Ladies Against Women (SE Asian Edition)

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Cambodia is shifting into IWF mode:

At the turn of the year, a hapless young singer-cum-presenter was forced to make a grovelling apology on live TV after the prime minister announced that she had insulted Cambodian culture.

Her crime? Wearing a backless dress.

That incident set the tone for the rest of the year.

Things which have been declared "against the culture" have included mini-skirts, dyed hair, dating agencies, beauty contests and third generation mobile phones (the kind that allow high-speed internet access).

The article blames Prime Minister Hun Sen's wife and a band of "elite women" who call themselves the "Phnom Penh Wives." As BBC suggests, the women fighting "pernicious modern influences"–who have managed to criminalize adultery and the possession of cell phone technology–neglect to mention that the Cambodia of the past was in many ways less obsessively prudish than that of the present.

It's a familiar dynamic. Well into my first year working in Myanmar, I started to realize that a fair measure of the country's socially conservative, traditionalist social norms had been grafted onto the country in the very recent past. Wives of the reigning military leaders had formed coalitions, the purpose of which was to promote modest, traditional dress and "protect the culture." (Culture, so construed, was something they got to define.) This became clearer as I started to travel outside Yangon; the further you get from a city and the locus of military power, the less traditional the dress, the greater the acceptance of tee-shirts, Levis, and sartorial rebellion of all kinds.

NEXT: I Should Be So Felix

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  1. They didn’t take her out into the rice fields and bash out her brains out with a lead pipe, so I quess that some small progress is being made.

  2. If you have to enforce culture, it isn’t the true culture.

  3. Considering how much “ancient tradition” in America is about 50-100 years old, we shouldn’t find this too strange.

  4. I find this about Thailand, too. Some people complain that the immodesty in the dress of women who work in the tourist sections is an insult to Thailand. They complain about things like spaghetti straps. But just take a look at pre-war photos and it’s evident that Thai women used to go around top-less.

    Cultural pollution seems to be a fashionable theme the world over – as if culture is static or didn’t originally involve trading around and adapting ideas from various places. Let a thousand flowers bloom, I say. Except for rap music. I fear the rapolization of the world. “Who understands those rap guys.”

  5. That cack that passes as reporting at the BBC doesn’t quote one source and is basically what you would hear sitting on a barstool down at the local hooker bar. It’s amazing that the BBC runs such bollocks.

  6. “If you have to enforce culture, it isn’t the true culture.”

    That’s not true. Shaming, ostracism, and gossip are widely-observed techniques, found throughout the world, that are used to enforce cultural norms.

  7. What next?
    Gentlemans vs mans? (SE African Edition)

  8. I’m going to have to review a lot of photos of Thai women in backless or spaghetti-strap dresses before I can decide how bad this really is.

  9. Oops, I meant Cambodian women, not Thai women.

    Oh, what the hell — I’ll review photos of any East Asian women clad in immodest dress. This could well be a transnational regional problem.

  10. Hmm . . . extreme social conservativism AND it’s being enforced using the regulatory power of the state at the behest of politician’s wives. It’s like Tipper Gore and Lynne Cheney had a lesbian love child. pImWrFc?

  11. I’ve heard of singer-songwriters, but never have I heard of singer-cum-presenters. But I like the idea!

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