Magic Mike XXL: Male Strippers, Women’s Fantasies and Why We Should Stop Judging Each Other

Magic Mike XXL, women's erotica, Women's sex lives, women's fantasies, male gaze, female gaze, feminist and Magic MikeDon’t the Magic Mike films objectify men? Well, yes. And I enjoy that. But they get far better treatment than most female characters in standard Hollywood films.

Finally, those lovely hunky hunks of 2013’s Magic Mike have come back to strut their stuff in Magic Mike XXL. And a whole lot of us ladies will be very glad to plunk down non-matinee prices to get a glimpse at these gorgeous specimens of male pulchritude. We’ll be stoking our private dream lives to the brim while we wait for the next little bit of fantasy fodder that Hollywood parsimoniously doles out to us women.

Yet I’ve found that all women are just not happy about this blessed event. In fact, there are rumblings already amongst women-friends. Perhaps you’ve heard them too:

“I don’t know why you’d want to see a bunch of men acting like women”

(Um, no…they’re actually acting, and dancing, like men…)

“I’d rather see them all greasy and sweaty from working on cars—and then snuggling with puppies and kittens.”

(Really? Puppies and kittens? Sure I like puppies and kittens but I’d rather think about my half naked men snuggling with me more than some puppies and kittens…)

“Ugh!  Men in thongs?  Men’s bodies are so ugly!”

(Men’s bodies are ugly?!? Are you sure you’re a straight woman?)

And these are some of the more, shall we say, benign opinions expressed by those who don’t seem to understand that some of us really and truly are entertained by half-naked men dancing to cheesy tunes. What is it though that makes women have such disparate views that, were the shoe on the other gendered foot, they would simply sigh at another sexist Hollywood romp? Why are some women so horribly offended by what other women find titillating? Why might they feel so strong a need to shame or outright halt other women from having a good time in their fantasy lives?

Some of the answers to these questions have to do with the idea of the “male gaze” – having the audience see the action of a film through the eyes of a heterosexual male.  With the first film, my friend Marvin and I had a long discussion about “male gaze” and how it differs from “female gaze”— theoretically speaking. There were many words spilled about feminist theory and the word “objectification” was brought up, but the only conclusion that we reached was that I must be an anomaly—a female with a “male gaze.”  Since I was so not offended and actually enjoyed watching male strippers.

The upshot of my friend’s displeasure with those wanting to see Magic Mike was that women should be morally above this sort of thing and should not stoop to a similar level of treating men the way many men treat women.

Then I found that there were indeed other women like me—and even found out that some of them had dated male strippers in their younger years (Yes, I dated a male stripper. That’s a story for another time….). Apparently, my male-ish female gaze wasn’t singular or unusual. That was confirmed when I went to a Sunday afternoon showing of Magic Mike and there were a whole lotta women whoopin-and-hollerin’ like a desert-dry nomad finding an oasis.

I then encountered a strong objection to the film’s content from a writing colleague.  She told me that she would feel very uncomfortable watching men in this, um, position. “What if one of those strippers were a friend’s son?” She said that was all she could think about.

Thing is, they aren’t—but I can understand her concern. For some women, all younger men are potentially their sons, their son’s friend, or a friend’s son.  It’s nice to think that way, that one is always part of a larger extended family that one might bump into anywhere, yet it seems limiting. I assured my colleague that, if I were to see a friend’s son who was so darned hunky-gorgeous that I desired him, that I would simply keep my mind, and my hands, to myself. Hitting on a friend’s son is a particular no-no in my book.

It also has very little to do with a film about male strippers.

The worst, though, was another friend, who for some reason, felt obligated to shame me for liking to watch male strippers in the first place. “Don’t you think that movie objectifies men?” my friend asked in a way that someone might have asked Erica Jong about Fear of Flying all those years ago.

Well, sure it objectifies men! Men are being shown in a fantasy setting, are utterly gorgeous, and express emotions and thoughts that women find very attractive. So, the objects are, in effect, humanized as the story unfolds.

This is far better treatment than most female characters fare who are depicted in standard Hollywood films.

The upshot of my friend’s displeasure with those wanting to see Magic Mike was that women should be morally above this sort of thing and should not stoop to a similar level of treating men the way many men treat women.

Yet, I strongly believe that most women do not treat male strippers in the same manner that men treat female strippers. Women do not frequent strip bars the way that men frequent them. Women don’t go to strip bars to unwind after work or consider bringing business clients to a male stripping event. Even when establishments have been set up to cater to women’s erotic entertainment, the attendance levels are so low as to make them not profitable. For women, male strippers are something of a treat, and women enjoy a big show with a bit of storytelling—not just naked guys walking around for the sake of being naked, taking dollar bills for the heck of it and charging for lap dances.

Still, what I find most troubling is that when it comes to women’s erotic fantasies, there are always certain people who desire to find those fantasies objectionable. Why is this? Is there really such a need for women to constantly take the moral high ground and eschew erotic fantasy?

What most women do not understand is that when they take that “high road,” they are colluding with the patriarchy and suppressing women’s erotic expression. This was more clearly visible when the movie Fifty Shades of Grey premiered, and conservative pundit Tucker Carlson made a mocking remark that the movie was “creepy as hell” because the target audience was women, suggesting that no men would interested in the content of Fifty Shades.

The same could be said of Magic Mike and MMXLL. Women do drag their boyfriends or husbands for these flicks, but these movies’ target audiences are still women. Even if the books were novelized (I’d prefer graphic novels thankyouverymuch) they would end up in the mommy porn section of your favorite bookstore, just like Fifty Shades and all the others that followed.

And what is so wrong with that? For centuries, men have had their own pornography that was rarely if ever shared with women. The first forms of pornography dating back to Renaissance Italy, the texts were more political polemic than titillation. Likewise the writings of the Marquis deSade were forms of political philosophy. I can see where Carlson might be suspicious of pornography for women alone, if we think that not all pornography is for titillation (and I think that’s giving Carlson something,) but why might women want so strongly to keep others from reading or viewing something they find titillating?  I doubt it has anything to do with fearing some subversive political content in the erotic fantasy, but, similar to Carlson, a need to police and control the thoughts of other women.

Think about it—and how insidious overly moralistic thinking about women’s erotica essentially reinforces patriarchy’s fear of women’s sexuality and its expression.

I still can’t help wondering why women simply don’t take the attitude that most men take towards one anothers erotic entertainment. Men simply live and let live—as long as no child or animal is getting involved, most men really don’t care what gets another guy going. Is it so difficult for women to take this kind of attitude towards one anothers fantasy lives?

When I mentioned to my friend Joanne that I was interested in Magic Mike XXL,  she simply said “I get that you like your eye candy, but that’s just not my thing.” We’re all different when it comes to what gets us going and that’s for women as much as for men. For some it could be the sound of a man’s voice, or it could be something completely different that I might not even consider titillating in any way. But she and I have a healthy respect for each other, and thus no need to police each others thoughts.

So, while some folks will be worrying about the rightness or wrongness of a movie about male strippers,  I’ll be somewhere in a dark theater, enjoying the hunky-gorgeous spectacle that is Magic Mike XXL.  To each his own and don’t let the patriarchy stop you!

Tish Grier is a writer and longtime blogger living in Easthampton, MA.  Even at middle-age, Tish is still a girly girl who enjoys blogging about fashion and beauty.  She also writes essays about her formerly dysfunctional life and wants to let everyone know that things change.  You can read her at High Fashion Average Woman. Tish is also a contributor to Midcentury/Modern on Medium.

Image via YouTube screenshot

  • blue8011

    This is a refreshing piece. My views on the topic may of course be biased but as a male stripper myself I’ve just found myself nodding to many of these points. While it’s not always possible to compare Magic Mike with a real performance with male entertainers many of these issues are definitely there. For example, many women (and men for the sake of mentioning it) take great effort in shaming those who choose to participate. The “what if it was your son” hasn’t been unheard of in my own organization, and I regard it as and indicator of the problem at hand rather than a legitimate reason (the chance to meet someone you know is actually very low since we don’t strip in our hometown. And clients do get to know the performers name and a picture in advance so it’s actually pretty hard to bump into a stripper that you know by accident).

    In my opinion the problem is that the the objectification debate is too often based on simply flipping the gaze. You regard a naked woman a problem, make some assumptions about the challenges of female objectification, then flip the gaze and make the same assumptions about a naked guy. But the assessment isn’t really that easy. While I can understand that some men (and women) are worried about male body image and more guys worrying about how they look, that in itself doesn’t justify the abolishment of movies like this nor male objectification in general, even if a female version wouldn’t be allowed, due to some important differences between male and female objectification. While seemingly the same, a common mistake is to equate objectification with derogation. People tend to apply the inherent problems in female objectification to men but it’s different for men. For instance, a naked guy is not “just” a naked body (which is much ore often true for a female stripper). A male stripper represents a character; a role that portrays strength (such as the policeman or fireman theme for example) by his using his (fit) body to emphasize that.

    Second – while both male and female strippers face requirements in the looks department – that’s also different. Female strippers tend to face impossible standards involving a rigid diet and exercise regime not as natural for the famle body (considering that a female body has more fat) as well as invasive surgery, including breast and butt agumentation, rhinoplasty and so on, for no other reason than looking good enough for the male clients. Us male strippers face standards too of course, but not requirements that necessitate a lot of surgery. Also, the buff appearance of a male stripper aids to emphasize his character in question, such as a policeguy or fireman.

    • HighFashionAverageWoman

      Thanks so much for your comments! Glad to hear someone in the business knows that simply flipping the objectification paradigm in the male gaze to females gazing at men is not a one to one correlation. I’ve tried and tried to explain that to people, and for so many it simply doesn’t register. Our culture treats males and females differently, and thus male and female bodies differently. The amount of degradation meted out to female bodies is perhaps more, and in different ways (including the plastic surgeries…although some might disagree on that one.) Back in the day, female strippers used to do the character thing too, and thus dancers would use their body type as part of the various fantasy woman. But it seems that the fantasy woman now doesn’t have particular roles as much as she has a particular kind of body. Which leads me to say that I *love* how men use their bodies to enhance the different characters they play. That’s part of the fun for women, too. Lots of women love dress up and role playing and watching male dancers taking on characters fits nicely with our world and our gaze. 🙂

      • Chris

        And thank you too, for your positive comment! I know this is a very late reply, guess my only defence is being very busy in general (also with stripping 😉

        What you’re saying is just what I’ve been trying to explain myself when people asking about all the time in the gym and the diets if all male bodies are accepted anyway; as a male performer my physique enhaces the character in question, and since my charecters are mostly portraying a guy carrying out physical work of some kind, it makes more sense to be ripped than flab. With women it’s a different story considering female beauty has traditionally been tied to womens selfworth itself.

        But things seem to be changing for the better in terms of acceptance. Recently, I started working for charity (half the revenue for each performance is set aside for a good cause) and the demand for my services has skyrocketed, so it seems that things are slowly changing for the better!

  • Thomas

    Is it weird that I find your friends position more sensible than yours? =P

    I just hate the whole hypocritic double-standard that somehow men looking at women stripping is immoral while women do it….well then…it’s different.

    “Women do not frequent strip bars the way that men frequent them” <—that's your argument

    Well, I could say thank God for that, because you can just google the stories of male strippers, that talk of how women grab them and scratch them and how painful it is, and all the other horror stories (all true), but I'm gonna be rational instead, when do women ever behave like men? I've been to all kinds of events with both men and women, men tend to want quiet, women are generally loud and screaming. That's just how it is, so when men are at strip clubs, they just want a quiet time, while women are as usual screaming and hollering. Lot of feminists make this example, that men are immoral because they just sit there quiet =P, it makes no sense.

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