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.
In the first place, the idea that sexism or racism is "a product of its time" assumes that the past was self-evidently worse than the present, that culture progresses in some sort of straight-line fashion, and that we can therefore assume that folks now are smarter and more enlightened than folks in the past. This is unduly flattering to the present, which has by no means overcome prejudice or stereotype. As just one example, Her, much-lauded for its philosophical depth and human warmth, is, I’ve argued, about a sensitive writer's mid-life crisis and the sexually adventurous Manic Pixie Dream Girl who helps him self-actualize. Which is to say, it follows the same basic stereotypical, sexist script as 1984. Orwell's sexism, then, isn’t of its time at all. It’s still with us.