Magic Mike XXL – should there be so much controversy about male strippers?

The film Magic Mike XXL has been released, and is already getting film critics hot and bothered. It’s a sequel to the first Magic Mike film, following a group of male strippers as they head towards their final blow-out show. It’s always fascinating to see male stripping in the mainstream media, because it sparks a huge amount of debate.

Of course, it’s still Hollywood, so disappointingly there’s no male full-frontal nudity. In a film about male strippers, would it really have hurt to show us one of their cocks? Petra pointed out that, when films and TV shows are so keen to show female nudity, it highlights the inequality:

“In the final of Game Of Thrones we saw this very long “walk of shame” of the female leading character in full frontal nudity – we saw her breasts, butt and pubes for at least 1 minute on prime time TV. Then a big cinematic release on male strippers can’t even give us a glimpse of a semi erect or at least flaccid cock?! This just shows we do have a lot of catching up to do in matters of visual depictions of male nudity.”

The critique of Magic Mike XXL has been fierce. People are asking whether the male strippers really represent the desires of women. But even if they’re not universal, shouldn’t we welcome more portrayals of female sexual desire?

Female nudity is often used as background in films – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen mafia bosses chatting casually in clubs while women strip behind them, casting directors insist that women be happy to appear topless: the examples are endless. In fact, it’s commonly joked that shows like Game of Thrones include more breasts-per-minute in the early episodes because it keeps straight guys interested.

Male nudity on TV and in films

Male stripping, on the other hand, is generally seen differently: it’s rarely background material and it’s certainly not as common as female nudity. In fact, there’s an easy comparison to draw here between how men are presented in porn and how male nudity is presented in mainstream media. In general it’s assumed that a mainstream audience will enjoy looking at breasts, but won’t enjoy looking at male bodies. What turns women on is less represented, because it’s seen to simultaneously turn men off. Women, on the other hand, are so used to seeing female bodies presented on screen that if they were to switch off because of breasts, they’d hardly watch anything. Likewise in a lot of mainstream porn, straight male sexuality is seen as the default, so female masturbation scenes are commonplace, hot male masturbation scenes are rare, and the camera lingers for a long time on female bodies, while showing us little of the guy who’s having sex with her.

It’s disappointing, but that’s why it’s so important that filmmakers like Petra are turning the tables: creating porn from a female perspective so we can see all the things that mainstream, male-gaze directors would shy away from. Petra says:

“To me men are the main “objects of desire”. When I shoot a couple having sex, I always show at least as much of him as her but usually more of him as that is where my gaze is drawn. One favourite scenario for my (female) audience as well as me is to show a sensual male solo masturbation scene. A guy stripping off and pleasuring himself in his is own way by caressing his body and cock, just the way he likes it. Previously there was only gay porn to fulfil the female voyeurs’ desires, now feminist directors are feasting on men as pleasure “objects”. It’s about time too.”

If you want to see some gorgeous male solo scenes, check out the solo shower scene in Female Fantasies. It is a particular favourite of mine, because of the combination of water, a hot naked guy, and his sexy smile at the camera after he’s come. You should also check out Wolf Hudson’s amazing male solo scene in (S)he Comes, where he flirts with the camera whilst dancing seductively, uses a toy to give himself pleasure, and has the sexiest face when he’s hit the right spot…

Magic Mike XXL – female gaze in films?

As for mainstream blockbuster Magic Mike XXL – I won’t be first in line for a ticket, but Magic Mike XXL is interesting because it’s very strongly aiming to portray female gaze, and female sexuality. A group of smoking hot guys dance on stage, get their kit off, and generally strut about to the delight of many straight women.

Some reviewers are hilariously outraged by the sheer amount of stripping in a movie about male strippers. Mike LeSalle, writing for SF Gate, said:

“This is so bad, and it reaches its nadir at the finish, when each of the male strippers has to perform, and the audience knows there’s no escape. We will have to sit through five of these routines in a row.”

Joking aside, much of the genuine debate around Magic Mike XXL centres around the bodies of the starring men: are their abs and pecs a bit too much? Can we really believe that all women enjoy this? It’s odd, because I don’t remember many people asking similar questions about Showgirls, or From Dusk Til Dawn, or any of the movies I’ve seen that include conventionally attractive female strippers.

It’s tricky to make a film that aims to fulfil the sexual desires of every single woman: that’s naturally not realistic. But I think those reviewers who are asking whether it does are kind of missing the point. Sure, not all women will fancy Channing Tatum, but I think there are plenty of women who are pleased to see films that depict a female gaze, even though they are still outnumbered by those which cater to straight guys. Even if they are – when all’s said and done – a bit cheesy.

The review that sums up this feeling best for me is by Rebecca Keegan, in the LA Times:

“Watching it was like opening the wrong gift – that’s not my size, and I don’t like blue, but thank you, Warner Bros, for even bothering to shop for me.”

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