So exactly what daring deeds, what nightmarish acts of vengeance have the fearsome Avengers performed so far? Zap! They rampaged through Tory MP Emma Nicholson's nice garden with a Channel 4 documentary crew in tow. Zap! They made a perilous raid on Ascot accompanied by a drag queen in a large hat. Zap! They invaded the Sunday Times news room. Zap! They waved placards and snogged in C4's foyer to protest about the cutting of a lesbian kiss on the omnibus edition of Brookside (world-shaking stuff, this). Zap! They cavorted about on a chartered bus in London's Oxford Street "recruiting" members, leafleting bemused shoppers and inviting women aboard.
The bus romp was at least stylish and cheeky. Despite being inspired by direct protest groups such as Act-Up, the Avengers haven't matched the latter's witty, poetic and situationist stunts. Instead they giggle and chant like bimbo cheerleaders and are unlikely to change hearts or minds with exploits largely directed at getting their grinning mugs in the papers. Take the Nicholson debacle: the MP's duff record on Clause 28 and the age of consent (though that hardly concerns lesbians) make her an unlikely choice for joint director of the UN's Year of Tolerance. But the sniggering, the sneers of "Ooh look, she's having her tea ... in her conservatory", the way the Avengers had nothing to say beyond sloganeering, just made them look like silly city girlies on a charabanc trip. Enjoyable, yes. Calculated to change a damn thing, no.
Do they side with gays or gals? Or both? Or neither, depending on mood? They got their knickers in a twist recently over a gay men's mag which dared to question whether gays and lesbians really have anything in common. Zap! The Avengers confiscated and shredded as many copies as they could get their paws on, posing for pictures the while. A strange way of demonstrating gay solidarity.
Combating "lesbophobia" sounds straightforward enough, but consider the strange case of the "racist" review. Zap! A few months back they got past the guard-dogs, trip-wires and sharpened palisades surrounding the offices of London listings magazine Time Out. (Actually it's a place of such legendary laid-back cool that Hezbollah could probably saunter in and take the editor hostage, though I am in no way advocating this.) What was their beef? That a book by a black lesbian had been reviewed by, shock horror, a white lesbian! Who took exception, among other things, to the derogatory black lesbian term for their white counterparts: a "tampon". Now the tale of the "racist" review has entered their mythology and their press cuttings, not always with its inverted commas. Branding a fellow lesbian a racist repeatedly in print hardly seems to moi the best way to combat lesbophobia.
Rumour has it the author of the review is herself an Avenger (I gather it's practically impossible not to be, if you're a metropolitan dyke with any profile). None of this is likely to do anything other than make political lesbians look like fatuous prats.
Now they are reported to be "falling out over the under-representation of ethnic minorities and the disabled", according to a report in the toujours game Time Out. They should heed the awful warning of Spare Rib, the magazine that was to feminism what Punch was to dentists' waiting rooms. Before it sputtered to a standstill years ago, SR got its propellor well and truly tangled with the issue of race. Coverlines like "Sister Latifah say free up de Carnival" didn't do a bundle for its bedrock readership of white middle-class women and for months the letters page resounded with bleats of "but there's nothing in it for me any more", and retorts that anyone who didn't want to read exclusively about black women was a racist. The alienated readership jumped overboard and the repositioned mag promptly sank. Well, in this bare-as-you-dare, pierced belly-button, post-feminist world, perhaps the "have a good time all the time" Lesbian Avengers are the political activists we deserve.
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