Guest Post: How do you have a feminist movie that fails the Bechdel test?

Being the pop culture junkie that I am, I’ve seen slews of articles written lately about the film Magic Mike XXL.  A follow-up to the Soderbergh-directed film of 2013, this sequel focuses less on the inner turmoil one male entertainer (the titular Magic Mike) feels in his stripping career, and instead focuses more on the abs and twerking skills of the same character.  In the sequel, it’s definitely XXL – larger performances, larger nudity, and ultimately – a larger focus on female pleasure.

A running joke of the film is the fact that the strippers keep emphasizing that they’re male entertainers, that they’re more than just strippers.  But really – it’s kind of true.  They exist to entertain women.  To please women.

And boy, do they.

The men’s focus during their performances is not their own pleasure, but that of the woman they’re focusing on.  And they do it in multiple ways.  For one, it’s serenading the girl with a raptastic ballad.  For another, it’s slow dancing with a housewife disillusioned by her and her husband’s stagnant relationship while singing the song she loves.  For a third, it’s finally giving a woman the sex she’s wanted (and while he also benefits in the situation, no jokes are made at her expense).  Even on stage, the sexual positions represented are not just that of missionary or cowgirl – the men simulate oral sex, which is more clandestine (especially in the film industry) but can be more pleasurable for women.

Women are the focus of their performances.  Women, as it aptly stated, is the reason they exist.  These men don’t strip for their own fulfillment – they all have bigger dreams (ranging from making it big in Hollywood to opening a functioning fro-yo food truck), so when they strip, they do it for the women.

Beyond that – women of all sizes are celebrated.  Which isn’t something I’ve seen before.  Yes, you have your tall, skinny gorgeous girls, but there are at least four separate scenes I remember where plus sized women (or whatever term is now appropriate) are celebrated and praised (a phrase commonly used by the boys to describe how they should treat the women).  Women of all ages are celebrated – twenty somethings to post-menopause housewives.  Women of all colors are celebrated (the dominate people represented are white and African American, but a few Hispanic women do make brief appearances, along with the varying ethnicities of the boys).

In comparison, Pitch Perfect 2 (another sequel, another movie which is allegedly feminist) makes their plus-sized woman the butt of all jokes.  Her name is even Fat Amy.  While she does get a happy ending, that pleasure is minuscule in comparison to all the jokes she must suffer through.

So can Magic Mike, the film that truly fails the Bechdel test, really be a feminist movie?  Ultimately – I think it can.  Women are to be celebrated, the film argues.  Women’s pleasure is based firmly in communication – in making sure men take the time to evaluate what women want, and then act upon those desires.  It’s a bit of a guide in “how to please your woman” for the everyday man.  It might not fit the mold for a typically feminist movie, but that doesn’t mean it can’t succeed.

Plus, it’s a bit nice to be able to ogle men for once, rather than roll your eyes at another woman stripping down.


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Miriam Krainacker

Miriam Krainacker is a movie-obsessed sociology student at the University of Montana.

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