I must very respectfully--VERY respectfully--disagree with my colleague and friend Cynthia Chow. If you don't know what I'm talking about, scroll down and read Cindy's post from yesterday. I'll wait.
Back now? Good. While there are many points brought up on which we are in complete harmony (the gross objectification of women's bodies in almost every Hollywood film ever; the need for society to lighten up a bit; the therapeutic power of bonding with friends of either or any gender), I do not buy her argument that the film (as in "a thin layer or coating," according to the Random House College Dictionary) Magic Mike XXL is a harmless excuse for grown women to behave like teenagers. Well, wait. Yes, I agree with that. It's the marketing for the film that I find distressing.
After all, that same argument could be made for grown men regarding such cinematic classics as Showgirls or Striptease, but I also believe in the idea of equal treatment. Does that mean I think the movie industry should turn out more movies about hot guys parading around in as little as possible to even the balance? Um... no.
If this movie had been made with the genders reversed, about a group of female strippers who do so out of the sheer joy of the act, and because it helps them to fund their art or their pizzeria or their Ph.D. ambitions and the marketing campaign was exactly the same, women would be lining up in front of every theater showing this film.
To protest. And they'd be right.
Consider the print ads. A shirtless guy with abs that can probably stop a scud missile spreads his legs and points at his crotch (whereupon is emblazoned the word "coming,"). Subtle, huh? To find a poster from a mainstream studio film that offered that kind of exploitation of a woman (by which I mean a poster that screams "Hot babe! And that's all we have to talk about in this movie!) you'd probably have to go back to the days of Raquel Welch. (What? Cavewomen DIDN'T shave their legs and armpits and wear eyeshadow?)
Now, again, let me be clear: I am not for one second suggesting that women haven't been exploited far more often and far more severely than men in this area. That's not even up for debate; it's a fact.
What I am saying is that if it's wrong for women, it's wrong for men, too. You can't look me in the face and say, "Hey, look what damage is being done to the body images and general world view of girls by all this sexism," and that look at Magic Mike XXL--come on, even the title!--and tell me, "Aw, it's just a little fun; what's wrong with that?"
What's wrong with that is it creates yet another in a miles-long series of double standards, which leads to confusion. It communicates the idea that we'll get mad if you reduce women to body types, but it's okay if you do that to a man. If men were to be judged strictly on appearance--keep in mind the idea of tall, dark and handsome--I would be living in a broom closet somewhere shunned by society.
As a writer, I quite often speak through the voice of a female character, and I'm going to start doing that a lot more in the coming months. I like to think that I treat those characters as fairly as possible. Nobody's perfect, and I'm probably less close to perfect than most, but I try. Kind emails and reviews have occasionally reinforced that belief. And it sure doesn't hurt that I've had female editors work with me on those books. (See last week, please.)
Saying you have to be respectful of women but not of men--or the other way around--is the wrong message to send. I do not by any means think that's what Cindy was saying; she was arguing in the name of fun, and I'm all for fun. I agree with her that this one film is not a trend; it's an anomaly. In the vast majority of cases the sexist exploitation is pointed firmly in the other direction. And I'm not offended by the ads or the existence of Magic Mike XXL. I'm a little disgusted, but that's not the same thing.
None of the offensive stereotypes of women--the dumb blonde, the cold professional, the scheming temptress--have been completely banished. Maybe they shouldn't be, depending on the story being told. But there are offensive stereotypes of men--the stoner dude, the ineffective "girly man" who dares to have feelings, the "ladies' man" who needs taming, the "bad boy" who can be saved by the right woman--that aren't even being addressed. My daughter tells me that's because men are in power and are therefore the class that doesn't need protection. She's a lot smarter than I am, and her argument makes sense, but that doesn't stop me from being pissed off over the double standard.
I don't believe in censorship; I believe in being discerning in my choices. I did not see, read or otherwise engage with 50 Shades of Gray because, frankly, life is short and I don't have that kind of time. The same is true of Magic Mike and its apparently XXL sequel.
So I'm not suggesting a boycott or a ban. That's stupid; the market will bear what it wants to bear and that's the way it should be.
I'm saying instead, enjoy what you enjoy. But don't for a second pretend that it's right sometimes and not others. Unfair is unfair.