07/16/2012 10:01 am ET | Updated Sep 15, 2012

Is 'Magic Mike' Degrading to Men?

No one is talking about how Magic Mike is sexist--that is, degrading to men--in its objectification of the male body. Why not?

I've read several pieces about how the objectification of male bodies in Magic Mike is often more funny and ridiculous--or cringe-worthy--than it is sexy; how the film purports to glorify female pleasure but is, in fact, simply traditional, male-dominated sexism in a new package (yes, "package"); how the fervor of female moviegoers surrounding this film (and, for that matter, the Fifty Shades book series) not only suggests that ladies haven't been getting what they need in the bedroom, but also heralds the arrival of a new cultural era that acknowledges, and even caters to, female pleasure.

But discussion of the moral implications of drooling over the on-screen washboard abs has been strangely absent from the conversation.

And trust me, had the film featured female rather than male strippers, there would almost certainly be a main-stream backlash against its "disgusting" objectification and denigration of women.

But in my extensive Googling, I've only come across one blogger, Mary C. Curtis (on The Washington Post's "She the People" blog), who asks (but doesn't answer) the question of whether women ogling men is just as sexist as men ogling women.

Well, is it?

It absolutely is.

Some might be quick to point out that women have the "right" to ogle men (finally!) as some sort of payback for hundreds (thousands?) of years of male-dominated objectification of women in art and entertainment, not to mention real life. But is this tit-for-tat (yes, "tit"), vindictive reverse-sexism really the sort we want to perpetuate?

I'm not suggesting that heterosexual women can't, or shouldn't, enjoy frame after frame of Channing Tatum's impossibly-defined abs and hip bones. I totally did.

Also -- dude can dance.

But let's at least separate our personal enjoyment of this film (and others like it) from the related, larger claims we make about gender and society, and about popular culture and political correctness.

Let's admit to ourselves that ogling the cast of Magic Mike isn't politically correct. It's sexist.

But sex sells -- both in the film's fictional Tampa strip club and in real-life movie theaters across the country. And, perhaps despite ourselves, we're buying.

Having established that, then we can consider the persuasive arguments that, for example, watching a film that relies upon sexist tropes doesn't necessarily make us sexist or bad people. Or that many of the canonical works of art and entertainment of our time -- a category to which Magic Mike certainly doesn't belong, sorry -- rely upon ingrained, decidedly un-PC structures of sexism (traditional sexism in Faulkner, anyone?), and that, while we are aware of this, it shouldn't necessarily preclude our appreciating the merits of a particular work.

And Magic Mike has some really nice, um, merits.