July 10, 2012

Magic Mike: A Frolicking Celebration of Male Sexuality

Salon staff writer Tracy Clark-Flory accuses Steven Soderbergh's new movie "Magic Mike" for "devaluing women’s sexuality and desire" while turning male stripping into an "unsexy" "parodic" thing: "goofball, absurd and sometimes repulsive." On the contrary, I would argue that "Magic Mike" — marketed as a stripper rom com — offers us a frolicking celebration of male sexuality enjoyed both by the male strippers and their female audiences.

As a university student in Seattle, I joined a few of my male friends at a female strip club. What saddened me the most, was the lack of joy in both the women's performance and among the male audience. Sure, my friends were laughing, yet not for joy but derision. Derision at the other guys who'd slink into their seats, and derision at the detached, formulaic performance by the female strippers.

I know there are female strippers who experience their work as empowering and therapeutic both for themselves and their male audience. According to Clark-Flory, "arousal and longing ... reliably fills the air in a female strip club." But that was not the case in my experience, and nor has it been for the men I know who've visited such a club, including my friends and husband.

Men's sexuality is deeply stigmatized in our culture as crude and offensive; men are the predators and women are their victims. When men are given the message that their sexuality exploits and is "gross" and "icky," how really can they feel truly good about frequenting a female strip club?

The female strip club I went to reeked of shame. The male strip club featured in "Magic Mike" exudes pride and joy. The men savor their bodies and sex on stage and off, spinning and thrusting their bodies to pulsating rhythms in the stage light, and strutting around and leisurely lounging at a Fourth of July beach party in the sparkling sunlight.

I enjoy looking at beautiful male bodies. I value taking pride in our bodies and sexuality. And I appreciate that feeling of exuberance in a sexually confident body, and the reassuring feeling it's okay and we can laugh at it when you're with someone you feel totally at ease and comfortable with. "Some laughter with the lovemaking, please," begged author and gender studies professor Hugo Schwyzer a while back while criticizing porn and sexual performance for its "deadly seriousness" and "deathly humorlessness."

Mainstream porn is as devoid of joy as it's devoid of genuine chemistry. In my comment to Schwyzer, I pointed out that the new progressive porn by women that I discuss in my After Pornified book, on the other hand, in fact communicates genuine connection and chemistry which encourages joy and invites laughter. This is the kind of porn I enjoy watching.

Women are sexually aroused by looking at porn and sexual imageries, whether they like what they see or not. This was also what professor Meredith Chivers found in her extensive study on male and female arousal patterns, which Clark-Flory unfortunately misquotes, arguing that Chivers "found that heterosexual women showed no arousal response — neither physically nor subjectively — to nude guys working out. Their response to these exercising fellas was comparable to their reaction to footage of a mountainscape." What Chivers in fact found was that women — as opposed to the men who displayed more "narrowly focused desires" — displayed a "ruddlerless" arousal patterns to all sorts of images, including apes mating and clips of heterosexual sex, male and female homosexual sex, a man masturbating, a woman masturbating, a chiseled man walking naked on a beach and a well-toned woman doing calisthenics in the nude. True, they responded objectively much more to the exercising woman than to the strolling man though — and why? Chivers suggests an answer, explaining that one theory suggests that
women are prone to lubricate, if only protectively, to hints of sex in their surroundings. Thinking of her own data, Chivers speculated that bonobo coupling, or perhaps simply the sight of a male ape’s erection, stimulated this reaction because apes bear a resemblance to humans — she joked about including, for comparison, a movie of mating chickens in a future study. And she wondered if the theory explained why heterosexual women responded genitally more to the exercising woman than to the ambling man. Possibly, she said, the exposure and tilt of the woman’s vulva during her calisthenics was proc­essed as a sexual signal while the man’s unerect penis registered in the opposite way.
Attractive men are nice to watch; an attractive man who exudes sex is of a whole other caliber. According to Clark-Flory, the female patrons of male strip clubs "are typically cracking up, shielding their eyes in mock horror or cartoonishly objectifying male dancers as a performance for their friends" — and no wonder considering the example Clark-Flory gives, namely the one and only male trip club she concedes having been to, which featured this scenario:
Onstage was an overly tanned dark-and-handsome type dressed like a race car driver. He slowly unzipped his onesie while popping his knee to the throbbing techno music, which was accented by sounds of a car engine revving. Once naked, he took his flaccid penis in his hand, stretched it out as far as he could and let go; it snapped back to his body and flopped around as he wiggled his eyebrows at the crowd.
"Ladies-only male strip clubs exist primarily for groups of female friends to get a li’l wild ‘n’ crazy — in a parodic way — not for individual women to pursue their carnal desires," concludes Clark-Flory. This would resonate with Jen Doll at The Atlantic Wire who argues that "the summer of objectification" is fake: that women visiting male strip clubs or reading and talking about Fifty Shades of Grey is the inauthentic result of women retaliating against men for how they've objectified women. Women go home after visiting the male strip club or their night out "giggling about Fifty Shades of Grey" feeling "sort of glum about all of it, because it has been fake, a moment constructed for the appearance, though not the reality, of sexual empowerment." But how can she be so sure?

Why do we not, as I wrote in my blog, consider the hype about Fifty Shades of Grey as an opportunity for women to get "excited and invigorated with the idea that we can try something new, get creative and have fun here," as the owner of the feminist sex shop Smitten Kitten does, instead of being so quick at dismissing women enjoying beautiful male bodies or exploring new erotic fantasies as either a faked act or shallow payback?

A while back, I put on a mini-striptease in the bedroom for my husband. Always complementing my body, he nevertheless pointed out that he "could have done without the self-consciousness." The men stripping in "Magic Mike" are highly aware of their bodies' effect on the audience, but they are void of the insecure self-consciousness I displayed in our bedroom that night. On the contrary, these men own their bodies and sexuality. Donning an array of costumes, they certainly perform a range of roles with a certain tongue-in-cheek mischievousness but not at the cost of their "male erotic power," as Clark-Flory would have it.

And for the women, I do not see these men's stripping for them as the "inevitable result of devaluing women’s sexuality and desire," but on the contrary as an incredibly sexy and extremely well-done and carefully rehearsed performance, which is highly welcome to a gleeful female audience that has all too long been denied erotic performances and material that cater to their desires.


  1. I do also agree that there's a striking atmospheric difference between male and female strip shows. I'm doing some male performances myself from time to time, and I've also visited a female club to see the difference. What was most notable was the almost melancholic silence present during the female show, the guys were just sitting there staring at the women without really saying anything.
    Nor did the performers seem to have a good time, judging by their faces it look like they were tired and being there just because they had no other option which probably correspond well to the fact that many of the female clubs experience problems concerning drug abuse and/or having female performers that may not be there out of their free will. Im not saying it's the same for every female stripper, but from my experience this was objectification in a degrading manner.

    During my own shows, there's a stark difference of atmosphere. The female clients rarely come by themselves but are part of a group, often celebrating something or just having a good night out with their friends, and it's all just more cheerful. Yes, of course there is the occasional client that cross the line but in my experience there are few of them, and I wouldn't give in to the somewhat popular myth that female spectators catcall, grope and generally can't behave themselves. We have a very professional manager, and she's determined at getting those few who can't behave to respect the guidelines or they are being shown the exit.

    So, without trying to draw any conclusions I think that women seem to be able to appreciate the male body and male sexuality in a respectful manner and it has nothing to do with "getting" back at men argued by opponents of this trend, but has everything to do with acceptance of women's desires and allowing women to say it's ok to watch men pose as objects as long as it's all respectful as well as women's recent success in academics and business life.

  2. Thank you for sharing your experiences and observations! I appreciate it.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...