Channing Tatum is starring in a movie about Male Strippers! He’s going to dance and show his (hot) body and perform in an arousing manner for the audience! Females all around the world can finally enjoy the magic of sexy dancing on screen like men have done for years! Feminists, you can rest easy, we have reached equality!
Or perhaps not.
Actors’ bodies are their tools. They are the main thing they use every day in their work, the main thing they make money with, whether they are good or bad looking, short or tall, it is their appearance that is often the most memorable, and that allows them to portray their various roles.
And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, when we watch a film and television, we do just that; watch. We have chosen to fix our gaze on an actor or set of actors over anything else in the world. We are investing our time (and often our money) on these actors’ bodies and faces. What I’m saying here is actors are aware that when they perform their job, their bodies are always on display. They are selling their bodies as part of this performance. However, when this performance is made more visceral, or perhaps- more visible- audience attitudes often change. For many years Channing Tatum worked as a stripper. Not on screen, but in real life, and for real money. He danced in his underwear and was paid for it. Now, in Magic Mike, Tatum is combining these two performances as he plays the role of Mike, the titular character and one director Steven Soderbergh has loosely based on Tatum’s own past.
Why is this all relevant? Well according to the media, it isn’t. No more than for a little sex appeal and a little humour (headed to cinemas this July!). But why not? Tatum not only worked as a stripper (the sin!) but now he has the audacity on screen to rub it in our faces (pun -very much intended). I am not making any value judgements on Tatum’s line of work- past or present. He enjoys performing and I have no issue with that. What I do have issue with is the seeming double standard surrounding all of this. Not once has anyone called him any derogatory names or slated his past career and portrayal of said career now on screen. In fact no critics or fans seem to be interested in his stripping past at all, and it’s not as though he’s not giving them opportunity. But for women with similar pasts, the same cannot be said.
Diablo Cody (writer of Juno and Young Adult) recently said that she wondered why no one had placed the same judgements on Tatum as she felt had been placed on her, following her own work as a stripper. Her career as writer, she feels, has been permanently marred for some audiences and critics by the one year she spent stripping. Although she worked as a stripper for a sort of writer’s experiment- she used the experiences to blog about, and to journal and comment some of the goings on in the stripping community- her career as screenwriter has been impeded by critics and audiences, she feels not for the content nor style of her (Academy award winning) writing, but for the fact that she is still seen as just “some stripper”. For Cody, a ‘sordid’ past of sex work is inescapable, for Tatum, it is the subject of a personal parade.
I don’t wish for Tatum’s own career to be sidelined because of his similar background, I just find it curious that similar judgements have not been placed him now as have been on Cody, and feel it important to point out this seeming double standard. I cannot measure to what degree, or even if, Cody’s career has suffered due to condemnation of her stripping- she has been amazingly successful in just a few short years, and is set to make her directorial debut in the near future- but what we can see is that opposition to her because of her stripping, and not the content or quality of her writing is existent and visible.
The double standard in this case is favouring Tatum. This seems to suggest that is ok for men to strip, but the same thing will degrade a woman, and make her a less credible business person. ‘Patriarchal society’, you scream? And perhaps, yes, because all of this is the result of pre-existing attitudes to women in society- women, who are either mother and carer- or slut and sex object, but never both, and certainly never businessperson. But who is Magic Mike aimed at? It’s a romantic comedy based around attractive scantily clad men, and while gay men may make up some of the audience, they are certainly not the studio’s target audience, no, that is women. So perhaps this may be a case of not just men delegitimising Cody’s career because she is just a woman and or stripper, but also of other women placing judgement on Cody, since, as the target audience for this upcoming film, they have remained curiously silent.
The film itself looks like an adequate piece of entertainment, a predictable but perhaps fun little thing with which to pass a couple of hours, particularly if you enjoy Channing Tatum’s body, which is, incidentally, what they probably should have called the movie.
Magic Mike has just been released nationwide and the trailer is currently available on YouTube here