The Fe(male) Gaze
Tonight I will be attending the midnight showing of Magic Mike (aka the Male Stripper Movie based on actor Channing Tatum’s real life experience) with a dear friend who also is entirely unconcerned with the fact it stars Channing Tatum. As she puts it, “it’s not ABOUT Channing Tatum. I’m not going for him. I’m going to see some ripped dudes get down. C’mon, it’s Showgirls 2012.”
For those who have yet to come across this film gem, here’s the trailer.
And without fail, every single time this movie comes up in the presence of heterosexual men, I hear grumbling and distain. We’re talking the kind of immediate distaste that usually is reserved for when their girlfriends suggest “let’s go dancing tonight!”
And these are not men who are repulsed by the idea of shirtless men…. necessarily. They’re not raging homophobes who have to announce as loudly as possible that the idea of Alex Pettyfer’s bare chest makes them violently ill or who go on about how if some dude tried to be all, like, shirtless and sexy in front of him, he’d be all, like, “fuck you!” and punch him in, like, the face.
Nope, these are just regular young hetero men who are, for what may well be the first time, feeling what it’s like to be a female in the world.
Earlier this week, I sat next to a female friend at a bar that was otherwise populated by males. Literally, there were no other uteruses in the entire establishment. The weather comes on the TV and a perfect exemplar of conventional attractiveness came on screen to explain why it was so fucking hot outside. I’ll never know why it was so hot, though, because the chorus of “she’s so hot!” bubbled up right on cue. The dudes, of varying ages and likelihoods of ever being able to approach this woman in real life, felt compelled to offer their assessments of exactly HOW hot she was and the various ways in which they would enjoy having sex with her.
The female friend and I looked at each other, sighed and went back to our conversation. It’s not that this TV anchor wasn’t hot. Surely, if she and I were both single and she was into it…..yadda yadda yadda. Our shared sigh was about how unmoved we were. There are attractive people everywhere, but women are generally discouraged from remarking upon it. Because a female showing sexual interest is a slut and that’s still verboten.
But we also are entirely used to these conversations happening in our presence, as though we are also dudes who will respond to Meteorology Vixens with the same gusto. Or because they don’t care how we feel about it. More likely the latter.
Every once in awhile I get an email from someone who feels terribly upset by their boyfriend or husband’s porn habits. The woman usually isn’t a fan of porn to begin with, and certainly doesn’t have much experience with porn that she likes. She has probably seen a number of magazines and videos, though, because she exists in the world and porn tends to just come to us one way or another.
These writers always feel threatened by the porn. They imply or outright state that it feels like they’re being cheated on. They fear what their partners will come to expect in terms of sexual performance and appearance and the tremendous pressure to live up to the standards of porn stars. They don’t know how to have the conversation with their partners about all this negative feeling, for fear that they’ll just get shut down entirely.
I try to assuage their fears, by normalizing porn use by both genders. I recommend some more female-friendly options that the couple can use together and give them talking points to facilitate an open conversation about how his porn use makes her feel and what they can do about it.
And every once in awhile I also get an email from someone who tells me that they’ve become so acclimated to masturbating to more specific or outlandish porn that they have difficulty functioning with an actual, regular-looking person present.
50 Shades of Grey is, by all accounts of people who have read books besides Twilight, pretty awful. The writing is bad, the set-up of a non-consensual BDSM relationship is upsetting and the sex scenes are redundant. But it’s reached Bieber-level proportions of popularity among women in America who were evidently STARVING for some sexy stuff marketed to them.
Magic Mike arrives at the same time, along with the so-called War on Women and their sexuality. It’s not trying to blaze any feminist trails or change the political landscape (hell, male strippers have existed for a long time), but to cash in on the rising tide of women saying, “we’ve been fucking for millennia, how about we get turned on beforehand?”
Women are acknowledging that they like being aroused, they appreciate someone putting on a display meant purely for their pleasure.
They don’t just swoon for stalker-y abstinent vampires, they drool over the hot naked flesh of a man who can pick them up by their hips and slam their pelvises together like well-oiled industrial equipment.
Women want sex objects and sometimes those objects are men.
One very straight, very good looking man, after seeing the preview for Magic Mike, remarked, “Matthew McConaughey is in it? Now I hate it even more.”
I couldn’t explain how the cast was irrelevant. My expectation is for Matt to be stellar. Every one of his characters has had a male stripper just under the surface, itching to come out. In the middle of every one of his rom-coms, a scene where he rips off his shirt and climbs on a pole would fit in seamlessly. But still, it’s not ABOUT Matthew McConaughey, just as it’s not about Channing Tatum or any of the cast.
It’s about the movie industry, the one that seemingly refuses to write female characters of note because they fear it will mean less audience draw, has finally picked up on the pattern cemented by everything from Bridesmaids to Twilight. Chicks do, in fact, go to the movies. And they do, in fact, want to get turned on. And if you do that for them, they will reward you with money.
Now it’s time to see how heterosexual men feel when the tables have somewhat turned. So far their derision to Magic Mike is the thinnest veil of snobbery laid over a true reaction of fear. They feel threatened. They don’t have abs that can be used for laundry, they don’t have dance moves that reliably get anyone wet. It’s disheartening, to see some randomfuckingassholeHollywooddude get your partner all riled up. She never talks that way about you! What the fuck, right?
It IS upsetting. Now you know how it feels to be a female in the world.
Maybe this can be a lesson in sensitivity to each other. Maybe we can learn to talk about how hot people are without denying the sexiness of anyone else.
Or maybe not.