Positive representations are of great importance when mainstream media portrayals about sex work, gender transgression or pleasures are encoded as ‘bad’, not ‘normal’, Othered and hence ridiculed or sidelined in the film narrative.
However, this is not how the story goes in Magic Mike XXL (MM XXL). MM XXL (2015, d.: Gregory Jacobs) is build around male sex work (i.e. stripping), masculinity as a fluid concept and women as central guilt- and shame-free pleasure seekers with spending power.
In a western society, some professions are Othered; they are low-positioned in the work hierarchy, lacking social prestige or power and perceived as ‘dirty’. A job is unjustly branded as dirty if a person handles with physical (e.g. garbage, waste, excrement), social (i.e. servility to others) and/or moral (i.e. sex-related work) dirt. Sex work or stripping, to be precise, is one of those Othered professions that are filled with social (serving others by dancing for payment) and moral (sexualised entertainment) aversion. Stripping as a part of sex work nomenclature is primarily a gendered profession, considered as feminine sex entertainment service because dancing, sexual servility and body-as-instrument are elements of women’s work script. Men are not supposed to dance, because dancing invokes uninhibited body moves, affiliated with chaos, freedom and pleasure as opposed to the disciplinary regimes of walking or military marching. When men fully engage on the dancefloor for their own pleasure, they are bending gender rules of an appropriate masculine conduct of moving.
Male strippers, performers, who are using their dancing skills to sexually seduce female audience, are further gender-bending the accepted notions of male stoic heteronormativity that deprive men from being seductive towards women by displaying their bodies. Women are (western) culturally predestined to be seductresses with their ornamented and exposed bodies. It is strange (Othered?) for a man to be half-naked, seducing women and making money out of it.
MM XXL is one of the rare cinematic representations of male stripping where portrayals of male strippers doesn’t fall into the category of comedic (usually homophobic) giggles or social seriousness. What they do for living, is normal. Despite a constant visibility of male bulked bodies, MM XXL men are not being objectified. The concept of an objectification derives from the fact that a person is reduced to his/her/their body parts and intentionally dehumanized by it. MM XXL men’s ripped bodies are part of their personhood and the work they do, but they are also individuals with their own stories, ambitions, world views and problems. Mike (C. Tatum) is an entreprenur, Ken (M. Bomer) is a spiritual healer, Big Dick Richie (J. Manganiello) struggles with the fire-phobia and oversized penis problem (here it is – the ending of the myth that women want big cocks), Tarzan (K. Nash) is facing with ageism and mortality, Tito (A. Rodríguez) is also an entreprenur. MM XXL men are fully aware of their less privileged socio-economic position and that their economic well-being depends on their healthy, fit and young(ish) bodies. Bodies are fickle entities – they tend to get old, a fact that nobody has control over it and this creates a permanent anxiety, present in their day-to-day living. An aging body anxiety affects everybody who are in body-related professions (e.g. sports, fashion, entertainment – acting, dancing) because they must be thoughful about the future which will not include their main means of support – a body.
Stripping demands a visible body (exposed, naked) and for the dominant or hegemonic masculinity (white, heterosexual, middle class, able-bodied, educated) that is an anomaly, the Other. Male is not culturally constructed as Body (or nature), but as the Mind (or culture) and by using their bodies instead of minds, male strippers are transgressing their gender and approaching towards their ‘antagonist’ – femininity. Furthermore, male performers also subvert the angle of the male gaze – they do not look at other (women), they are looked by other (women). By abdicating their socially given entitlement to ogle women’s bodies, they position themselves as ”objects” of the female gaze. MM XXL men perform for ‘her pleasure’ and they fulfil an array of women’s (hetero)sexual desires from romantic wedding fantasies, cunnilingus (btw. Mike’s head is pretty often located between women’s thighs) to group sex and BDSM episodes. Nothing is othered, everything is welcomed, but too bad that female same-sex desire is absent.
Women’s desire is rarely depicted so deliberately non-judgmental in the cinema; usually, sexually active woman falls into the category of a ‘bad’ woman – mentally unstable, promiscuous, dangerous and in need for ‘correction’ (marriage or death). In MM XXL, the male desire to perform sexually and women’s readiness to consume it creates a realm of sexual equality between parties involved, a little sexual paradise, free from gender roles and forced purity. Female consumers – being presented as actively sexual beings – also embody a spectrum of diverse femininities (e.g. black, brown, white, thin, fat, young, old/er), but furthermore, MM XXL women are self-reliant, confident and … mature: strip club owner Rome (J. Pinkett Smith), middle-aged Southern belle (A. McDowell), convention organizer Paris (E. Banks) and tomboyish photographer Zoe (A. Heard), all of them sexually literate. To dilute overall female heterosexual climate, there is a queer moment between Rome and Paris, but this is as far as the film goes.
MM XXL men are pioneers of the newer, more fluid masculinity; empathy, communication, companionship, support and respect for each other and Others (women in general: clients, ex-bosses, potential lovers) are their main traits. These men, so comfortable in their bodies and their heterosexuality, are constantly touching each other and yet there isn’t one homophobic, sexist, racist or ageist joke made, because they do not need to validate their masculinity by degrading the Other. In MM XXL, toxic masculinity has been discarded as an unnecessary and outdated waste that has polluted everyone for far too long.
MM XXL is a campy, positive, gender-bending (e.g. their attendance at drag club is for their own dance pleasure and not for making fun out of transgressive identities), but mostly, a pro-sex feminist film where women come first.<<< Back