‘Magic Mike XXL’ and Smashing Toxic Masculinity (Yes, I’m Serious)
By Alisha Rai
If you know me, you know there are two things I love in this world: my mama and Magic Mike XXL.*
I won’t bore you with my various disappointments with the first Magic Mike, because XXL made me forget the original existed. For those who have not been blessed enough to witness Channing Tatum dance-welding to Ginuwine’s Pony, let me quickly recap. The plot of MMXXL could fit in a thimble: a bunch of strippers, the “Kings of Tampa” reunite for one last hurrah, a road trip to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. Along the way, they find love, friendship, and their souls.
This is a road trip with a goal, but no real conflicts. Fights are resolved with words or DANCE not fists. This is an inclusive, body-positive, sex-positive ride, where feminine fantasy is viewed as unique and elevated, not mocked or derided. Masculinity is used as a tool for good, not to increase toxicity.
Yes. This is all in a movie about strippers on a road trip.
In no particular order, here are the five (spoiler-y) moments in Magic Mike XXL that made me realize this fun dance movie is actually a careful deconstruction of toxic masculinity:
1.The part where Magic Mike (Channing Tatum) tries to goad Ken (Matt Bomer) into hitting him so they can be cool.
How many times have we been told that men clear the air and settle their fights “cleanly” with a punch while women are BORING and have to talk things to death? Cute Ken Doll challenges Mike’s proposal immediately, all NO THAT'S NOT HOW TO HANDLE ANGER, but throws the punch anyway. “Feel better?” Mike asks.
No, Ken says angrily. Because it’s FUCKED UP.
Oh, Matt Bomer. You gorgeous sexy smooth cutie. It is fucked up! It’s fucked up to think that physical violence can resolve repressed anger and feelings.
Guess how the two guys work out their beef? The next morning, they talk. So easy. So painless. So beautiful.
2.The part where Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) finds his soul.
When the team discovers Big Dick Richie hates dancing as a sexy fireman because he’s scared of fire, the other strippers don’t mock him. They step in and encourage him to dance from his soul, because he’s not being true to himself.
What follows is the best few minutes of Joe Manganiello’s entire acting career, set to Backstreet Boys.
(I should probably note that the strippers are all high on molly when they collectively decide to throw out their costumes and find their soul dances, but I believe their hearts are so squishy they’d do this sober, too.)
Spoiler: Big Dick Richie’s FROM THE SOUL dance? Is one where he plays a groom. A man who can admit he’s afraid of fire but is fine with commitment? Ugh, stop reading my dream journal, Magic Mike XXL.
3.The part where Tarzan (Kevin Nash) admits he’s sad he doesn't have anyone to come home to.
Older single women are spinsters. What’s the word for older single men? Bachelors. Society doesn’t deride men for never getting married the way they do women (indeed, the word “bachelor” is kinda admiring, no?), and it also doesn’t leave much room for older men to express regret over missing out on marriage and kids. But in Magic Mike XXL, all feelings are valid and good.
4.The part where the person who taught Magic Mike everything he knows is a woman.
Watch this movie for Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith). WATCH IT FOR ROME SLINKING AROUND THE STRIP CLUB SHE OWNS AND IMAGINE YOU ARE THE ONE SHE IS CALLING A GODDESS.
Ahem. So Magic Mike goes to Rome, ostensibly to get her to be their announcer at the stripping convention. They have a history and some bad blood. But Magic Mike isn’t just there to get something from her. He came to her because he wants to resolve the issues that have been festering between them.
How do they resolve those issues? They talk (are you catching on to a theme yet?). But first there’s a good-natured strip-off between Magic Mike and Rome’s current flame (oh, god, I love this movie).
5.The part where Donald Glover heals me.
One of the greatest parts of this movie is a quiet car ride, where Andre (Donald Glover) and Ken are discussing why singer Andre loves working in Rome’s strip club. “These girls have to deal with men in their lives every day,” Andre explains. “They don’t even ask them what they want. All we gotta do is ask them what they want… we’re like healers. We can be healers.”
Yes, Donald. Yes. And what a wonderfully simple way to deconstruct the idea that women are some weird mysterious creatures. Like all humans, we just want to be heard and respected.
“All we gotta do is ask them what they want… we’re like healers. We can be healers.”Andre
In conclusion, everyone needs to stream this movie immediately. Feel your feelings. Talk things through. Smash the patriarchy.
*This is not true at all, I love many things and people, and one of those things is over exaggerating for dramatic effect.
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About the Author
Alisha Rai writes award-winning emotionally complex contemporary romance novels and is frequently sought as a speaker on a range of topics covering romance and media. She is the first author to have an indie-published book appear on Washington Post’s annual Best Books list. Her books have also been named Best Books of the Year by NPR, Vulture, Entertainment Weekly, Amazon, Kirkus, Bustle, and Cosmopolitan Magazine and her novels have won the RT Reviewer’s Choice Award for erotic and contemporary romance. When she’s not writing, Alisha is traveling and tweeting.
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