There’s a scene in Magic Mike XXL where the boys turn up at a McMansion where a bunch of randy 50somethings are having a wine party. The ladies are led by the newly divorced Andie MacDowell, who is flirtatiously bossy, demanding that their unexpected visitors stay and entertain them. Things end well for MacDowell’s Nancy—she ends up sleeping with Joe Manganiello’s Big Dick Richie. But one of her friends is a meeker woman—one of many in the film—who feels undesirable because her husband has been neglecting her. “Just once,” Nancy’s friend says, “I’d like to make love with the lights on.” Upon hearing this, stripper Ken (Matt Bomer) swoops in to the rescue, making meaningful eye contact with her, grinding up against her, and telling her she’s beautiful. She’s enchanted, and practically floats away from this encounter, her self esteem, apparently, fully restored.
I’m sorry but…what the fuck? Why again are people calling this movie feminist? Yes, I get that this film, in the year 2015, dares to suggest that women like sex and hard male bodies grinding up against them—but is that really all it takes to qualify as progressive these days?
Andie’s repressed friend isn’t the only sad-sack woman saved by the attention of a hunky man. The most obvious example is the morose clerk at the convenience store. In one of the film’s now iconic scenes, the clerk—who’s a little chubby—seems virtually incapable of joy until Big Dick Richie’s performs his striptease, at which point she finally succumbs to his goofy charms and breaks into a delighted grin. It’s a cute scene, and it works in isolation. But it plays into the film’s world view: That chubby and middle-aged women, in particular, are craving male attention they can’t get anywhere else—that the attention of men they paid for is literally the best they can do. Of course, the strippers don’t actually desire these women. They’re doing them a favor, performing a bit of stripper noblesse oblige.
In Jada Pinkett Smith’s brothel-like strip club, many of the African-American women receiving private dances are overweight. Again, the strong intimation is that they’re not sexually fulfilled in their private lives, which is a little sad. But at least these women are taking control of their own desires. At one point, a demure woman is pushed forward—she’s blinking, knock-kneed, a wide-eyed naif (what she’s doing at this den of iniquity is anyone’s guess)—and a stripper is procured to bring her out of her shell and let her know she’s beautiful. I mean, give me a break.
In her positive review of this film, the critic Susan Granger refers to the film as “a sleazy, sybaritic yet surprisingly sweet 7, revolving around a troupe of male strippers who are determined to elevate women’s self-esteem.” But how patronizing is it to suggest that women need strippers to elevate their self esteem? Imagine, if you will, if the film was about a bunch of female strippers making dumpy and unloved men feel sexy and desirable. Would we be championing such a film as a triumph for men? Trick question. They’d never make such a film. How Magic Mike XXL is being trumpeted as revolutionary and feminist remains a mystery to me.