Yes, wheeeee! the title of this post is a pun. Here’s a terrific review over at Sociological Images (and the discussion that follows is interesting, too) of the new Soderbergh film, Magic Mike (which has opened to huge audience numbers), and it explains how even films about objectifying men don’t bother to reverse or neutralise patriarchal power dynamics:
Have we learned to devalue our own sexual pleasure so thoroughly that the scraps of het female sexual pleasure provided by Magic Mike feel like a full meal?…
Aside from the questionably-empowering viewer interaction with the film, the content of Magic Mike is old-school sexism wrapped in a new package. It reinforces prevailing notions of masculinity where white men are in control, both economically and sexually, and women are secondary characters to be exploited for money and passed around for male sexual pleasure.
Most of the women in the film are audience members portrayed as easily manipulated cash cows to be exploited for money. In one scene, the club boss, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) gets his dancers pumped up before a show by asking them, “Who’s got the cock? You do. They don’t.” Dallas has a running commentary that forcefully rejects the idea that female audience members are sexual subjects in the exchange.
Beyond the foundational theme of male control, many (but not all) of the simulated sex acts the dancers perform in their interactions with female audience members service the male stripper’s pleasure, not hers. Dancers shove women’s faces into their crotch to simulate fellatio, hump women’s faces, perform faux sex from behind without a nod to clitoral stimulation, etc. As a culture, we have deprioritized female sexual pleasure to such a great extent that these acts seem normal in a setting where they don’t make sense.
It brings up lots of interesting questions about sexual objectification and what it is, exactly, and how it works as a power, and how feminist it can or cannot be. (There is another great discussion on the sexual objectification of men in Magic Mike over at Bitch Magazine). The ways in which Magic Mike is not subverting dominant sexual objectification patterns kinda reminds me of that quote of John Berger’s from Ways of Seeing:
Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves…
.. The surveyor of women in herself is male: the surveyed female … thus she turns herself into an object-and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.