Feministing used to run an “(Un)feminist guilty pleasure” series. I liked it – the posts inherently acknowledged the complexities of living as a feminist in an overwhelmingly anti-feminist world. There’s an increasing preasure in the blogosphere to always get it right, to be the perfect feminist, which is impossible and unrealistic – and frankly dangerous for a movement that’s supposed to move in reality. So I’m bringing it back.
Cause I don’t want to overthink Magic Mike.
There’s a ton of critique out there. I’m sure some of it is on point (though not the ones I skimmed). Yes, equal opportunity objectification is actually a problem. Sure, there are no real lady characters except The Kid’s sister, who only registers because of Cody Horn’s epic “I ain’t having it” face. Absolutely, the scene where the guys pick up women out on a 21st birthday by offering them mystery drinks set off all my roofy red flags. I’m a smart, media savvy feminist. I get all this, and plenty more. You probably do too. Do I have to put the feminist over-thinking front and center every time?
Sometimes I just want to watch guys with way too many abs dance pretty.
Sure, the cast perpetuates hard body ideals for men. They’re overwhelmingly white (I’m waiting for the sequel with Tyrese, D’Angelo, and Idris Elba. Michael B. Jordan would play The Kid, and dance to Prince like it should be). But some of them do get to be actual characters. Steven Soderbergh’s casting is kinda brilliant – he stacked (hehe) the film with guys who are already known more for shirtless pics than their acting. They all got a chance to play with their public images – Matthew McConaughey had bongos. Matt Bomer played a Ken doll and a doctor on stage.
Speaking of the Village People-inspired routines, these moved the film out of a strictly hetero lens. Tracy Clark-Flory wrote about male stripping being seen as funny instead of sexy. In fact, I think the guys of Magic Mike work as fun eye candy for a largely straight lady audience precisely because the queerness of their routines makes them seem less threatening (and because watching homosocial interaction among guys can be hot too).
I think this is why the film works so well in front of a crowd. I saw it on opening day, in a small theater full of presumably straight women, but also some visibly queer and gender non-conforming folks and older gay men. I like that a mainstream movie brought this audience together. Maybe there is feminist value in a movie that caters to the gaze of people of who like to look at overly buff dudes for once – not the most politically perfect action, but still pretty great. I haven’t had that much fun with an audience since I saw Snakes on a Plane, and that was a bunch of hipsters chanting “USA! USA!” and shouting whenever there were boobs. I liked this audience’s hollers and running commentary way better (this is that rare movie where it’s totally cool to talk straight through). My favorite moment might have been when somebody got up to go to the lobby and headed up the isle shaking her head, going, “Wow. Wow. Wow.” Exactly.
The film flips the script on some normative gendered narratives, like Mike wanting more from Olivia Munn, who just wants sex. And it’s great to see a movie representing homosocial relationships beyond the typical “bromance” narrative. There’s tons – tons – of gay
subtext all over the place, but these are ostensibly straight guys who are comfortable sharing physical and emotional relationships.
Oh, the physical. The scene where Matthew McConaughey teaches the kid to thrust his hips is epic. How often do you see guys represented being this comfortable with their bodies and sexuality? McConaughey’s brilliant (I seriously mean it) performance opens up space for an alternative representation of masculinity, one that’s comfortable actually inhabiting a body that can be fun and sexy, not standing in the back of the club and nodding his head or doing the creepy fist bump. The showmanship on display is like nothing I’ve ever seen before outside the best drag queens. This movie really does feel like male drag in a lot of places – like a ridiculous, heightened version of dude sex work.
I’ve been a fan of Channing Tatum’s since Step Up, but he’s been generally misunderstood until this year. Folks are always surprised by him cause he looks like a hunk of meat, but dude can move. I’ve always enjoyed the way he’s unashamed about his stripper past and honest about how it was positive. We so rarely get to hear sex workers tell their own stories, and to have someone at Tatum’s level of celebrity who’s not following the rules of the tragic stripper narrative is pretty rad. Tatum and Soderbergh based the film’s story partly on Tatum’s life, and that real world influence shows between the hackneyed drug plot (which also contains the films most sexist-ly constructed female character. I’m mostly pretending that part of the movie away).
It’s great to see sex workers represented as people, and people who’s jobs aren’t all tragedy. The “trafficking” frame we’ve been fed by radfems (yeah they started it) is dangerous, erasing the complex lived realities of actual sex workers. This film doesn’t shy away from the dark sides of working on the edge of the mainstream, but it also shows that strippers can have fun, make safe choices (The Kid’s decisions look terrible because they’re being contrasted with Mike’s responsible life choices. Responsible life choices can include stripping!). In a media landscape where sex workers get talked about as victims and represented as one dimensional stereotypes, seeing male sex industry employees as people who might even like their jobs is revolutionary (I certainly hope The Kid’s gonna be paying Mike back after he quit stripping, though).
But mostly the movie was fun, I don’t feel like critiquing it, so I’m probably a bad feminist right?