The Patriarchy in Huxley’s Brave New World

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Every One Belongs to Every One:  The Patriarchy in Huxley’s Brave New World

In a world where discomfort and unpleasant emotion do not exist, Huxley’s female characters drift through a life of ignorant bliss. They are stripped of their responsibilities to their fellow women, provided a predestined social class, and promised a stable supply of contraceptives and sexual partners. Life in the World State is enjoyable—after all, they’re programmed to like it. The women have all the new clothes they could want, careers in which they are genetically predisposed to excel, and nearly unlimited access to soma to conceal any emotion that gets too overwhelming. Although the World State’s motto, “COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY” suggests a society driven to function as a single, cohesive unit, it is implied throughout Brave New World that this world provides anything but for its female population.

In the article, “Women in Dystopia: Misogyny in Brave New World, 1984, and A Clockwork Orange,” Deanna Martin contends that Huxley, along with Orwell and Burgess, “[. . .] project into their visions of a future the patriarchal power structure and gender inequities of their own times as well as their own prejudices” (Madden, 289). Huxley’s female characters and their interactions with their world send the “subtle message that women are inherently inferior: less intelligent, less capable of seeing beyond their own immediate physical comforts, [and] less likely to make heroic gesture or defy status quo” (291). Madden asserts this inferiority can be seen in the World State itself: “The setting of Brave New World, a future London of phallic skyscrapers, is a world in which the male principle of science has subjugated and nearly eradicated the female principle of nature” (289). According to Madden, Huxley could not have written these characters any other way—his unconscious bias, rather than purposeful characterization, contributed immensely to Huxley’s female characters. While this is a possibility, I argue that Huxley uses satire, irony, and masterful characterization to develop a warning against a civilization devoid of female input and equality.

Throughout Brave New World, Huxley chooses pejorative terminology to describe his female characters. Huxley utilizes the term “pneumatic” throughout the novel, describing person, machine, and luxury. Henry Foster refers to Lenina as “wonderfully pneumatic.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines “pneumatic” as “of, relating to, or characteristic of a woman with a well-rounded figure, esp. a large bosom; (of a woman) having a well-rounded figure, esp. large-bosomed” as well as “relating to or operated by means of wind or air; (now) esp. containing or operated by air or gas under pressure” (#2a, #2b). The latter definition provides insight into how women in the World State are used as objects. Huxley applies this term to women as well as the “pneumatic sofas” in Bernard’s room, the “pneumatic stalls” at the feelies, “pneumatic arm-chairs” in the Controller’s study, and a pair of “pneumatic shoes” alike. The female population of the World State act as living mechanisms, built solely for the comforts of the society’s male components.

The World State categorizes women as merely one of two things: unsterilized females or freemartins. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “freemartin” as “a sterile female of this kind occurring in another species, esp. sheep; (in works of fiction) a human female of this kind” as well as “a female calf that is born as a twin to a male calf and is partly masculinized in anatomy and typically sterile, apparently from the action of male hormones in the womb; an adult animal of this kind” (#2, #1). The last-mentioned definition proves that while the women in the World State appear to have certain freedoms and a voice of their own, their creators consider them as they consider animals. Henry Foster expounds upon the parallels between the female humans and simple animals during the tour of the decanting facility: “For of course, they didn’t content themselves with merely hatching out embryos: any cow could do that.” In Huxley’s utopia, females and livestock are easily interchangeable:  mindless, free-range meat.

For the female populace capable of reproduction, the State provides a “regulation supply of contraceptives.” Training to prohibit the possibility of breeding begins in adolescence. The contraception, worn on one’s person, also allows for a marketable fashionable accessory. The belt, visible and at the ready, asserts the female’s willingness to participate in coitus. The State foists this consent upon its female populace through a thorough indoctrination process. Lenina describes her training:  “Years of intensive hypnopedia and, from twelve to seventeen, Malthusian drill three times a week had made the taking of these precautions almost as automatic and inevitable as blinking.” The women decanted into the State do not have a choice in their sterilization, and their training encourages the proclamation of the females’ biological workings. The presence (or absence) of these Malthusian belts, regardless of color and material, act as publication to the masses.

Huxley further illustrates the lack of sexual consent provided to his characters when Lenina confesses her indifference toward promiscuity to Fanny: “Somehow [. . .] I hadn’t been feeling very keen on promiscuity lately. There are times when one doesn’t. Haven’t you found that too, Fanny?” Lenina searches for understanding and permission; she strains for validation in her bold statement of taboo emotion. In response, Fanny recites their teaching: “But one’s got to make the effort [. . .] one’s got to play the game. After all, every one belongs to every one else.” Huxley writes his women as critical components of their own repression.

The relationship between Lenina and Fanny portrays the depth of the State’s brainwashing. The women, programmed to ignore their own authority, cannot seek refuge in one another. When Lenina discloses her relationship with Henry Foster has remained exclusive, at least on her part, Fanny attacks this notion of monogamy: “I really do think you ought to be careful. It’s such horribly bad form to go on and on like this with one man. At forty, or thirty-five, it wouldn’t be so bad. But at your age, Lenina! No, it really won’t do. And you know how strongly the D.H.C. objects to anything intense or long-drawn. Four months of Henry Foster, without having another man-why, he’d be furious if he knew.” Females in the World State are not programmed to be allies in their oppression, but rather to act as accomplice to their own subjugation.

Although the word “father” appears in the novel, Huxley reminds us that “father” was “[. . .] not so much obscene as—with its connotation of something at one remove from the loathsomeness and moral obliquity of child-bearing—merely gross, a scatological rather than a pornographic impropriety.” The State’s population believes the idea of fatherhood is comical, while the concept of motherhood is immoral. Huxley attacks the identity of women further with the condemnation of the term “mother.” When Mustapha reads Bernard’s paperwork on John the savage, Huxley expounds on the penetrating shame associated with motherhood: “The Savage [. . .] shows surprisingly little astonishment at, or awe of, civilized inventions. This is partly due, no doubt, to the fact that he has heard them talked about by the woman Linda, his m—.” Bernard, too sickened by the word himself or fearful of the repulsion it may cause Mond, omits the word “mother” from his reports. Huxley summarizes the population’s general opinion of mothers, motherhood, and the component of identity given to women who have given birth: “To say one was a mother—that was past a joke: it was an obscenity.”

The State recognizes the innate, internal calling some women possess to become mothers. This primal urge is so intrinsic that it cannot be washed away through years of hypnopedia nor forgotten on a soma holiday. Fanny provides insight into a “Pregnancy Substitute” advised by Dr. Wells when Fanny claims to feel “rather out of sorts.” The addition of this “treatment” in Huxley’s new world implies that motherhood is a feeling for some women that cannot be reprogrammed, but also provides a more in-depth look at the lack of care for women’s mental health in the World State. After mild protest from Lenina, Fanny recounts her appointment with Dr. Wells: “Dr. Wells told me that brunettes with wide pelvises, like me, ought to have their first Pregnancy Substitute at seventeen. So I’m really two years late, not two years early.” This dialogue further asserts that women can be diagnosed, not based on physical or mental ailments, but on physicality alone. Dr. Wells, a male in an authoritative position, convinces Fanny that her issues lie not with something deeper, but with what culturally defined women of the past:  motherhood. Lenina’s acceptance of this assertion as fact substantiates the programming of internalized misogyny in the State’s female citizens.

Huxley uses his female characters to drive the undercurrent of misogyny throughout the novel. Their speech, thoughts, actions, and Huxley’s descriptive characterization showcase the prejudice against women. Huxley takes care in describing Lenina’s clothing, as if to emphasize their importance to her being:

“Her jacket was made of bottle green acetate cloth with green viscose fur; at the cuffs and collar. [. . .] Green corduroy shorts and white viscose-woollen stockings turned down below the knee. [. . .] A green-and-white jockey cap shaded Lenina’s eyes; her shoes were bright green and highly polished. [. . .] And round her waist she wore a silver-mounted green morocco-surrogate cartridge belt, bulging (for Lenina was not a freemartin) with the regulation supply of contraceptives.”

The women place overt priority on their clothing, which can be seen when Fanny covets Lenina’s clothing: “Perfect! [. . .] And what a perfectly sweet Malthusian belt!” The infatuation with appearance is not restricted to Lenina and Fanny, as we learn Linda also shares a love for new, fashionable garments and a distaste for mending old clothing: “And look at these clothes. This beastly wool isn’t like acetate. It lasts and lasts. [. . .] it never used to be right to mend clothes. Throw them away when they’ve got holes in them and buy new.” Linda, despite many years on the savage reservation, continues to automate the hypnopaedic narration provided in her training. Through this hypnopedia, the World State programs residents to believe in consumption: “But old clothes are beastly [. . .] We always throw away old clothes. Ending is better than mending, ending is better than mending, [. . .].” Although Huxley alludes to the entire population receiving these meticulously formulated whispers while they sleep, the characters who recite this conditioning are female.

Huxley conveys the priority of men over women within his characterization of Brave New World’s male characters as well. When Bernard cannot get John to accompany him to the party, we learn Bernard’s thoughts about Linda’s abilities and physical appearance: “she [. . .] couldn’t have really quaint ideas. Finally [. . .] there was her appearance. Fat; having lost her youth; with bad teeth, and a blotched complexion, and that figure (Ford!)—you simply couldn’t look at her without feeling sick, yes, positively sick.” Throughout the novel, Huxley describes Linda as “poor.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines “poor” as an attributive “that provokes sympathy, or compassion; that is to be pitied; unfortunate, wretched, hapless” as well as “lacking or deficient in the proper or desired quality; of little excellence or worth; of a low or inferior standard or quality” (#5,#2). The latter definition reinforces the State’s view of women as instruments molded by men’s standards to supplement a pleasant quality of life for the men. Linda, although “hatched out of a bottle and conditioned like anyone else,” displays physical characteristics different enough to be repulsive to modern men and women.

The depiction of women and the reader’s response to the characters contributes to the hidden misogyny in Brave New World. Cristie L. March writes in her essay, A Dystopic Vision of Gender in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, “The novel reinforces traditional gender norms by inciting readers’ disgust at the vacuous Lenina, whose sexual promiscuity and social freedom horrifies John (the Savage) and frustrates Bernard, the novel’s “enlightened” characters” (53). Lenard and John are more like us—hopeless in their pursuit of human connection and understanding. Huxley’s female characters lack depth and range of emotion. Although much about Huxley’s female characters indicates freedom from gender oppression of the past, this drastic shift results in the women losing value within society. When there is no need for women, March asserts that the patriarchy can “[. . .] run unchecked without family needs displacing community affiliations” (54).

In Huxley’s new world, class and race, much like appearance, also have significant, obvious weight within the population. Although these constructs are evident, Huxley stealthily weaves a patriarchy into every fiber of the World State.  To do this, Huxley employs the use of a “T” as a symbol for the vested power of man in the modern world. We first learn of the “T” as it is explained to students observing the decanting process:  “the system of labeling—a T for the males, a circle for the females and for those who were destined to become freemartins a question mark, black on a white ground.” The “T,” a symbol for males in this society, replaces the Christian cross of the past: “All crosses had their tops cut and became T’s. There was also a thing called God.” Huxley inserts this symbol of male-dominance throughout the novel:  in the Charing-T Tower, giant crimson T’s illuminating the helicopter platform, the Arch-Community-Songster’s golden T pendant, and in the hand-signs made by authority figures such as the President. With the invention of the man-made World State, men claim to remove God from the complex cloth of humanity, but the truth is hidden behind the conditioning:  To be man is to be God in Brave New World.

Brave New World’s over-arching themes of technology as a means to control the population, the separation of truth and happiness, and the warning of an all-powerful State in control help to mask Huxley’s underlying warning:  In a society fathered by man, women can never be equal. Mustapha Mond’s description of the World State and blatant omission of women as anything other than entertainment for men supports the Controller’s true motives behind the women’s genetic composition and perpetual conditioning:

“Now—such is progress—the old men work, the old men copulate, the old men have no time, no leisure from pleasure, not a moment to sit down and think—or if ever by some unlucky chance such a crevice of time should yawn in the solid substance of their distractions, there is always soma, delicious soma, half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a weekend, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon; returning whence they find themselves on the other side of the crevice, safe on the solid ground of daily labor and distraction, scampering from feely to feely, from girl to pneumatic girl, from Electromagnetic Golf course to—”

Huxley’s women of the Brave New World are simple machines hatched into the world as inferior stock, baptized in brainwashing, clothed in couture contraception, and presented to the men as prescription. Their purpose is simple:  they help provide the men of the World State with the ceaseless, synergistic interaction of sex and soma.

Works Cited

  • “freemartin, n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, July 2018, www.oed.com/view/Entry/74416. Accessed 6 October 2018.
  • Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: Harper Brothers, 1932. Print.
  • Madden, Deanna. “Women in Dystopia: Misogyny in Brave New World, 1984, and A Clockwork Orange.” Misogyny in Literature: An Essay Collection. 1992, pp. 289-311.
  • March, Cristie L. “A Dystopic Vision of Gender in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.” Women in Literature: Reading Through the Lens of Gender, Greenwood P, 2003, pp. 53-55.
  • “pneumatic, adj. and n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, July 2018, www.oed.com/view/Entry/146303. Accessed 6 October 2018.
  • “poor, adj. and n.1.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, July 2018, www.oed.com/view/Entry/147749. Accessed 6 October 2018.
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