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Magic Mike XXL and the Rise of Man-jectification

5 minute read
Eliana Dockterman is a correspondent at TIME. She covers culture, society, and gender, including topics from blockbuster movies to the #MeToo movement to how the pandemic pushed moms out of the workplace.

The innuendo-filled Magic Mike XXL, out Wednesday, is anything but subtle, but we knew that from the film’s extended promotion. The hashtag the studio used to promote the film is #comeagain, in some posters placed over star Channing Tatum’s pelvic area. One teaser shot featured Tatum with sparks literally emitting from his groin. Another showed Joe Manganiello (Sofia Vergara’s fiancée) thrusting a water bottle in front of his crotch, sending liquid flying through the air. The film is one phallus after another. Its stars are blatantly, hilariously subjecting themselves to what women like Vergara experience on a regular basis (like at last year’s Emmys): objectification.

Manganiello and Tatum are helping to usher in an era of “man-jectification,” in which women can judge men’s bodies openly — the way their male counterparts have long done for women.

Any woman in the public eye, from actors to politicians, can expect to have their looks critiqued, discussed, made object. That’s the way it’s always been. There were always handsome leading men, but they were rarely subject to the same scrutiny as women. Men still take most of the major lead roles — in 2014 just 12% of movie protagonists in the top 100 grossing films were women, according to the Center for Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University — while women are relegated to being sex objects. Male directors who dominate the industry shoot films from the male perspective, allowing the camera to linger on beautiful women and judge them.

But Tatum struck gold with 2012’s Magic Mike, which he wrote, by turning the camera on himself; the movie made $113.7 million at the box office. At its heart, Magic Mike was a drama about the recession, and about a man struggling to gain his independence — from the stripper pole, from his boss and from a world of drugs. Nobody remembers it as that. Audiences dubbed it “the stripper movie,” and groups of women and gay men crowded into theaters to see Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey’s guns, six packs and even butts. It’s no wonder then that Magic Mike XXL has dispensed with all the darkness of its predecessor in favor of becoming a pec-filled romp.

Manjectification is taking place on the little screen, too. In the final episodes of Fox’s Last Man on Earth, the women on the show fawned over a ripped newcomer (Boris Kodjoe) and schemed for ways to sleep with him as he repaired various appliances. These episodes came after a long and almost unbearable run in which the main character, Phil (Will Forte), cursed his luck for having agreed to marry a nagging woman (Kristen Schaal) before a hot blonde (January Jones) to show up on the scene. The joke of the series was Phil getting a taste of his own medicine, but it was a reversal not often seen on television.

Tatum and Kodjoe are voluntarily submitting to the objectification, of course, and they’re in on the joke. But other men are beginning to experience what women have for years. In March, Game of Thrones star Kit Harington complained about being objectified by the media. Unlike the Magic Mike actors who are, more often than not, shirtless in the films, Harington’s costume on the fantasy show involved so many bulky layers of fur that sleeping he might be confused with a dire wolf.

And the pressure on male actors seems to be building. In order to get your own Marvel movie franchise, you’ve got to be prepared for the inevitable shirtlessness. Comedians Chris Pratt and Paul Rudd shed extra pounds for six-pack abs for Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, respectively. (No woman will get her own Marvel franchise until Captain Marvel in 2017.)

Of course, the strain on male actors hardly equates to what female actors suffer. This was captured best when comedian Amy Schumer parodied 12 Angry Men on her show, in which a jury of dudes determines whether she is hot enough to be on television. Rather than assessing her comedy, the men mull whether — if they were a little drunk and had their glasses off — they might contemplate masturbating to Schumer’s blurry blonde image on the TV.

Is turnabout fair play? Magic Mike XXL seems to think so. In the film, Jada Pinkett Smith asks women if they’re ready to be worshipped. Donald Glover says that male strippers are “healers.” Naked men, they reason, make women feel good and perhaps are some small recompense for how women have been treated.

It’s hard to imagine a female stripper film where the characters could make the same argument about women being healers — can you imagine the same of Showgirls, Strip Tease or Coyote Ugly? None of those movies had the high-minded aspirations of Magic Mike. And after this one premieres, Channing Tatum will still be able to return to dramatic roles like the one he had in Foxcatcher. Women who strip for the camera don’t always engender such steadfast or serious support. But in some small way, XXL does try to hand power back to the female viewer, and man-jectification may just be balancing the scales.

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com

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