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Posted at 03:44 PM ET, 07/02/2012

The ‘Magic Mike’ conundrum: If it’s OK for women to ogle, do men get a pass?

No, I am not the audience for “Magic Mike,” the movie about the angst of male strippers with some eye-catching routines tossed amid the life lessons. “Mike” performed better than expected, with a weekend box-office take of $39.2 million. (Can I use the word ‘perform’ in a
This film image released by Warner Bros. shows, from left, Adam Rodriguez, Kevin Nash, Channing Tatum, and Matt Bomer in a scene from "Magic Mike." Matthew McConaughey, Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Joe Manganiello and Matt Bomer play fire men, cops and other exaggerated versions of hyper-masculine characters in the Steven Soderbergh film, and they say preparing for their parts and performing nearly nude for the dozens of female extras who populated the fake Club Xquisite gave the actors insight into women's grooming, undergarments and approach to carnal fantasy. (Claudette Barius - AP)
story about male strippers?)

I have never been to see one of those Chippendales-style revues or any of their downscale cousins. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the male form, but I always imagine those venues as a little too sweaty and unguent-rich for me. The thought of sliding paper money somewhere intimate on a stranger’s bod makes me want to reach for the hand sanitizer.

Who, however, could escape the pre-release publicity leading up to the epic show piece? (Can I use the words ‘epic,’ ‘show’ or ‘piece’ in a story about male strippers?) The “Magic Mike” trailer was sleazy yet mesmerizing, once you put aside the fact that in two minutes you could trace the arc of the entire film. Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh gave the whole enterprise a veneer of respectability, with star Channing Tatum’s life-imitating-art backstory adding authenticity. I soon found myself spouting a pretty fair impression of a chap-festooned Matthew McConaughey’s “I see a lot of lawwwwbreakers up in this house.”

The week before the opening, the women in my cycle class broke out in whoops and hollers in anticipation of girls’-night-out viewings, while one of the few men in attendance scolded, “I can hear you.”

All in good fun? Without being a spoilsport, I wonder if there’s something unseemly about such raucous displays, such raw salivating at
Matthew McConaughey in a scene from "Magic Mike." (Claudette Barius - AP)
the thought of oily beefcake.

Pause for a moment of self-doubt. Am I taking this all too seriously? Am I making too fine a distinction between strip-show lust and my love of beautiful ballet bodies and the sculpted forms of athletes (male and female) during this weekend’s Olympic trials? Sure, I fantasized about how I might look with legs that keep their perfect tone all the way up, instead of losing it completely somewhere between knee and thigh. No, that’s different. When you’re talking about art and the right to represent our United States, the interest is purely aesthetic and patriotic.

I have heard and read complaints of the objectification of women, disgust for the men who spend lunch time watching breast-baring women gyrate for cash. (When a male friend once told me he went to a gentlemen’s club for the artichoke dip, I almost choked him.)

Remember when high-class strip clubs became a hip destination for a business meeting? Many women executives rightly cried foul at being excluded or made to feel uncomfortable while important business was being discussed. After all, anybody can learn to play golf.

Tell that to my friends who couldn’t wait to line up for “Magic Mike.” They did so unashamedly, even tweaking their male significant others about comparisons with the hard bodies on screen; others wanted even more skin.

So if ogling is good for us, is it OK for them? Or is “Magic Mike” just a tiny step toward evening the score? (Can I use the word ‘tiny’ in a story about male strippers?)

Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3

By  |  03:44 PM ET, 07/02/2012

Tags:  magic mike, Steven Soderbergh, Matthew McConaughey, Channing Tatum, male strippers

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