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Were it has continued to be recognized for its ontribution to public debate, it is because it as something to say about sex, a subject ociety is never tired of discussing. Thus feminism is both pro- and anti-pornography, in favour of the right to enhance one's body with cosmetic surgery and against the chemical maintenance of one's attractions by HRT. To some, and not just on the misogynistic right, feminism has been superseded, its crude interventionist strategies abandoned, in favour of a more sophisticated understanding of gender.




Three years ago I was unwisely invited to speak to a group of academics in the English department of a British university. At the end of my talk a female lecturer put her hand up and said with an expression of extreme puzzlement on her face: 'I don't think I know what the difference between a man and a woman is.' My smart-arse reply was that, if one person is following another down a dark street with the intent to rape, you can be sure that the one doing the following is the man and the one being followed is the woman. This was greeted with embarrassed silence. It was, apparently, an example of outdated thinking, obsolete feminism that set up power oppositions between the sexes and which had been replaced by 'gender studies'

which challenged the very notions ofbiology. For, as we all knew, having read Foucault and Lacan, gender was not a biological but a social construction. Rather than being born with our sexual identities, we construct them, they are formed in the world. We are all cross-dressers.

So now we know that in the mid-1990s the body is supposed to be the place where we experiment with our selves. The tattooed, pierced, genderreassigned body is also an act of political defiance. The tattooed queer body informs observers that it does what it likes with itself and to hell with legislation. The tattooed teenage body, more obviously defYing parental anxiety, also rejects what its parents used to call the war between the sexes. For if gender is just in your head why bother with all the antiquated nonsense that used to go on in women-only study groups, the identification of patriarchal power structures, the earnest posturing of political lesbianism in which one was supposed to sleep with women not primarily out of sexual desire but to mark one out as 'woman identified', a signal that one was not going to waste one's sexual energy on men who, if not programmed-to-rape enemies, were, at the very least, not one's 'political priority'.

How antiquated this now seems to gender theorists. How crudely deterministic. It sometimes appears to me that the different stages of feminism have certain religious correspondences. The first phase of feminism, the agitation for the vote, was a Protestant movement-part of the reforming Christian socialist tradition which, with the loss of God, became humanistic and freethinking. It had its origins in religious radicalism which began by opposing the monarchy in the seventeenth century, and was transformed into the early nineteenth-century nonconformist suffrage and Chartist struggles. Its impulse, like Luther's, is against hierarchy, in favour of egalitarianism. The socialist feminism I described as fornm­

lating its agenda at the 1970s Oxford conference falls squarely within this tradition.

The current state of gender politics is a profoundly Catholic idea, but Latin Catholicism, the kind practised in the Mediterranean and Latin America, rather than the AngloCatholicism of Britain and the United States, both influenced by Puritanism and the millenarian spirit of the reformers which fueled the fight of US Catholics against the Vatican on birth control. This Catholicism is one in which gender, autonomy and hierarchy merge into the Trinity. Its fixations are on the pierced and bleeding body of Christ, on suffering, transgression, vestments, decay, sin. Madonna's stage act, her book, her songs are all performances about her Catholicism. One of the most banned artists of the early 1990s, Andreas Serrano, scandalized middle America with his


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