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 3, Chapter 2
In modern terminology we’d call this gaslighting, and it has been a major weapon in the arsenal of those supporting gender ideology. An exhaustive list of the outright fabrications used by the genderist would, indeed, be exhausting, but one doesn’t have to delve very far into the debate before one is assaulted by notions that society has always recognised that there is no real difference between men and women, or that the idea that there are two sexes is a relic of racist colonialism, or that differences in sporting performance between males and females is down to women not trying hard enough.
O’Brien, who merely wants Winston to believe that he never saw an incriminating photograph, starts to look like a bit of an amateur at this.
As O’Brien continues, however, we find that his aims go beyond this. He believes that The Party – the dominant ideology he represents – control reality, that there is no reality beyond how the collective perceives it, and that The Party control that perception and, therefore, controls reality. Winston is not an enemy because he opposes The Party, he is an enemy because he refuses to accept the reality that the orthodoxy mandates.
You preferred to be a lunatic, a minority of one. Only the disciplined mind can see reality, Winston. You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right. You also believe that the nature of reality is self-evident. When you delude yourself into thinking that you see something, you assume that everyone else sees the same thing as you. But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external.Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part3, Chapter 2
It is during this conversation that Winston assures us that O’Brien is not a hypocrite, is not pretending, that he truly believes every word he says. This goes beyond even religious belief. Every religion since the dawn of time has had to deal with non-believers. While it has certainly not always been the case that religions have been tolerant of heretics Ingsoc goes beyond that. It even goes beyond the fundamentalist view that non-believers must be killed. Instead, Ingsoc and The Party, seeks total and absolute conversion to their worldview.
Did I not tell you just now that we are different from the persecutors of the past? We are not content with negative obedience, nor even with the most abject submission. When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will. We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us: so long as he resists us we never destroy him. We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him. We burn all evil and all illusion out of him; we bring him over to our side, not in appearance, but genuinely, heart and soul. We make him one of ourselves before we kill him. It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be. Even in the instant of death we cannot permit any deviation.Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part3, Chapter 2
This is where Ingsoc and genderism finally meet in both their methods and objectives, for genderism can also tolerate no dissent. Gender ideology styles itself as a civil rights movement, but unlike any such movement before it demands that all conform to its view of reality. It, like The Party, advocates that reality is not some external, measurable and observable phenomena, but a product solely of the human mind, that if a man believes he has become a women, and all around him agree that this has happened, then it is the truth.
‘But how can you control matter?’ he burst out. ‘You don’t even control the climate or the law of gravity. And there are disease, pain, death—-‘
O’Brien silenced him by a movement of his hand. ‘We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull. You will learn by degrees, Winston. There is nothing that we could not do. Invisibility, levitation–anything. I could float off this floor like a soap bubble if I wish to. I do not wish to, because the Party does not wish it. You must get rid of those nineteenth-century ideas about the laws of Nature. We make the laws of Nature.’Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 3, Chapter 3
Much earlier, in the first part of the book, Winston had written in his illicit diary that, Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows. Winston, and Orwell’s, point here is that if you are allowed to express even something so simple as child’s arithmetic as being true then that provides a foundation on which further truths can be built.
Through torture O’Brien first makes Winston lie that 2+2=5, then breaks him to the point where he no longer knows and, finally, drugs him, so that he sees 5 fingers held up in front of him, when he knows that there are only four. Winston inadvertently drew a line in the sand with his comment and created a fact from which O’Brien, on behalf of The Party, must distance him.
The same spirit can be seen in the rapid territory gains made by the gender movement. Despite their oft repeated claim that transgender people have been around throughout history, even 10 years ago it would have been entirely uncontroversial to say men are male, women are female. Five years ago it would have been equally untroubling to say that males and females are biologically different. Through as much torture as they can muster, normally in the form of threats and bullying, the most vocal supporters have changed that.
Through these tactics an artifice has been built that the gender-ideological view is the only correct and inclusive one. This ignores that it is based on complete fabrication and strongly seeks to exclude those who disbelieve in it.
As with Winston and O’Brien, both sides claim that the facts on their side.
‘But the whole universe is outside us. Look at the stars! Some of them are a million light-years away. They are out of our reach for ever.’
‘What are the stars?’ said O’Brien indifferently. ‘They are bits of fire a few kilometres away. We could reach them if we wanted to. Or we could blot them out. The earth is the centre of the universe. The sun and the stars go round it.’
Winston made another convulsive movement. This time he did not say anything. O’Brien continued as though answering a spoken objection:
‘For certain purposes, of course, that is not true. When we navigate the ocean, or when we predict an eclipse, we often find it convenient to assume that the earth goes round the sun and that the stars are millions upon millions of kilometres away. But what of it? Do you suppose it is beyond us to produce a dual system of astronomy? The stars can be near or distant, according as we need them. Do you suppose our mathematicians are unequal to that? Have you forgotten doublethink?’Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 3, Chapter 3
O’Brien’s view of science exactly mirrors that of genderism; science is not a process of discovery, based upon fact, it is something to be shaped to meet an ideological outcome. This can be seen in the many, many discussions of genetic or sexual disorders, which are being used to suggest that the scientific consensus is that sex is a spectrum. This, in turn, is used to say that the human world is not as straight-cut as being split into males and females.
The argument runs; Some people do not have XX or XY chromosomes ∴ sex is a spectrum ∴ males and female are the same, except that none of the conclusions follow naturally from the previous statement because what we’re seeing is not science, but the language of science being used to purely ideological means, as if trying to prove that the stars are both near and distant, depending upon requirements.
There is a story (I hope apocryphal) that the mathematician Euler, when debating an atheist, asserted, “Sir, (a+bn)/n=x, therefore God exists, answer please.” His opponent, Diderot, was no mathematician and was well aware of Euler’s prominence that field, and so could do nothing but concede the point. The story is sometimes presented as proof of Euler’s genius, but it is a trick no more capable of winning a debate than switching to a language that your opponent does not speak, or whispering your point too quietly for them to hear and refute. Worse than those options, though, it is a deception that has, at its heart, an appeal to authority, the very antithesis of science.
These days, O’Brien’s line, Do you suppose our mathematicians are unequal to that?, brings to mind that story and the current gender debate. In which people who have taken the gender ideology side of the debate present facts in the hopes of brow-beating those who are gender-critical, rather than because those facts have led them to a conclusion.
Yet this is the very core of both Ingsoc and gender ideology – what O’Brien calls collective solipsism – where a minority assert that they define reality for the majority and are self-perpetuating, in that only those who share their worldview are allowed to speak on behalf of that minority.
Where does it all end?
O’Brien famously tells Winston that if he wants an image of the future then he should imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever. After that he goes on to give Winston a more detailed description of what’s coming.
‘And remember that it is for ever. The face will always be there to be stamped upon. The heretic, the enemy of society, will always be there, so that he can be defeated and humiliated over again. Everything that you have undergone since you have been in our hands–all that will continue, and worse. The espionage, the betrayals, the arrests, the tortures, the executions, the disappearances will never cease. It will be a world of terror as much as a world of triumph. The more the Party is powerful, the less it will be tolerant: the weaker the opposition, the tighter the despotism. Goldstein and his heresies will live for ever. Every day, at every moment, they will be defeated, discredited, ridiculed, spat upon and yet they will always survive.’O’Brien to Winston, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 3, Chapter 3
What’s interesting is the need for The Party to be against something, and that this something – in this case Goldstein’s heresies – is something that they entirely control and have created for themselves.
In the real world, gender activists have declared themselves against transphobia, the definition and boundaries of shift ever outwards. They are fond of telling us that they are the most oppressed minority, and the exact nature of this oppression shifts all of the time. Activists are fond of claiming that transwomen have been using female facilities for decades, seemingly without ever questioning why that status quo shifted.
It shifted, of course, when simultaneously the bar to be considered trans was lowered and the idea arose that to make any distinction between transwomen and women was transphobia. This, however, has become their power move. The more they push for new rights the more people oppose them, and so the more that they can demonstrate that transphobia is rife to law-makers and those with a desire to be “progressive”.
They complain endlessly about TERFs, yet they create TERFs, they define them, and they need them. The difference is that in Orwell’s world Goldstein was subjected only to 2 minutes of hate per day, whereas those denounced as TERFs can find it a distinctly 24/7 affair.
For Winston the story is nearly over. After his sessions with O’Brien he tries to bring himself to agree with The Party, to share its ideology.
He set to work to exercise himself in crimestop. He presented himself with propositions–‘the Party says the earth is flat’, ‘the party says that ice is heavier than water’–and trained himself in not seeing or not understanding the arguments that contradicted them. It was not easy. It needed great powers of reasoning and improvisation. The arithmetical problems raised, for instance, by such a statement as ‘two and two make five’ were beyond his intellectual grasp. It needed also a sort of athleticism of mind, an ability at one moment to make the most delicate use of logic and at the next to be unconscious of the crudest logical errors. Stupidity was as necessary as intelligence, and as difficult to attain.Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 3, Chapter 4
He has reached the point where he accepts that The Party cannot be defeated, his only hope of freedom from them is to have a final, unspoken, hatred of Big Brother swell in his mind, in the moment that they finally shoot him.
O’Brien, of course, has already planned for this, and takes even that hope of freedom away from Winston.
The novel closes with Winston’s only moment of true happiness, as he finally realises his love for Big Brother, and daydreams about them shooting him now, while is mind is perfect.
In the here and now we find many people – predominantly women – where Winston is at the start of the novel. Keeping their heads down, faking conformity, even fermenting thoughts that, through PeakTrans, the proles will rebel and overthrow the Inner Party. The rest of the novel is yet to be written, we can still yet create a happier ending for them.
DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER (whatever he identifies as)!