The Unexpected Feminism Of “Magic Mike XXL”

I expected to roll my eyes. I expected to maintain that “Magic Mike XXL” is empty objectification and that that is wrong. I expected to see the same tired mockery and shaming of women with desire and men who dance that we always see in media. I didn’t expect to lean over and say to my friend, “This is my actual favorite movie” 87 times. I didn’t expect to see THE MOST FEMINIST MOVIE in the summer that gave us “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Inside Out.”

“MMXXL” is a movie that shows women as actively sexual beings with spending power. It shows a diverse range of sexually desirous female bodies. It shows male friendship in a touching, if shakily written/improvised way. It shows men who dance in drag clubs, strip and share hotel beds and never make a gay joke to affirm their heterosexuality. It openly calls out the culture that I had unfairly lumped it into.

THIS MOVIE IS PERFECT LIKE EVEN IN ITS IMPERFECTIONS AND I REALLY LOVE IT AND I MIGHT SHOUT SOMETIMES AS I TELL YOU WHY!

My biggest apprehension about this film was that it was just going to be bodies for bodies’ sake – which I hate. The answer to the diminishing of women’s wholeness isn’t to diminish men’s. But this isn’t objectification. Yes, on purpose, male bodies are very visible, but at no point does it feel reductive – which objectification absolutely is. It’s not about their bodies, really, the way it ALWAYS is with naked women on screen. We admire their form, sure, but more than that we admire their skill, the precision of their movement and their connection to the women for whom they dance. And those women are also whole and complex, with need, pain, and desire, too. Wouldn’t it be cool if we let movies for straight men featuring naked women do the same ass thing?!!!

“MMXXL” shows a side of the sex industry that gets lost when it’s based on men proving their virility with bad girls who we pity for their bad choices. Here, we understand that it’s a human service, provided by and for humans, all of whom have and are deserving of dignity. The rest of the world could stand to learn a thing or two from that – when we treat all parties as equal everyone is satisfied. I’ve always had respect for my friends who strip, spank, fuck, sell their panties or model lingerie for a living. But I’ve never really been able to grasp the value of the sex industry. This movie made me get it and in doing so IT MADE ME A BETTER FEMINIST!

MagicMikeXLGrind

The women in this movie are powerful. They are queens. Jada Pinkett Smith’s Rome is the Queen of Queens, a strong and loving lady Jesus delivering sal(i)vation to all those who believe and who take of the bodies that are given for them. This woman is a business owner who openly challenges the idea of what “a good woman” is or wants. It is for this Queen and this Queen alone that Elizabeth Banks lets the guys into the Stripper Convention. Also Elizabeth Banks and also STRIPPER CONVENTION!!! More on that later.

“MMXXL” celebrates women hard, and one of my favorite celebrations is Rome’s club full of Black women of different shapes and sizes with money and needs, being worshiped instead of criticized. These women aren’t treated like jokes or novelties, they’re just women. In a country that shits on Black women when it’s not otherwise ignoring them, this felt like a deliberate, important choice. YOUR FEMINISM AIN’T SHIT IF IT’S NOT INTERSECTIONAL. This visibility was val-u-a-ble. Similarly, fat women and their sexuality are not a joke in this movie. Older women and their sexuality are not a joke. WOMEN ARE NOT JOKES IN THIS MOVIE!

The film also plays with ideas of what women want compared to what they’re told they want. The cheesiest dialogue in the film plays with classic notions of heightened romance, uttered in a manner that is really charmingly earnest.

Giving women the chance to say, “Okay, we get it, get to the the hot shit” is a lovely empowering thing. That said, sometimes that dumb shit is genuinely lovely. We know it’s corny, but it feels good, some of it does satisfy an emotional want and that doesn’t undo our longing to see Channing Tatum simulate sex on two woman while holding himself up ON THEIR BUTTS using his core strength.

These two supposed opposites actually work together really nicely – it’s not an either/or. We don’t have to choose between being virgin or whore, wife or mistress, good or bad. THESE PARTS OF OURSELVES ARE BASICALLY 69ING!!!! BECAUSE WE ARE EVERYTHING!!! WE ARE WHOLE!!! AND WE ENABLE THESE MEN TO BE WHOLE TOO BECAUSE THAT COULD ONLY HAPPEN IN A MOVIE MADE FOR WOMEN BUT MAYBE IT WILL HAPPEN IN A REAL LIFE MADE FOR EVERYONNNNE!!!!

This is perfectly summed up in Big Dick Richie’s final dance but I don’t want to spoil it so like, if you’ve seen it you KNOW and if not FUCKING JUST GO WATCH IT HOLY SHIT!

Growing up girl, you are taught that sex is a thing you do for men in exchange for security, protection, babies, state of the art appliances, yadda yadda, etc etc. We are not taught that sex is ours, too. “Magic Mike XXL” thinks those values are bad. Andie McDowell encourages her daughter to play the field, having wasted “all this” (her body, her beauty, her mind, her passion) on one man. Hell yes.

That is exactly what moms should tell their daughters. That gift of sexual ownership, from mother to daughter, is especially poignant, as we live in a world with purity balls and sex shaming abstinence only (for girls) education. It calls out the best and calls for a better tomorrow. “Magic Mike XXL” IS BEING THE CHANGE IT WISHES TO SEE IN THE WORLD!

Women are also taught that if sex is bad it’s something we’re doing wrong or not doing right. It’s our fault. This movie consistently challenges that notion, reminding men to ask women what they want, reminding women to tap into their own desires and needs and express those, demanding that men step up their game, too. YEAH HANK CAN’T DO THAT, BUT HE SHOULD AT LEAST TRY BECAUSE YOU DESERVE EFFORT!!!

In addition to telling women they can want sex, we’re also reminded that men can want love. The character of Tarzan in particular longs for one woman to share his life with. I’m currently writing some fan-fic where his dream comes true with a woman named Jane he meets in a VA hospital.

The novel idea that men ALSO want love and marriage isn’t the only way this movie breaks down toxic masculinity and throws it out the window of a FroYo van. These buff ass dudes are the very image of the traditional “male ideal.” They’re strong, hung, and virile, and they don’t give a fuck about proving it. They pluck their eyebrows with their front-facing phone camera as a mirror, they hold their friends accountable for not being present, they sleep in the same hotel bed, go to drag shows and dance without the need to shout “NO HOMO!”

anigif_enhanced-4561-1435156712-19

They are friends who listen to and encourage each other’s dreams. At one point there’s a scuffle and it’s immediately noted that violence isn’t helpful and doesn’t feel good. By pairing honest emotional availability with traditionally masculine bodies, we reshape the ideal. And these dudes aren’t jokes the way male strippers are usually depicted. In fact they physically throw out the symbols of their old characters and old ways of viewing the industry. They tap into what’s real – the actual interaction of sex and sensuality, showing who they are and what they love – ART, ROMANCE, CHAIRS, ACTUAL HUMAN CONNECTION!

Now, let’s talk about the stripper convention. This hilariously cheesy framing device is perfect. This movie is full of silly, fun, dumb shit. It respects women enough to have a sense of humor. It lets us swoon while we laugh and shout, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?” to the women in the next row. It’s fucking campy as hell. It has occasionally hack writing, over the top sentimentality, insane circumstances – and it’s gotten flack for that. But fuck that noise – it’s part of the fun.

“MMXXL” allows women not to take themselves TOO seriously. It shows that the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. And all the while it gives everyone the full respect they deserve. It reminds us that sex and performance and illusion are fun. We’re playing, too.

If I needed or wanted to I could write an article about what was problematic or condescending about this film. But no, I don’t want to. I choose to believe that in writing a movie “for women,” Reid Carolin allowed himself to unfuck the messaging we send men and women about themselves and each other. He lets men and women (albeit cisgendered, predominantly hetero men and women) be everything.

Nothing is more feminist than allowing people to be whole, to live across the spectrum of gender and simply be themselves. Everyone in this movie bends a norm, challenges an expectation and has a good ass time.

I love this movie. I believe this movie sets a good example for everyone. You have to go – especially if you are a straight man.