01/29/2014 09:48 am ET Updated Jan 29, 2014

The 'Product Of Its Time' Defense: No Excuse For Sexism And Racism

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George Orwell's handling of his main female character in 1984 is clichéd, clumsy, and not a little sexist. I made that argument in a piece I wrote last week, and in response, a couple of readers replied with what I'd call the "of its time" defense. Yes, they said, Julia is not necessarily treated as a human being, but you can't really expect more from a book written in 1949. In the words of commenter LaurelhurstLiberal, "As for the claim of misogyny, that's scarcely surprising in an author of his era, but he comes off a lot better than many of his contemporaries."

This argument comes up a lot (as, for example, in this piece on Snow White). As others have also pointed out, the "of its time" defense is standard response to writing about sexism or racism in any non-contemporary cultural product. It's quietly ubiquitous—but it's also wrongheaded.

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