Women get a taste for the `Full Enchilada'

THE SHRIEKS of 2,500 ecstatic women penetrate the theatre walls and are audible over the Mexico City traffic. The posters promise "a show that awakens the deepest, darkest thoughts of women", but 10 television stars moonlighting as male strippers have gone beyond their brief to spark a cultural revolution across Mexico. In a low blow to machismo, ordinary Mexican women by the thousand defy the objections of husbands, brothers and priests and come to gawk at the bared bodies of some of the best known Latino faces.

In just three months, nearly 200,000 women across the country have paid up to the equivalent of three days' wages to see their screen idols in the flesh. These sold-out strip shows have aroused the ire of some conservative Roman Catholic bishops, who have tried to counteract the phenomenon by organising morning-after confessions for these defiant females. Few bother to attend.

Some right-wing city officials in the provinces have tried to score political points by cancelling permits at the last minute, but all of them have ultimately relented to public pressure. Mothers, wives and sisters simply insist that this show - "Solo Para Mujeres" (For Women Only) - must go on.

The inspiration for this new anti-macho fervour is British. While watching a video of the 1997 film The Full Monty, soap-opera hunk Alexis Ayala wondered what would happen if, instead of a line-up of ordinary blokes, Mexican women could watch screen icons and pop stars strut their stuff. His idea was to find a way for "more direct contact with our fans, to give flight to our dreams and mutual fantasies" - and to make pots of money.

He rounded up almost a dozen colleagues and after considerable objections from spouses, and initial embarrassment about stripping off in front of the others, they agreed to go for "the whole enchilada". Sergio Mayer, a performer and co-producer, explained: "This was something new for Mexico. Sure, we knew it was risky, but never thought there would be so many religious, political, and social objections."

In Puebla last month, 70 demonstrators heckled the thousand secretaries, housewives and beauticians who had queued for hours in the sun to buy tickets, their flyers excoriating "mothers, the pillars of society" for falling down on the job. "We want Liberty, not Libertines", they taunted. When officials tried to close down the theatre, police were called to restore order.

Raunchy stage shows, featuring lap-dancers and even animal acts, are nothing new in Mexico and many modern Mexican men take pride that there are so few prudes. But until recent years, even the cantinas were strictly a male preserve. As the millennium approaches, the hypocrisy rankles and Mexican women are starting to rebel.

Just last Thursday, in Mexico City, housewives put down their mops and irons to go on a 24-hour strike. Gabriela Delgado, a government official who heads the women's collective Pro-Mujer, called on women in the capital to down tools in order to protest against the inequity of getting stuck with all the household chores."We want housework seen as a family responsibility," Ms Delgado explained. "It is not good enough that all the work falls to women when they, too, have to go out and earn."

Instead of putting their feet up, some strikers thronged to check out the thongs on stage at "Solo para Mujeres". Men are allowed to accompany their partners, but only if they come disguised in drag. "It is a real quandary for modern Mexican men," said Deborah Hawley, the show's choreographer. "They want women to advance, but only under their rules." Many men drop their girlfriends off and collect them after the show.

At the show, the male line-up - all but one of whom are happily married - bump and grind in unison. When volunteers press forward to come up on stage, or the stars wander through the audience wearing only Doc Martens, bikini briefs and bow-ties, the excitement is palpable. Frequently, there is a rain of bras and panties from the balcony. Afterwards, the stars put on their t-shirts and shorts and sit primly on stage, signing autographs. Each fan expects her cheek to be kissed, and many ask for sexual counsel.

Edna, 55, came with her daughter and granddaughter as a birthday treat. "It's nothing I haven't seen before," she blushed, "but never have I seen so many bare bums at one time." Her friend, Greta, came along out of curiosity. "My husband doesn't know where I am," she giggled. "But, yes, I am going to tell him."

After the show, a sweaty Sergio Mayer towelled off and said: "I am proud to be part of something which is opening the eyes of so many. We are revolutionaries. We make people think twice about who makes the rules to run your life."

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