I must commend Magic Mike on a couple of things. First, it provides straight women and gay men with a mainstream source of unabashed, sexually charged entertainment. Similarly, it tries to combat the typical proliferation of female objectification in popular culture. Pandering to the female gaze is a type of fan service I can stand behind. Yet, as laudatory as these elements may be, Magic Mike still fails to win me over.
Quite simply, I feel it is a movie that should not have been made. Attractive, straight, cis men do not require any more visibility in our society. They have long since established themselves as the standard for all men and the prize for all women. Showing off their strength and physique to crowds of nameless, sex-crazed chicks only asserts their dominance further. For instance, Mike (Channing Tatum), is a stripper. He oils up and gets down until his g-string is bursting with singles. But, as Steven Soderbergh seems desperate to prove, Mike is so much more than a stripper. He’s an entrepreneur! He’s charming! He’s sensitive! Towards the latter half of the film, he encounters some serious drama (money troubles, romantic mishaps, quarter-life crises). And when he tearfully comes to terms with his ability to fail, we’re supposed to empathize with him.
But why? Mike embodies a huge double-standard. Any woman in the same profession, experiencing the same personal trials, is looked down upon instead of pitied. Though erotic dancing or stripping has no bearing on a person’s sexuality, she is seen as promiscuous or lacking in self respect. One could be an entrepreneur, a mother of three, and a member of the PTA. Still, our culture considers her as nothing more than her onstage persona. At best, she’s a performer; at worst, she’s a slut. In either case, any hardships in her life (like Mike’s in the film) are chalked up to “poor life choices,” and tearful reactions to those hardships are attributed to the weakness of her sex.
If it seems like I have presented these comparisons in an overly-general manner, that is because I have reason to believe that is warranted. Sexism is pervasive enough that speaking in general tones about it does not detract from its reality. Magic Mike operates under the guise of equal objectification opportunity, but it only made me more aware of male privilege. Performers like Mike magically rise above simplistic labels while his female counterparts presumably remain in a state of suspended gyration.