I am looking for gender theories that may be applicable to dystopian literature, in particular to Orwell's 1984 and Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Any suggestions? Thank you very much in advance.
Two approaches that explore gender and its role in these novels which can be applied very usefully to help understanding of the position of women concern the portrayal of women and in particular how they are treated and judged in these two dystopian novels. Firstly, consider the role of sex. Julia is a character who is judged and condemned because of her attitude to sex, in exactly the same way that Moira is. In two worlds where men try to control sex and make it purely functional rather than based on love and emotion, both Julia and Moira stand out through their determination to enjoy sex and to be sexual beings. Note what Julia says and her thinking why sex is so threatening to Big Brother:
When you make love you're using up energy; and afterwards you feel happy and don't give a damn for anything. They can't bear you to feel like that. They want you to be bursting with energy all the time.
Sex is dangerous to the Party precisely because of the way that it concerns the unpredictable arena of emotions and happiness, which is something that threatens the grip of power that Big Brother has over its citizens. In both texts, Moira and Julia are judged incredibly harshly by society at large because of their sexual appetite. The male-led leadership within society determines the vision of what a perfect woman should be like, and this invariably promotes chastity and monogamy. Any deviation from this norm is greeted with censure and disgrace. Katherine in 1984, Winston's wife, is shown to be a perfect woman in her society because of her attitude towards sex and how she viewed it both as repulsive but also necessary in order to have children.
Secondly, a literary theory concerning gender in these two novels relates to Atwood's own reasons for writing The Handmaid's Tale. Part of her inspiration for writing her dystopian classic was reading 1984 and being left with the desire to explore dystopia from "Julia's perspective." She argued that Julia is reported from a male gaze, and as a result is something of a flat character who displays characteristics that are slightly out of place with her gender. Such an approach argues that Julia is a character who is at heart, deeply selfish, and when push comes to shove, in the Ministry of Love, she betrays Winston and their relationship to avoid pain and to protect herself. She goes as far to say that she didn't "give a damn what he suffered" because she only cared about "myself." Atwood argued that this presentation of Julia fed into stereotypical ideas that men hold about women, and signifies the white, male readership that Orwell anticipated, and indeed his own thoughts and ideas. By contrast, Offred in Atwood's novel is a much more believable and psychologically developed female character, written from a woman's point of view.
Many times in a dystopian setting, females have been portrayed as taking on the role of an opponent of technology. This is a role that seems to have developed out of the percieved relationship between women and nature, which is prevalent in both Western and Eastern societies. As Jane Flax points out, "In the contemporary West, women are seen as the last refuge, not only from the 'heartless' world but an increasingly mechanized and fabricated one as well."
Even though the practice of equating women with nature can be considered an essensial piece of the complex puzzle of patriarchal thought meant to affirm gender differences, "criticism of technology has had an established place in feminist theory". On the other side of the coin, there seems to be a well understood connection between men and machines. One could argue that "the fall of man" is directly related to the man/machine destruction of the woman/nature aspect in society.