The Moorish Wanderer

“Do you think she’s deeply and importantly talented?” – “No, but amusingly and superficially talented, yes”

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan History & Sociology, Moroccanology, Morocco, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on September 1, 2011

in times of low readership, there is nothing like Neo-burlesque to pick up some traffic, and of course it also provides leisure cover for serious issues. Whatever is needed to entertain the crowd.

Neo-burlesque has -and still is- been disparaged by too many people (including feminists by the way) as demeaning to women, the sign of reactionary longing for the days when women were more “feminine” i.e. more submissive. The discourse does not find its place in Morocco, however, for many reasons: our social relationship to sexuality is not only a taboo, but it has grown to be so for a majority of our fellow citizens. It is no wonder, since Moroccan households have been literally indoctrinated to embrace a viciously conservative stance, and develop a hostile reaction to all things ‘alien’ to our ‘national and Islamic identity’. Even a debate on mainstream sexuality would be followed by the deafening outcry of the bigots brigade (usually quartered in the Attajdid newspaper’s column) let alone a debate on sophisticated (er…) sexuality. In addition, this could be dismissed as a luxury: we do have some more urgent needs to attend to – and I suspect many lefties would agree and dismiss the whole things as Petit-bourgeois considerations- Still an all, sexuality remains one of the basic human needs, and does need to be attended too (got the pun there?)

Demeaning femininity? No, Glorifying it.

The golden age of burlesque -somewhere around the 1920s and 1940s- is paradoxically -when time adjusted for- the golden age of Moroccan women and their liberation. The garter might have been construed as a symbol of gender oppression in the United States or Europe, but it surely has been an instrument of liberation rather, at least on our shores. And let us not be mistaken, for men have freed themselves too from the outdated distribution of gender roles in sexuality. But then again, this does not mean Moroccans did not enjoy sexy before 1950, does it?

How about Hajja Hamdaoui? or the sensual Mal’houn poems? or our very own plump, gaudy, bawdy pin-ups, Cheikhates? These are all good pieces of evidence that some urban dwellers and the upper class did enjoy themselves thoroughly, a great deal of which involved what made up the bulk of Oriental fantasy: harem, slaves,… what have you. As for the remaining 95% other people, the leisure part took little or no place in their lives, and sex was basically there for reproductive needs only, to basically ensure the existence of a labour force large enough to make up for the mortality rate and provide a retirement insurance scheme.

And again, isn’t Burlesque just as exclusive as those items described above? isn’t it elitist, with that flavour of sexual leisure very few of us can or would enjoy? Yes! but so are education, literature, arts, etc…. these are not always at the disposal of everyone, while they should. Regardless, the mere allusion to sex as a “normal” social function is enough to belittle proponents of such claim and label them as out of touch or deviants, or both; The truth is, that selective list of items to be improved and others to be left for a while is a foolish exercise of populist conservative ideology.

The claim that the libertarian flavour of Burlesque reminds Moroccan women of a golden age when they rushed through to claim their rights and gender equality; that period embodies female empowerment through vibrant sexuality and liberation from a certain type of clothing: 1947, I suppose, is a good date to mark that change for Women in Morocco, indeed:

In the Moroccan coastal city of Tangier, frenzied crowds cheered hoarsely as a majestically robed figure on a white horse rode past to receive their homage.[…]

The man on horseback was His Majesty Sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Youssef, and the purpose of his visit that hot, sunny April day in 1947 was to give sustenance to a dream that has since become reality: freedom and independence for his country.

The next night, in the patio of Tangier’s casbah, a lissome girl in a shimmering blue silk Lanvin gown, milk-white turban and evening slippers gracefully ascended a dais piled high with priceless Oriental carpets, and turned to face her audience. Younger men in the audience eyed appreciatively the girl’s dark eyes, her rich red-brown hair and café au lait complexion. But many orthodox Moslem traditionalists just stared wide-eyed, stunned and aghast at the appearance in public of Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Aisha, eldest daughter of His Majesty the Sultan—17 years old, unveiled and unashamed. (Times, November 1957)

Princess Royal Aisha, TIME Nov.57: "a call to shake off an age-old bondage fastened on them"

By showing dressed like a movie star, Princess Royal Aisha was indeed at the vanguard of sexual liberation; the immediate years following independence only exacerbated the yearning for gender equality: if men could wear western clothes, why wouldn’t women too? And so the battle for gender equality started off, with women working outside and claiming equal pay too, while they were carrying their rights as individuals.

The 1960s, in the minds of the greatest generation Morocco ever had yet, -and that is not an overstatement- is associated to a sense of freedom – the late 1960s in fact, as reported by Paul Pascon in his comprehensive survey with young rural dwellers. And unless some other survey comes to contradict this and confirm that Moroccans have all lilly white morality, then the ad hominem argument about opposition between morality and fitness for government should be dropped altogether.

The conservative side of Moroccans cannot be denied, but it has been pointed out that generally speaking, there are specific items young Moroccans tend to gainsay; indeed:

Au Maroc, l’attachement à la tradition est généralement valorisé. Ce qui est des fois remis en cause, ce n’est pas la tradition en tant que telle mais tel ou tel élément traditionnel. L’évaluation se fait selon divers critères. Certaines traditions sont bannies parce que jugées hétérodoxes, d’autres sont rejetées au nom de la science et du progrès.

(50-years report – Values annex, page 35)

The conservative variable can definitely be put aside, save for activists who tend to bully public opinion into endorsing them, the current state of mind is rather that of “individualistic conservatism” where each individual comes up with a customized interpretation of what they consider ‘true traditions’, which is not precisely what tradition is about…

In any case, and even though stripping falls into the category of ‘vice’ -per the Moroccan law, anyway- conservatives would do well to heed Bernard Mandeville‘s advice in the “Fable of the Bees“:

THEN leave Complaints: Fools only strive

To make a Great an Honest Hive.

T’ enjoy the World’s Conveniences,

Be fam’d in War, yet live in Ease,

Without great Vices, is a vain

Eutopia seated in the Brain.

(Fable of the Bees, 1732)

Bottom line: Dita Von Teese rocks, and what she stands for should mean a lot to Moroccan women.

PS: Post is dedicated to Shiftybox, may she take the bait.

2 Responses

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  1. […] bring this up because one of the latest posts I uploaded on the blog was about clothes and women liberation issues, and the claim that affirmed […]

  2. shiftybox said, on September 20, 2011 at 21:56

    A propos des premières lignes : j’ai déjà rencontré qlq amatrices et performeuses de néo burlesques. Ce ne sont pas des filles soumises. Pour les amatrices, c’est un divertissement, pour les performeuses, c’est un bon moyen de gagner sa vie, en jouant sur la corde de la nostalgie et de cette image flatteuse et féminine qu’elle offre. La plupart appartiennent au milieu Rockabily, et participent à des manif féministes.

    Je ne ferai que te caresser dans le sens du poil si je te disais que toute tentative de séduction féminine est jugé illico comme un soumission et comme un acte anti-féministe. Mais il en devient difficile de distinguer les “libérées” conscientes et convaincues de l’égalité entre les sexes, de celles qui se comportent en frivoles car persuadées que leur rôle de femmes se résument à la séduction. Sans oublier, qu’une seule femme peut expérimenter les deux figures.

    Gender studies du comptoir .


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