Read my lips: I am never reading 50 Shades of Grey. Read ‘em again: I am never going to see Magic Mike. I have no interest in 50 Shades—as a writer I find it depressing that bad prose can make millions while good prose languishes, and as a woman I find it depressing that subservience passes as sexiness. But I’ll admit, Magic Mike piques my lady interest. I could watch it under the guise of gender analysis, but I can already write a one-sentence review of it: a movie that is supposedly examining the underbelly of consumerist lust cannot do so effectively while capitalizing on consumerist lust. So, Matthew McConaughey and Matt Bomer will just have to be sexy without me. I’m sure they can manage.
I realize I am in the minority here: women are flocking to 50 Shades and Magic Mike like half-starved travelers who, wandering through the desert, happen upon an oasis. No matter if it’s a mirage—they’re thirsty and hungry beyond description, and here, at last, is manna from heaven.
But is it? What, exactly, are my lusty sisters consuming?
My understanding is that, in the case of 50 Shades, they are consuming an abusive relationship in which the woman has little or no sense of self, but lots of somewhat kinky sex. And in the case of Magic Mike—well, they’re consuming the male body revealed, just as men have been consuming the female body revealed for years.
In both cases, the impulse is understandable, and I don’t blame my sisters for wanting their turn. But what, exactly, does having their turn mean? Are we to have our turn on bad terms, or not at all? It’s as though, in our rush to establish the truth of our own desire, we are willing to admit to anyone’s definition of that desire: “Subservience? Sure, I’ll take it, as long as sex is involved! Male objectification? Why not—our daughters have suffered for it, might as well give our sons a taste!” I’m not saying women are consciously thinking these things. In fact, I think that’s the problem—women aren’t thinking at all. They’re just reacting. I’d like us to take our time with this thing, slow it down a bit. You know, savor it. So we can do it right.
What, exactly, would that mean?
I’m not sure I know. But I think it would be a lot more subtle than a strip club, and a lot more empowering than a badly-written book about a sick relationship. I think it would be more like a man on a soccer field—have you ever really watched a man on a soccer field? Give it a try. There’s something there, even when the camera doesn’t know it.
That, I think, is the essence of true sexiness, and of desire: the unselfconscious power of the physical self. All our physical selves. Which means that Magic Mike really does come in 50 shades—of color, age, and every other difference on the planet. When I find a book or a movie that deals in that kind of sexiness, read my lips: I’ll read it, I’ll watch it, and I hope we all flock to it. Like starving wanderers in a desert of one-dimensional lust who have, halleluiah, stumbled upon an oasis of truth: you can’t separate sexy from self without damaging both.