What is the role of gender in George Orwell's 1984?
The Party attempts to take the energies of the sex drive and channel them towards the Party itself. Paradoxically, women are both rendered sexless (dressed in overalls with no makeup and encouraged to wear the red chastity sashes around their waists) but also function as objects of desire. Winston, for example, feels rage toward Julia before he even knows her name, and he has a desire to physically harm her. His fantasies are unhealthy, and Winston releases these frustrated desires through rage at whatever enemy the Party presents during the Two-Minute Hate sessions.
I would argue, however, that gender is very important to the novel. Through the love he is able to develop for Julia, Winston regains his humanity. What begins as raw sexual desire for both partners develops into genuine caring, mutual support, and a desire to sacrifice for the other person. In a mid-twentieth century era of less complicated understanding of gender and gender roles, Orwell finds in the relationship between the two traditional genders (cis-male and cis-female) the foundation of what it means to be human.
Arguably, gender does not play an important role in 1984. The Party does not discriminate between the sexes. It wants complete control over and submission from every single Party member, regardless of their gender. Whether male or female, every Party member in Oceania is subject to the same level of control and manipulation. They all live under the constant watch of the telescreen, for example, and all must show their love for Big Brother.
The Party does, however, do as much as it can to prevent relationships between the sexes. Marriage, for example, is controlled by a special committee, and its sole purpose is procreation, not love. Again, this is an issue of control. The Party does not want people to form their own personal loyalties and attachments because this threatens their allegiance to Big Brother.
Gender, therefore, is not of great importance in the novel. Equality between the sexes exists to some degree in Oceania, but only because the Party wants to control everybody in equal measure.
Gender plays a big role in the success of the Party. Relationships between men and women are vastly different than what we know them to be. Women are taught from an early age that sex is wrong, dirty, and unnecessary. The Party has used the sexual impulses of the members and harnessed it into the Two Minutes Hate so that they can expel any urges. Marriage is not between a man and woman in love, it is between a man and woman who are absolutely not in love or attracted to one another sexually. It is a means of procreation. The Party does not promote any love except for the Love of Big Brother so that members' loyalty remains intact at all times. Women are completely equal in this society. The Party attempts to make gender a non-issue. There are even experimental plants where they are producing babies without the use of the mother and the womb so that sex will never be necessary again.
The Party attempts to make gender irrelevant. The whole purpose of gender is to procreate and to have the family unit. The Party has successfully obliterated the need for both of these by implanting in the girls' heads that sex is wrong and shameful, the Party ensures that none of them will be having sex. The Party also successfully degrades the family unit and bonds between spouses, children, neighbors and friends by creating spy networks of people to report the anti-Party speech and behavior of those closest around them. Much like the Nazi-Youth, the children have been encouraged to watch and report on their parents and those who live nearby. The entire community operates solely on fear--regardless of gender.