Magic Mike: Why A Movie All About Naked Dudes Matters Big-Time For Women

Magic Mike: It’s a great movie, one that reimagines tired gender roles in new and interesting ways.
Publish date:
July 3, 2012
film, The Jane Dough, magic mike, gender roles

I’m not going to try and convince you that Magic Mike is high-intellectual fare. But I will say this: It’s a great movie, one that reimagines tired gender roles in new and interesting ways. And its success (both critically and, it would seem, in the box office) should have the film industry on notice.

As you’re undoubtedly already aware, the movie follows Mike, played by Channing Tatum, a stripper at a wildly popular all-male dance revue. And it’s the deadpan delivery of this concept (why yes, this is a movie about a buff guy taking off his clothes repeatedly, while struggling to find acceptance and respect from the women in his life) that makes it soar. Because while Magic Mike offers up a heaping portion of fluff (and what delightful fluff it is), the movie’s ability to turn an age-old trope on its gendered head makes it fascinating to watch. You’re not watching a woman fight to be appreciated for both her looks and her brains — in fact, the female leads in this one are all simply assumed to be smart. You’re watching a guy fight to be appreciated for both his looks and his brains, a fight most of the film industry rarely shows or acknowledges as a “real thing.”

As The Mary Sue pointed out earlier this week, “we don’t get a lot of serious depictions in our media of male characters who have made careers out of their looks alone,” nor do we often see attractive male leads who are demeaned by other characters and treated like they’re airheads just because they happen to be dishy or engage in work that makes some people squeamish. And Mike certainly goes through the ringer in the movie [SPOILER ALERT], whether he’s trying to get a small business loan or attain the respect from his incredulous female paramours (one of whom turns out to be irredeemably cruel). Mike loves dancing for women — and it’s crucial to note here that Tatum is an alarmingly good dancer — and he’s not ashamed of his job. But that doesn’t stop the judgmental underminers of the world from pigeonholing him at every turn.

Lest you think Magic Mike is a total downer, let me assure, it’s not. And it’s the inherent power dynamic between men and women that allows the movie to be joyfully voyeuristic and not a bummer. As cast member Joe Manganiello explained to MTV, “There’s no such thing as male objectification, and I think that’s what we’re exposing with this movie.” Consider also that Magic Mike, a movie that Warner Brothers acquired for a paltry $7 million, was relatively inexpensive to make — and yet it’s reaching a massive, untapped audience. Again, film execs, pay attention to this: Cheap movie that women flock to en masse.

Here’s what I can say from my experience seeing the movie opening night: There was a massive line of people waiting outside in 95-degree weather to get into the theater (passers-by took cell phone pictures of the queue, which was accompanied by a very large MAGIC MIKE sign, in case there was any confusion). The showing was sold out; the place was packed. During the movie, the audience, almost all women, appeared and sounded downright giddy. Women whooped and hollered at a de-werewolfed, de-clothed Manganiello. (Also, I’m not sure how to fit this in but it’s worth pointing out: This may be the most watchable thing Matthew McConaughey has done in years.) At one moment, the telltale *clink clank* of an empty, contraband wine bottle clattering against the concrete movie theater floor reverberated through the room — at which point everyone in the theater promptly laughed her ass off.

Ah, sisterhood.

Published with the permission of The Jane Dough.