The gender archaeologists have perceived that gender is a social construction, and concluded that ‘rather than assuming that the term “woman” has universal cultural characteristics, there is a need to examine the way in which gender constructions can vary’ (Hodder 1986, 160). But these examinations, while accepting that gender is historical and therefore social, base their research upon the assumption that sexual differences are inviolable, trans-historical, and that from the beginning of time there has always been the polarity male-female. According to this view, which insists on a distinction between culture and nature/biology, meanings move and gyrate to the beat of time, but only around fixed points, since the framework for gender elaboration is already set, from birth, in

advance of any distinctions introduced by cultural discourse. Before there is culture, there are men and women. John Barrett is perhaps alone in his observation that ‘it is a requirement of historical analysis that we may discover potentially unique ways by which men and women have defined themselves’ (Barrett 1987, 13) but does not pursue this realisation to the extent of questioning the framework for analysis, its initial conditions, its origin and its destiny. He reifies the distinction between the sexes by his reading of Giddens’ theory of structuration and agency which, by making only passing reference to the elements that situate consciousness (the place of the unconscious in the unacknowledged conditions of action, for instance), turns it back towards the ontological centrings of the Cartesianism he is anxious to escape. The gender archaeologists present us with this vision: we will always have been labouring under the tyranny of genital difference, which will always have been resolved on the basis of the presence or absence of particular anatomical features, on to which have been grafted - secondarily - the cultural apparatus of gender. But have the categories ‘male’ and ‘female’ fallen from the sky,

miraculously outside of time and history, and so beyond its charge? Is it possible to separate sex from gender, and assume the metaphysical/ ontological priority of the former and assign temporal and spatial referentiality only to the latter? Is it possible to split sex from gender in this way, and prioritise biological/genital difference, imbuing it with independent legitimacy? Confining the operation of the dialectic between the sexes in this way assures rather than menaces the identities which we are supposed to be questioning, denaturalising, opening on to time and change.