This probably sounds so obvious that it should go without saying, but if you’re a straight guy, you probably shouldn’t go see Magic Mike in the theater.
Whitney had been excited to see the movie for weeks, and although I didn’t exactly share her sentiment, I agreed to go with her. I wasn’t quite ready to admit the reasons that I didn’t want to see the movie, and I knew that any other reason would make me seem homophobic.
Sitting through Magic Mike was an extremely uncomfortable experience for me. It wasn’t because of the scene where Matthew McConaughey gyrated behind Alex Pettyfer as he taught him how to dance. It wasn’t because of the scene where Joe Manganiello pumped up his blurry penis before going onstage. It wasn’t because of any of the homoerotic themes of the movie which, in my opinion wasn’t nearly gay enough for something hyped as The Greatest Gay Movie Ever Made – I mean, I don’t recall a single openly gay character in the movie.
No, what made me uncomfortable was the audience of middle-aged women shouting catcalls at the screen the entire time. It felt to me like the subtext was a simple “women get objectified on screen all the time, now it’s our turn, ladies!”
As Melissa from Power Animals put it so gleefully…
I could say that while I feel bad that we are entering a time when young men are having just as many body issues as females because of the increasingly unrealistic body images out there for both genders, I feel it is the only way men can understand the pressure that the male gaze in media puts on women and thus help us all work towards mutual change. I could say a lot of things about the objectification of women and men and what it means for all of us but what I’m going to really go ahead and say is this: ABS! CHESTS! GYRATIONS! DANCING! CHANNING TATUM’S AWFUL ACTING: WHO CARES! ALCIDE!!!!!!!
As the women in the audience hooted and hollered, I felt my sympathy for any woman who ever complained about objectification shrink.
While it’s true that there’s no shortage of woman-objectifying media, this basic role reversal is hardly revolutionary (see Queerty’s 7 Male Stripper Movies We Can’t Forget). This eye-for-an-eye approach to body objectification didn’t enlighten me to the plight of women so much as it shed light on something I’ll reluctantly refer to as female privilege, for lack of a better term. I realize how insensitive and backward that may sound, but hear me out. Women in our society today have the privilege of fitting perfectly within expected gender norms when they state their disapproval of objectification, of catcalling, and of being made to feel like they’ll never look like the bodies on TV and in movies. I realize it sounds like an odd thing to say – that women can enjoy the right to express their negative body issues while still conforming to socially acceptable norms. But consider that when a man does any of these things, there’s no such expectation of understanding from anyone. Sensitivity comes off as weak, and weakness is unbecoming for a man. Hence, Channing Tatum’s rock hard abs.
I realize that by and large women have been treated as second class citizens historically, but in order to have any expectation of fairness or equality, men and women alike need to become more comfortable with the idea of men who are sensitive about their own body image issues. I’d wager that every man is uncomfortable with how he looks at one point or another, but the social pressure against ever admitting it aloud is enormous, especially for straight men.
While society affords women the benefit of being able to openly express that they feel uncomfortable with their bodies, a guy who dares to say the same thing is often made to feel like his feelings are invalid because:
A. Feelings are for pussies,
B. Man the fuck up, and
C. Women have had it worse for thousands of years so quit whining.
Granted, you have to first accept the presence of strong homophobic social pressures to get to this place but, surprise! that’s the dominant paradigm in which we live. Just writing about this makes me feel emasculated but that’s sort of all the more reason to write about this, right?
Lastly, I realize that this movie was not made with a straight male audience in mind. This is a movie for the girls and (apparently?) for gay men. Objectifying men is entirely the point of the movie. But when AP movie critic Christie Lemire said this movie had “substance” I thought I was in for something more than a simple beefcake eye-candy parade with a simplistically light cautionary message about drugs tacked on as its third act. Make no mistake, Magic Mike’s strength is the amount of screen time given to a bunch of dudes with better bodies than you will ever have, but when it comes to portraying the harsh and gritty underbelly of stripping, the subject was treated with kid gloves. I’m inclined to agree with Rolling Stones’ Peter Travers when he points out:
the script never truly examines the motives of strippers or the audiences. Instead, Soderbergh dawdles over Mike’s flirtation with The Kid’s sister (Cody Horn). Worse, the film develops a virtuous squint that starts tsk-tsking everything that was first shown as a fleshy amusement park. It turns out that the sex, drugs and rock & roll lifestyle is really bad for these guys, especially The Kid. Magic Mike slowly degenerates into a simplistic cautionary fable.
So if you think you’re making an enlightened and open-minded decision by going to see this movie with your girlfriend, be forewarned: it’s not exactly an enlightened movie to begin with.