I saw Magic Mike XXL over the weekend knowing absolutely nothing about the film going in except that both Mallory Ortberg and Alex endorsed it (which would be enough for me to do pretty much anything, if we’re being honest). While I expected it to be fun, I did not expect the characters and writing to impress me as much as they did, and I certainly did not expect to be filled with the holy spirit of feminist inspiration.
And yet I was radiant with the light of equality and flushed with the pulsing drumbeat of patriarchy demolition as I left the theater, and not just from the Magic Mike-inspired tequila-based cocktail I enjoyed during the film (dubbed The Grind). Let me explain.
1. It celebrates female sexuality.*
The men of Magic Mike are male entertainers—strippers, essentially, though their talents range from freestyle rap to what I have to call gymnastics—and they take pride in their work. The film never slut-shames women for appreciating a sexy performance; the entertainers have a tremendous amount of respect for what they do because they respect women as adults and valuable customers. THIS IS REVOLUTIONARY, people. In one of my favorite scenes, the guys are hanging out with a group of middle-aged women and talking openly about sexual experiences. Ken (Matt Bomer) asks one shy woman to share a secret, and when she admits that she misses listening to the song “Heaven” with her husband, Ken treats her to a very sexy serenade. When Nancy (Andie MacDowell’s character, who I want to be when I grow up) muses that she wishes they’d known the boys back in their day, Big Dick Richie sincerely responds, “Well, I’d say it’s still your day, ma’am.”
And can we talk about the diversity of women being celebrated? Races, body types, ages—the guys worship them all and send a message to every woman that they are worthy of a good, sexy time. Should women need to be told this? Of course not. Does it help? Hell yes.
2. It depicts healthy male relationships.
Alex pointed out to me that in a scene where all the guys pile together adorably in a single bed, there isn’t a single “no homo” joke—and sadly, that’s rare in a male buddy movie. The occasional films that engage the complicated topic of male friendship, like many of the Judd Apatow films, always seem to center a “but we’re not gay” disclaimer, as if any affection between men must be distinguished from the feminine and the homosexual. It’s homophobic and sexist and it’s one of the saddest aspects of toxic masculinity, to me: the consequence is that men don’t get to have the same openness in friendships that women are taught to nurture.
In Magic Mike, however, the male characters have no problem hugging or confronting each other about being “present” in the moment (Richie throwing Mike’s phone out the window was gold). Ken’s and Mike’s relationship is a great example of subverting the male stereotype of conflict resolution through violence: Ken takes a shot at Mike, but after meditation the next morning feels ready to explain his anger and move past it. Ken’s earnesty is played for laughs, but the behavior is rewarded—the conflict is resolved and he later puts on a great show.
3. It has the Large Penis Conversation.
In retrospect, it makes sense that a movie about male strippers would shut down the “size doesn’t matter” debate with aplomb, but when it happened in Magic Mike I nearly whooped with glee. When the guys are catching up with each other early in the film, they assume Big Dick Richie is up to his neck in fine ladies because, well, he’s Big Dick Richie. Not so.
He announces that he hasn’t had sex in five months, more wistfully than out of shame, because when women see his enormous penis they get turned off. Folks, hold on to your seats, because I’m about to drop a bomb: This is a real thing. Penis size doesn’t matter to women nearly as much as porn would have men believe, and one of the reasons is that many women are physically too small to accommodate a large penis. Our sizes vary just like all body parts, and a penis that’s too large to fit comfortably can be quite painful. Yet the cultural narrative says that men with big dicks get all the women. Frankly, we feminists haven’t done the best job of demolishing this stereotype (I see penis-size-related insults from women to men on twitter daily) and men need to hear it from unquestionably attractive and successful other men: size isn’t everything.
4. Men treat women like humans in this movie.
I know, I know. Men don’t deserve ally cookies for being decent humans to women in movies or in life. It should be obvious and it should be the standard. But, um, it isn’t, and I really appreciate a film where sexy, obviously desirable men actually listen to women and tell others to do the same even when it’s not clearly a ploy to get laid. If you see Magic Mike, ask yourself when’s the last time you saw a male lead listen to a female character with the same sincerity depicted in this movie. For me, it was basically Mad Max and then before that I couldn’t remember.
5. Jada Pinkett Smith as Rome. That is all.
Well, no, that’s not all. Rome runs a club called Domina where women go to get pleasure from an array of multi-talented men. In a Hollywood where black female sexuality is either erased completely or demonized, this is pretty great to see, and Smith is just a goddess as she floats through her club ensuring that her “queens” are getting their money’s worth. When she agrees to emcee Mike’s big show, the guys know they can’t do it without her, and she delivers—on her own terms. Hell yes.
*Male-attracted sexuality, to be sure, but it’s a movie about male strippers.
Images: Claudette Barius/Warner Bros.