I think I've been dealing in a fairly liberal way with these types of strip and sex dances, focusing on them as an engagement with modernity rather than as repressive exercises in male power, but then I read a couple of things that gave me pause. First, last week I read about ekimansulo, Ugandas strip-dancing phenomenon. This article seems to suggest it is used to attract sex tourists to Uganda. Then blog Womanist Musings posted an article about the reed ceremony, a "traditional" practice that's deeply patriarchal and that also attracts foreign sex tourists. Searching around a bit also turned up a video of "Andhra village girls" stripping (which I'm not going to link to), but I've not been able to find a context for that.
But it doesn't matter. The pattern that emerges from all five practices is clear: here we have all these largely conservative societies with hard pornography and prostitution bans - yet sexualised and nude dancing seems to be relatively okay, even encouraged by authorities in some cases.
The obvious question is why. I'm sure Transpontine over at History is Made at Night is better able to theorise on the differences between porn photography (universally banned - and almost hyper-concrete?), prostitution (banned but often tolerated - and concrete?) and dance (widely tolerated - and abstract?). I'm sure there's also a tradition of allowing much more on the stage than off, with jesters and cabaret often being allowed to be risqué and politically uncomfortable. Certainly, Amanda's Angels seems to fit right into that sort of tradition, with it's flamboyant leader and full night shows.
One thing that strikes me, though, about these particular exotic dances (if you'll pardon the expression) is their actual exoticism. None of these are straight-forward copies of western stripping, a practice that in most of these communities would very likely be banned. Possibly it could be a way to legitimise the practice but to me it seems very strongly connected to the tourism angle - is it a coincidence that authorities see ekimansulo as a tourist draw or that most of the searches for "mapouka" that end up on this blog are from the US, UK and France?
"Sex tourism" may be an unpleasant euphemism for white rich men using their power to coerce sex, but let's not forget it is also a form of tourism. It works under similar rules. The buyer decides. The exotic pulls. (Just like with the media, I guess.) Even the sex tourists, at least those in Swaziland, are engaged in trying to catch hold of that elusive authenticity. And, willing to supply it, are the collaborating elites of the local community (in this case the males), exploiting their women in a classic system of core-periphery. As a study claims on the Wikipedia page:
Economically underdeveloped tourist-receiving countries are promoted as being culturally different so that (in the Western tourist's understanding) prostitution and traditional male domination of women have less stigma than similar practices might have in their home countries.Yet seeing "world stripping" (by analogy to "world music") as a practice designed purely for western eyes is probably fallacious too. Certainly, the audience that goes to many of these shows seems to be mainly local. But just as the elites in the periphery help the core achieve its aims, it also often shares its values. What's not to say that what we're seeing in a sexy dangdut show (or whatever) isn't merely domestic sex tourism? The traditional and exotic is a draw even for regular domestic tourists. And what's not to say a local man won't being equally attracted by the prospect of playing the male part in "traditional male domination of women"?
I don't think seeing these practices as isolated manifestations of cultural empowerment really cuts it any more. The tourism angle really hammers into place the fact that the global patriarchy is far from being merely the sum of its parts.