As I watched Magic Mike XXL I couldn’t help but wonder: have we reached a tipping point where the female gaze is not only acknowledged, but celebrated? Where women are assumed to have a raging sex drive, not slut-shamed when their sexual desires come to light? In an earlier post, I argued that we lack strip clubs for women because women’s sexuality is so threatening that we have created myths to diminish its strength, one of which is that women aren’t sexually aroused by visual stimuli.
But Magic Mike XXL gave us a glimpse of what the world would be like if women’s love of gazing at male bodies were allowed to run free: and boy is it a beautiful world. It’s a world where strip clubs full of gorgeous undulating be-thonged men exist, where perfectly tanned male buttocks shake in front of women’s faces as women sip Grey Goose martinis, while the Childish Gambino lovingly composes personalized rap songs extolling the beautiful personalities and bodies of the guests.
Of course there are problems with the movie: its storyline is weak and is simply a loose framework for showcasing exquisite and bizarre dance routines, but that can be forgiven because Magic Mike XXL is the rare (only?) movie that was created specifically for the female gaze. As Laura Mulvey famously argued, most films cater to the “male gaze”; they are shot from the point of view of the male viewer and objectify women. Yet Magic Mike XXL subverts this tradition. Its director Gregory Jacobs assumes that women are horny bastards who get sexually aroused through visual stimulation and constantly want oral sex, assumptions that make it one of the most feminist movies of the year.
Sure the plot isn’t great, and the movie pretends that the star of the previous Magic Mike, “The Kid” (played by Alex Pettyfer) never existed, but I’m willing to overlook any and all flaws for a movie that devotes a quarter of its screen time (loose, optimistic estimate) to cunnilingus-inspired dance moves performed by Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, and Matt Bomer. The basic outline of the plot is that Magic Mike (Channing Tatum) has retired from stripping and is now running a custom-furniture business out of St. Petersburg, FL. His former stripping group, The Kings of Tampa, are traveling to a male strip convention in Myrtle Beach, SC. They stop off in Florida to visit Mike, and he ends up joining them on the road trip, where wild antics ensue. These antics include dischronic sex between Nancy (played by the 57-year-old Andie MacDowell) and a man nearly two-decades younger, Big Dick Ritchie (play by 38-year-old Manganiello), as well Big Dick’s spontaneous striptease in a minimart, which involves the enthusiastic tearing open of a Cheetos bag and a creative use of bottled water.
But perhaps the most feminist scene occurs when Mike and the gang visit the male strip paradise created by Mike’s ex-girlfriend Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith). Housed in a gothic mansion, this strip emporium features room after room of buff black strippers clad in thongs, performing table dances for African-American women of all ages and sizes. As the strippers grind their bodies on the lucky women, the camera lingers on the glittering crotches, chiseled buttocks, and glistening pecs of Augustus (Michael Strahan) and his fellow strippers as they simulate all manner of sex, with a special focus on oral. The dancing is only interrupted when Rome delivers pronouncements about the amazing qualities of her guests, saying that all of the women are Queens who deserve to be worshipped by the most beautiful men in the world.
Are men objectified in Magic Mike XXL? Of course, but that’s the point. There is nothing wrong with sexual objectification per se, as long as the sex objects are consenting. People don’t get horny from brilliant backstory. But what makes Magic Mike XXL a feminist film isn’t just that it’s flipped the script for women from objectified to objectifier: it’s Magic Mike XXL’s acknowledgment that many women’s sex drives are as strong as and perhaps even stronger than men’s. The movie’s take-away message is that we shouldn’t be afraid of women’s visually-stimulated lust: we should monetize it.