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Michele Weldon Headshot

No Magic in Mike for Women's Sense of Self

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"S" and I drove 15 miles and paid $32 to park just so we did not see Magic Mike at the local theater where we could quite possibly -- God forbid -- see anyone we knew. Or anyone who knew our children, now grown up enough to be horrified.

From the trailers, I expected a humorous romp through ab-land, something akin to a male version of Burlesque, a 2010 movie I enjoyed so much I went home and ordered the CD on amazon.com. I expected a light romantic comedy with some male eye-candy, not raunchy enough to label me a cougar, but a healthy admission that it's not torture to see Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum shirtless.

Let me also say I have never felt the need to go to a male strip club, though I have been to two bachelorette parties -- oh my, at least 30 years ago -- where a young male stripper was employed as the entertainment. One arrived dressed as a cop. I thought the bride to be was going to hyperventilate. She did not.

I went into the film with the notion that this was some sort of positive commentary on female liberation, that women could now own up to having a healthy sense of sexual self. I was thoroughly disappointed, even repulsed.

Let's also suspend, for the sake of argument, the reality of global sex trafficking and the horrors of young men and women enslaved for sex globally for the few minutes it takes to discuss a fictional movie that has no intention to come close to a documentary.

Let's just talk about what the women are like in a movie supposedly made for women about what women want to do for fun.

The women in the audiences of the shows on screen were seen either as cartoonish, unattractive older women -- one so heavy she strained the back of the stripper lifting her over his head -- or immature "sorority girls" who were just plain horny and drunk. You would not want to be portrayed as either.

With the exception of the main female character, Brooke, who has a maternal sensibility for her younger brother and a revulsion for the lifestyle of strippers, the other women in the movie are just plain sleazy. There isn't another way to view that reality; the lighting in the movie shows the sex as animalistic and distorted through drugs and alcohol and mindless athleticism.

Women are portrayed as disposable -- women at parties drape themselves over men and show up naked in beds where no one, not even the couple who shared a ménage a trois, can remember the woman's name. She is motionless, faceless on the bed, a bare backside discarded like a carcass. For goodness sake, she could even be dead.

There's the psychology student who loves the aforementioned threesomes, the scary Nora who has a pet pig and the wife of one of the strippers who appears to love the fact that other men touch her breasts while her husband watches. It all makes for a decrepit sense of slimy debauchery, not liberated or liberating, but shackled to drugs, alcohol and a sense of worthlessness. It made me sick to my stomach.

Call me a prude, but this is not what real women are like. At least not me and the hundreds of women I know. We don't dream about throwing dollar bills at men in thongs for satisfaction and we are not reduced to trembling, screeching monkeys when a group of dancers in Velcro pants dance and gyrate to remixes. Yes, Channing Tatum can really dance, and I was hoping for more redemption for the movie from him, since he was a male stripper before he was an actor playing a male stripper. But no such luck.

Of course women are allowed to have fun. But is it really fun if the women in the movie -- with only one exception -- are portrayed as mindless, emotionless, conscience-less sex toys?

The screenplay is by Reid Carolin, a 30-year-old hailing from Lake Forest, Ill., where let me just say, there is a lot of Talbots and Lily Pulitzer clothing, but no male strip clubs. There is, however, Lake Forest Academy, a prep school, and Woodlands Academy, a Catholic Convent of the Sacred Heart school run by Sacred Heart nuns we called Mother and Mother Superior. I know, I attended Convent of the Sacred Heart on Sheridan Road in Chicago, the sister school my sisters, mothers and aunts attended.

Perhaps if a woman wrote or co-wrote the screenplay the female characters would not be so blow up doll hollow. Maybe if a woman participated in the screenplay there would be some passing reference somewhere in the movie to the mother or father of the 19-year-old character who dropped out of college on a football scholarship to live with his sister and sleep on her couch.

It was this failure that prompted him to find a roofing job on Craigslist and move into a life of stripping and drugs, just because Magic Mike recruited him. And I have to say, as the mother of three sons, not knowing where his parents were in the backstory and why they did not try to help him totally bothered me.

The women in this movie have no real power and no say in how their sexuality plays out. A soliloquy by Dallas, the McConaughey character, articulates this. His business is supply and demand, a fantasy transaction where women are used for money -- singles, fives and twenties -- to fuel a bigger franchise, a broader sinister landscape of drugs, booze, cash and big SUVs. The men are in control all along -- they do what they want to women on stage and off.

I have heard many people talk about how this movie is one step forward for women in their claim of sexual equity. Many have hinted that somehow the book I will not read, 50 Shades of Grey, paired with this naked boy blockbuster, speaks to the summer of 2012 as a time when women were heard roaring about their sexuality loud and clear. I have heard many people claim this is a good thing for women young and old, like me.

I don't think so.

What I hear from this movie is not a roar, but a whimper from women who have no real voice, no equal participation and no claim to their own choices, even as they scream at undulating mostly-naked men at the tops of their lungs.