NOT SO ‘MAGIC MIKE’: ARE WOMEN BECOMING THE MEN WE DESPISE?

by Katina Hubbard

Last night, I accidentally saw ‘Magic Mike.’ I don’t know how I missed the trailer for this little film that has sent American women into some sort of sexual frenzy, but I thought I was seeing a romantic comedy where someone has amnesia. If you’re like me and you had no idea this movie existed, you probably do now, since it was front page of the New York Times’ Art Section and at the top of the box office charts this weekend.

Are images of male models as harmful for men’s self-esteem as images of women are for us?

It’s the classic tale of the poor girl with nowhere to turn except to shake her naked ass for money. She enjoys it, and so does the audience, but in the end gets saved from a life of meaningless sex and drug overdoses by a normal Joe-turned Prince Charming. Except in ‘Magic Mike,’ the poor girl who needs saving isn’t a girl, it’s America’s male heartthrob, Channing Tatum. I’ll let Manohla Dargis, normally one of my favorite NYT movie reviewers, explain further: 

 

In ‘Magic Mike,’ men exist to be looked at, and women do the looking, a reverse of the old cinematic divide between the sexes that finds so-called passive women who are looked at by so-called active men. In one school of thought Hollywood movies are always organized for the visual pleasure of the male spectator, which pretty much leaves the female spectator sidelined. There’s no leaving her out any longer — or the gay or confident heterosexual male spectator, either. From the way Mr. Soderbergh shoots the raunchy, often hilarious vamping dance scenes (Village People Plus), his camera lingering on the undulating bodies — the other strippers are played by Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Adam Rodriguez and Kevin Nash — it’s clear the director is out to maximize everyone’s pleasure.”

 

So after recovering from my shock of expecting Rachel McAdams and instead seeing scene after scene of naked, undulating male butts, I looked around at the audience of 100% women, smiling, laughing, and enjoying every moment of this movie made explicitly for them. And I realized – ohkay. I see what’s happening.

This is what the movies are for – two hours of escapism in whatever way the audience most wants it. The objectification, celebration of “casual” sexual encounters, and other male “fantasies” that have been normalized and then flooded throughout my psyche by the media since I was born, has been reversed in ‘Magic Mike.’ Every day of our lives, we are bombarded by images of skinny/tan/rich/blonde/whatever-“perfect”-is women, and this is two hours of the opposite. So shouldn’t I be thrilled to enjoy it, while men have to deal with the objectification, for a change?

But instead of settling in for two hours of salivating over Channing Tatum’s hip thrusts, I started thinking about how this would make the man I love the most feel. And don’t get me wrong, he has the most beautiful everything, he’s absolutely perfect to me in every way—he’s my Channing Tatum only better. But as I sat watching tan, hairless men with six-packs fulfilling the female fantasies of, (as the fabulous in this one Mathew McConaughey says,) “the husband they never had, that dreamboat guy that never came along…” I couldn’t quite relax. I don’t want any man in my life thinking that what I want is a 22 year-old muscled and hairless male dancer. I don’t want him to look down at his body and his “moves” and think, “If she likes that, how could I ever be good enough?”

My boyfriend is a huge Channing Tatum fan, so among other reasons, he says he’s unaffected by my watching ‘Magic Mike’ and the ‘like.’ However, the YouTube commentators on the ‘Magic Mike’ trailer were more revealing. It’s about 25% men calling the movie, the actors, male strippers, and anyone who likes male strippers, “gay.” The other 75% of commentators have unanimously said that all those men are insecure (which I’d have to agree because I don’t know how to judge anyone’s sexual orientation from a trailer. And if they’re using “gay” to mean “bad,” then that’s just ‘gay’).

Though it’s nice to see the paradigm switched these days, the movie doesn’t deal with any of the more interesting and real issues at play here – namely the very real addictions portrayed (sex, drugs), STDs, and the psychic and emotional repercussions for those in the “entertainment” and sex-selling business. Not to mention the nationwide sexual confusion that leads us to fulfill our sexual desires everywhere besides our committed relationships.

AS ‘EXTRAORDINARY’ AS ORDINARY

Why would we need to go there? Channing Tatum, who publicly confessed to spending two years as a male stripper, is doing just fine despite his time spent stripping on stage. Who cares about the 92% of strippers who are women, mostly talented dancers who couldn’t find jobs elsewhere, supporting themselves through college and putting food on the table? How about sex workers’ right to fair wages, clean working environments, health care, and a way out of their line of work, if they wanted it? No, as Manohla Dargis continues, “‘Magic Mike’ is very much about the beauty of bodies in motion and the deep cinematic joys of watching good-looking people perform extraordinary physical feats,” as if she’s writing about apple pie and the other things that make us ‘Americans.’

 

 

Let me set this straight, Manohla – there are no “extraordinary physical feats” in this movie. A short trip to the streets of New York City or better yet to the African continent will quickly show you male dancers who blow Mr. ‘Extraordinary’ Tatum out of the water and can move their pelvises as if they’ve been doing it for millennium – which they have (although there, sexuality is culturally integrated as ‘normal,’ whereas we exploit it in the name of novelty and consumerism.) Manohla’s review is on autopilot, mostly leaving gender-bending aside and complacently giving a “thumbs-up” without divulging anything below the surface of this otherwise cookie cutter film.

New York Times reviewer Dargis calls Tatum’s dance moves “extraordinary,” but they only remind me of middle school

 

She seems resigned to the status quo reaction to this movie which is women saying, “Finally! I get the chance to objectify men’s bodies they way they’ve been doing ours for millenium!” Somehow, when both genders are objectifying someone, it becomes okay. I often hear my female friends talk about women’s bodies with their boyfriends, somehow empowered by the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” cop-out.

Similarly, YouTube user BrunellaNoriega confides publicly that she’s been pretending not to be bothered by the dozens of movies that make her feel like crap for years: 

Whether it’s this image of real-life Channing Tatum as a stripper or women making $2000 a night in Las Vegas, exploiting sexual activities for money can be damaging.

TEAM OBJECTIFICATION

Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel good or natural for me to objectify other people’s bodies. Somehow it’s just not my thing. Maybe it’s because I’m in a relationship – one where I’ve committed my love, my body, and my thoughts, to only him (and expect the same in return), and so it’s hard to just relax into something that is, essentially, sharing my sexuality with someone else. I just can’t get on the objectification bandwagon, and I think I’m pretty much standing alone on the side of the road on this.

However, I oftentimes find that men also aren’t that comfortable objectifying women, or at least us knowing about it. When I’m sitting next to a man and there’s a woman getting naked on screen or something sexual happening, it’s sometimes uncomfortable for both of us, not just me. And why do men hide their porn? Not only because they know how actually shocking and potentially harmful the images could be to people they love, but I think because deep down somewhere, they feel some shame at their inability to control their sexuality in a way that doesn’t include strangers having sex with each other on a screen. (More on porn addiction here).

American men have a lot of growing up to do, but obviously so do women, if we’re going to be using the same type of visual sexual materials that have plagued our relationships for so long.

Objectification isn’t a female problem anymore. Our culture is slowly allowing men to be themselves – to show emotion, express feelings, be unique, feel fear, and show insecurity. So the gap between women’s rights and men’s rights is closing, at least emotionally, as in we’re getting closer to saying, “when you do this, it hurts,” and men being able to say, with empathy, “I know. I’m sorry.” And in turn, they’re going to start saying back to us, “when you do this, it hurts.” And we will instantly swallow the 30% less of every dollar we make for the same job, generations of inequality, and a lifetime of similar experiences to sincerely say, “I know. I’m sorry too.”

Being treated as if your body is more important than your brain, heart, and soul hurts everyone. Perpetuating gender stereotypes without allowing for the uniqueness of our partners’ can prevent the growth of mutual trust and respect healthy relationships depend on. Keeping our sexuality hidden, repressed, and shared with strangers because we lack honest sexual intimacy with someone we love, fosters deep sadness and longing, which affects everyone.

Just because women are getting their turn to be the voyeurs in the situation, doesn’t mean that will get them any closer to happier, more loving relationships with themselves or others.

BrunellaNoriega, and everyone else: You deserve to live in a world where nothing makes you feel bad about yourself, and if you feel violated by your boyfriend’s movie watching you deserve to say something!

One of my favorite authors, Rob Bell, often talks about how all women are “worth dying for.” Hear him out, as he talks to us women: 

“When you live in your true identity, when you find your worth and value in your creator, in who you really are, you force him to rethink what it means to be a man.  Perhaps this is why historical marriage ideals* talk about the man dying for the woman. This can be terrifying for a man. Committing to a woman for life is going to demand a courage, fidelity, and strength he may not know he has. That is why some men take such pride in their sexual conquests. They’re desperately running from their fear that they don’t have what it takes to lay down their lives for a woman. Sleeping with lots of women gives them the feeling of being a man without actually having to be one.” (Rob Bell in Sex God )

Yeah, I’m going to say it. “Real men” don’t objectify women. Not with their actions, their words, or their thoughts. They honor the beauty and strength of their mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives, without needing to put themselves on a pedestal to feel strong. Needless to say, “real women” don’t do it either.

 

EXERCISE

Unfortunately, it’s a painful, messed up world we live in, and most people I know are somewhere in the process of learning the truth about what it takes to be the person they want to be the hard way.  They are learning on their own, without guidance from religion, positive role-models, or rule books.

But one thing we can do is talk openly about the media and our feelings, and make decisions to support art and entertainment that honors us and the people we love. Or at least, that doesn’t put us down.

This can be difficult. I won’t say I regret throwing down $20 for Magic Mike (it pulled me out of my month long blog-writing doldrum!). And just a few months ago I was shocked to find myself considering attending convicted-rapist Roman Polanski’s film with a friend.

 But at the end of the day, all I control is what I believe in and how I feel and if I’m not a fan of the new “dick” flavor of “chick flicks,” I don’t have to go see them. If “Magic Mike” makes you feel good about yourself and your body, then by all means see it again and again. Because you deserve to feel great, everyone does (and compared to the options out there, seeing an R rated Channing Tatum movie is chamomile tea).

The media we watch affects our minds, our thoughts, and eventually our lives. You’re better than that, take control of what you let in, and you’ll be happier with what comes out!

Give it a try:

When you’re watching TV, test yourself to see what emotions certain images trigger. You can try it when you first sit down, or if you’ve been watching for a while, try flipping channels and waiting till you feel a “ping” inside of you — emotions triggered. When it happens, try and take a moment to unravel the layers of what you feel, without accepting the first thing you think. For instance, if you see a celebrity you don’t like, take a moment to think about why you don’t like them. Then pick apart why you don’t like the things you don’t like. Hopefully you’ll find the side of you that wants to be empowered and loved just the way you are! And start to speak up!