Theo Hobson

Victoria Bateman’s naked Brexit stunt isn’t feminist

Victoria Bateman’s naked Brexit stunt isn't feminist
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Dr Victoria Bateman’s naked Brexit stunt should not be seen in terms of modern feminism but in terms of early modern religious performance art, especially that of the Ranters and Quakers.

The trauma of the seventeenth century English civil war caused some strange religious groups to emerge, and some of them went in for shocking little stunts, or ‘happenings’, in the hippy-sixties term. Cromwell’s frail Commonwealth got rid of the old established church, and deciding what to put in its place was a bit like Brexit. Lots of Puritans wanted their new orthodoxy set up, but plenty of liberals wanted a more open-ended free for all, a ‘no-deal’ scenario perhaps.

The Ranters were religious punks; they mixed religion with sex, drugs and swearing. Their aim was to attack the Puritans by doing offensive things as expressions of an alternative idea of holiness. Including stripping off, or ‘going naked for a sign’ – a display of a different sort of faith, that we are part of God’s good creation. The Quakers were only slightly better behaved. One faction adopted some Ranterish practices. A feisty young Quaker called Martha Simmonds walked round Colchester wearing almost nothing, in imitation of the prophet Isaiah. She inspired a large-scale performance in Bristol that led to a crackdown on such antics. See my piece on it here.

By her godly streaking Martha was signifying God’s imminent judgement. And this is Ms Bateman’s purpose too: she is trying to warn us of a coming apocalypse, to wake us up with her bare flesh. Brexit has returned us to the wilder reaches of the English soul.