I saw Magic Mike: XXL yesterday, which means I’m only catching on to pop culture things a month late instead of years. I’m growing! Or I’m just funemployed and have time to do things like go to the movies.
I’ve never seen the first movie, which I know is a huge problem because sequels such as these are incredibly complex and require much background knowledge the way sequel books in YA trilogies do. So I suffered greatly, but I made it through.
I have absolutely no problem looking at attractive men, and I greatly appreciated that they were all different colors, they were none of them unintelligent, and at least some of them were legitimately talented actual dancers, so mad props. I did not realize, having never been to any sort of strip club, that so much of male stripping would just be thrusting. I mean, I guess pole dancing is incredibly phallic, so I shouldn’t have been surprised, but female strippers don’t, as far as I know, actually stick their crotches in men’s faces while dancing. They only have fake sex with fake phalluses, which is safer for them, I’m sure, and also preserves the distinction we like to have that stripping is not prostitution. These male strippers had fake sex with real women’s faces and crotches.
The joke is that movies like Magic Mike allow women to turn the tables on objectification and do so with men’s bodies. That’s true in that I don’t believe there was a heterosexual woman in that theater who did not enjoy the washboard abs frequently displayed, especially since there was every type of male aesthetic represented.
But I think that joke we make is one made with a lot of pain, since in fact male stripping still represents male power.
I don’t wish to police women’s desires or experiences when it comes to sex and assume we all have the same ones, but bear with me while I discuss this under the presumption that orgasms are hard to come by through penetration alone. Pole dancing is thus all about satisfying the man, and if the woman is satisfied along the way, that’s a bonus, but it’s not necessary to the exchange. Thrusting à la Magic Mike is the same. Sure, simulated 69 says the woman is getting something out of it, but more of the dancing was about simulated blow jobs or variations on missionary.
Male stripping, as a variation of female stripping, is not an invention but a placating of women’s complaints* that strip clubs disenfranchise women in order to satisfy the male gaze and male privilege. It was not invented by women, it was invented by men to convince us the playing ground is level.
Was it fun to watch from the safety of a theater? Yes. Channing Tatum is actually talented, and he’s funny. Attractive bodies are attractive, and fantasizing is fun. It was a dude road trip movie with funny vignettes, and aside from this complicated issue of whether male stripping is a flip of power into women’s hands (tl;dr: nope, it’s not), it didn’t really actively hate women the way lots of other dude movies do when they cast women as joyless hags and the like. It had a drag queen character who was welcomed as a friend and never made the butt of a joke. Would I ever go to an actual club where men danced like that near and on me and touched me without explicit consent (I don’t think that entering a club implies blanket consent to all touching. It maybe implies consent to close proximity)? Even though I believe in sex-positivity and in women being free to express that they are as sexual and human as men? No. I would feel molested and taken advantage of. Because it is not about my titillation any more than catcalling is about making me feel beautiful. It’s a reminder that any man, any time, can overpower me and violate me with impunity.
*I use that word because I feel like that’s when men’s rights activists would claim we are doing when we criticize male gazes and the complex of stripping and the consumption of women’s bodies – harping and complaining. Men’s rights activists are as much a gift to us as Donald Trump when it comes to humor, but then you remember that they have power and are taken seriously and you want to die.