I do not love Magic Mike XXL because its combination of ripped abs and freaky dancing is my particular cup of sexy tea. It isn’t. I don’t love MMXXL for its plot, which my friend Rachel called “Blues Brothers with dancing.” I definitely don’t love MMXXL for its dialogue.
I love Magic Mike XXL because I see myself in the faces of its women characters: those who find themselves perched in a chair, on a lounger, or in one case, on a countertop holding a massive red velvet cake, as they are charmed, wooed, and worshipped by men who derive pleasure from giving pleasure.
Too many men, I fear, do not know what the face of a joyfully turned-on woman looks like. Moreover, too many men do not care. “Smile,” they leer at her, as she walks by on the street. Not because she looks sad, but because she is not pretending to be happy. Because she is not outwardly focused on presenting an appealing facade for the guy at the corner store, the boy in the pick-up truck, the suit picking up his latte.
Or, you know, maybe they don’t harass women in public. Maybe their carelessness is more casual—the assumption of an orgasm, the presumption that she’ll put the dishes away, the expectation that she’ll quit her job when it’s time for kids to come along.
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Perhaps these men do not know to care. Perhaps they have never been shown how to care about a woman’s smile, about her satisfaction, about the whole history of herself and her body and her life that culminates in every last glowing grin and giggle emanating from the women of Magic Mike XXL.
Perhaps these men have been told, too many times over by too many movies, books, stories, rock songs, that their own desire is paramount, and that women are the ones who must strive to stroke, as it were, their egos. Perhaps they’ve been told that “sexy” is something women do at men and for men, but never for themselves. Perhaps they’ve been told that men are just “more visual” or “more physical,” and have been mistakenly and maddeningly led to believe that taking pleasure in giving pleasure is somehow, some mysterious somehow, unmanly.
For this reason, men—especially straight cisgender men—must see this movie. The good dudes, the ones who already care, are probably already getting their asses in theater seats. I say “probably,” but I know it to be true: I myself watched Magic Mike XXL with three excellent men, three guys who treat their partners, not all of whom are cisgender women, with respect and courtesy. We had a wonderful time. It was, as overwhelmed critics have gushed on so many movie posters, a veritable romp.
Because some men do care, of course. That’s another reason I love MMXXL.
In many of the film’s scenes, I see reflections of the best of the men I have known and loved throughout my life. I see snippets of the most satisfying relationships I’ve had—though they were largely devoid of thong-wearing, be-mulleted glitter-painters—in the many, many moments when the guys in “Mike’s” crew treat women as whole beings with real loves, desires, wants, and needs. For this reason, I implore straight dudes to go see Magic Mike XXL. Maybe with a pen light and a notebook.
Yes, the ladies of the world—and in my circle, queer, gay, and nonbinary folks too—are blocking off evenings to see the movie with their moms, sisters, and friends. This is a wonderful and exciting thing to share with fellow appreciators of the dude bod. It’s an opportunity to bond and gush over a shared experience of celebratory sexuality in real-time: a feat difficult to achieve in, say, even a romance book club. In the first weeks of the film’s opening, 96 percent of the viewership has been female—and the film doubled its operating budget with those women’s ticket sales. There’s no doubt that women want, and need, to see this movie, to see themselves reflected in the faces of the women on screen.
But I’d like to make the case for sharing Magic Mike XXL with havers of the dude bod, whether or not that dude bod comes with enticingly globular buttocks or a well-waxed chest. Because while Magic Mike XXL is a visual wonder to behold, what I hear from my friends—every last one of whom is currently in the process of actively raving about this movie—is how much they love the film for who and how the men are, rather than what they look like.
Sure, it is a movie about strippers—er, “male entertainers”—who make their living off of presenting wild and wonderful sexual fantasies to a gorgeously diverse array of eager women. But what’s beautiful about Mike Lane, “Tarzan,” “Big Dick” Richie, Ken, and Tito is that they’re as earnest offstage in their efforts to understand and please women as they are dedicated to a flashier version of the same thing onstage. It is what makes them more than entertainers. It is what makes them artists. Glorious, spray-tanned artists who travel across the South in a fro-yo food truck.
And dudes, you can and should emulate the bros of MMXXL! It will make you happier and it will make your partners happier. I don’t mean take up welding and choreograph elaborate dance routines to Ginuwine’s “Pony.” I mean trust your partners, ask them what they want, and give them a reason to feel safe telling you the truthful answer to that question! Listen to your partners! Give their desires to them, and do it with all the gusto of a man unafraid to make simulated love to a convenience store refrigerator!
If men see this movie and learn anything at all from it, there’s every chance that the women in their lives won’t need to buy a $10 ticket and an $8 bucket of popcorn in the future to experience the film’s thrill of being seen, of being appreciated, of being wanted not for what they can give to a man, but for the joy a man can, and should, take in making his lady-partner happy on her own terms.
Guys, we love this shit. And we are trying to tell you that we love it and we want more of it and we don’t want to have to booze through a two-drink minimum at our local gentlewoman’s club to experience it.
We want it now! At home! With you! This is a good thing!
The mainstream conversation about MMXXL has, for the most part, looked askance at women’s enthusiastic response to the film, with critics and think-piecers assuming that because women have zealously embraced the film, it is necessarily a “turn-off” for men.
That idea? That idea right there? That if women like something it must necessarily be distasteful to men? That is precisely the crux of the problem, and precisely the abhorrent idea that MMXXL challenges with humor, grace, and a lot of pelvic grinding.
I spend a fair bit of time writing and thinking about rape culture, and the ways in which the seemingly unbeatable beast of patriarchy persists in privileging male dominance—not desire, but dominance—as the end-all narrative of sexual politics and prowess. I am tired, so tired, of the onus being put on rape and sexual assault victims and survivors to prevent their own abuse and harassment. I believe, as deeply as I believe anything, that the solution to rape culture is to teach men to treat women like people, and not only to value their enthusiastic consent but to derive their own incredible pleasure from it.
But I have (too) often wondered: How? How, when so many stories we tell about romance and sex fail to show this version of empathetic, differently empowered masculinity to the men who need to see it most?
Magic Mike XXL is the narrative I’ve—we’ve—been looking for.
The film is raunchy and raucous, yes, but it is tremendously funny. As much as it is a story about strippers, it is a story about bros who love each other, who trust each other, who fail hilariously when they try to embody mainstream machismo (there’s an attempted fight scene that beautifully lampoons the idea that guys gotta “fight it out” or some asinine shit like that). And yet, they are no less men for it! A revolutionary idea, with bonus drug-induced buffoonery!
It is a story of impossibly handsome, impossibly goofy straight men who can go to a drag club and end up getting high with a beach full of queer folks. It is a story of men who, in the relentless pursuit of excellence in their own careers, can stop to listen to a room full of middle-aged women air lifetimes of sexual mishaps and disappointments—and get laid doing it.
Magic Mike XXL is a lad movie! It’s a bro-story about dudes doing dude stuff! ON A ROAD TRIP. It’s about a pack of bros on a mission of self-actualization!
That, to me, is particularly where MMXXL deviates from even the best, most egalitarian-minded romances. Magic Mike XXL isn’t about one man’s journey, some kind of special experience finding love with one remarkable woman. If it were that—the story of a singularly talented Prince Charming-in-a-banana-hammock searching for his dollar-tossing Cinderella (if you’ve seen the movie, this is funnier than it reads here)—it would be perhaps an entertaining and surprising rom-com.
But Magic Mike XXL is not that. It’s not even about a single man’s mission to put a smile on every face from Miami to Myrtle Beach.
Magic Mike XXL is about a whole LOAD of dudes who have two main priorities: think up new ways to make women happy, and dance. (And also to open an artisanal fro-yo truck, and to find true love and a family with kids, and to do yoga on the beach, and to do it all while making women happy.)
Magic Mike XXL isn’t “I fell in love with a stripper” with the typical gender roles reversed. It’s how a load of strippers—er, “male entertainers”—fell in love with an entire geographical region full of beautiful, remarkable, enthusiastically sexual, capital-Q Queens.
It is, without doubt, a movie for women. But it is, not at all subtly, also a movie for the men who would, could, and should love them.