Has ‘Magic Mike’ Solved the Sexy Depictions of Men for Women Problem?

Pursuant to our discussion of the imbalance between sexy images of woman produced for men and sexy images of men produced for women, I think it’s worth considering Steven Soderbergh’s latest project, the male-stripper movie Magic Mike. The flick’s shaping up as a veritable man-candy festival: it’s based on Channing Tatum’s youthful experiences taking his clothes off for money, and he stars in it with physically-if-behaviorally-unattractive rising star Alex Pettyfer, the perpetually shirtless Matthew McConaughey who will play their boss, White Collar hottie Matt Bomer who’s earned much of his female fanbase by keeping his natty suits on, and now True Blood werewolf Joe Manganiello. In other words, it’s being written about as if it’ll hit a certain kind of sweet spot as the kind of thing that women can hit up in groups without actually being in the same space as a stripper, a chance to see as much as we want of an all-star lineup of desirable dudes.

But the question is whether a stripper fantasy is really a universal female fantasy—and as some commenters raised in that initial conversation, whether a universal, or at least common, female fantasy actually exists in a way that can be easily reproduced in popular culture. I’ve never found the prospect of male strippers particularly enticing: the idea of having someone I don’t know put his genitals near me without us having a conversation about it is something that I think for most women is coded as sexual harassment rather than wish fulfillment. If I was ever at a bachelorette party with a male stripper, I think I’d have to constantly be reminding myself that this was meant to be enjoyable and that conceptual step would keep me from actually having fun. But Magic Mike, depending on how Soderbergh sets it up, might remove that problem by making the object of the characters’ performances be women (and men) other than the movie audience, and letting us view them at a comfortable remove, while also seeing the characters as people we can invest in and eroticize as something other than performers.

Either way, Magic Mike illustrates the challenges of finding archetypes of sexy guys meant for women’s consumption. I don’t believe that women want a shirtless dude doing the vacuuming or erotically deploying Pine Sol:

But it’s not as simple as just translating what men find sexy either.