Objectifying men has been sneaking around the edges of mainstream pop culture for a while now: Sex and the City, for one, made it an art form. (Think: the throwaway quality of the man-of-the-week for the first few years of the series, the lingering camera shots on Gilles Marini in the first Sex and the City movie.) Everything targeted at women, from Cosmo to Dancing With the Stars, has used shirtless men to lure hapless young women and housewives.
But we have rarely seen objectification of men as a main event on the order of Magic Mike, the Channing Tatum film about male strippers that opened this week to great media fanfare (thanks, New York Times, for reporting from the land of “duh” that many gay men are enjoying the film), reports of “girls night out” gone wild, and solid box-office receipts. We’re thrilled for any of our fellow ladies to get in touch with their sexuality, and even to appreciate the male form. We love hot men, too, and, yeah, drooling over guys is a good stress reliever. And, of course, there is nothing wrong with making a movie about the lives of strippers, male or female. But is there no way for us to just be a little more civilized here, girls? We wouldn’t want mags and websites reporting on a lady-stripper movie with giggly photo captions like, “Sorry—are we objectifying you, Channing?” But Glamour did, and they’re hardly alone. People did a “Hump Day” slide show of Magic Mike costar Joe Manganiello, complete with terrible pun. (“He’s real. And he’s pec-tacular.”) NextMovie gave us a gallery of “8 Guys We Want to See Strip in Magic Mike 2.” Women in screenings were yelling, “Take it all off, baby!” at the screen.
Interestingly enough, two recent GQ articles offer subtle portraits of what it feels like to be a guy valued more for your body than for your work, even when your work is as beautiful as your body. Namely, it feels as shitty for them as it does for us. The delectable, and supremely talented, Michael Fassbender talks about being known for his impressive full-frontal scene in Shame. He’s done nary an interview in which someone doesn’t make a penis joke. George Clooney gently mocked him at the Oscars. (“Michael, honestly, you can play golf … with your hands behind your back.”) He was asked to identify screen shots of famous movie penises twice, both times on MTV, for some reason. He’s handled it with good humor, but it’s also clear he’d rather not. “It’s fun to a point,” he told the magazine, “and after a certain point you worry that it kind-of detracts from the movie. But there’s nothing I can do. I just have to laugh it off. I can. Pretty much. Because I take my work seriously but I can’t take myself too seriously.” Sure, but should he have to endure what is, essentially, sexual harassment just to seem like he’s not taking himself too seriously? That sounds like shit guys used to say to women in the ’60s after telling them at the office that they had nice tits, and, hell, they oughta just smile and take the compliment.
R&B singer D’Angelo didn’t adjust quite as well to the drooling he induced with his muscled, naked, artful, and, yes, very sexy 2000 video for “Untitled (How Does It Feel?).” Once the video made him a mainstream star, however, his entire tour was overrun with women shouting “Take it off!” at him onstage. “We thought, okay, we’re going to build the perfect art machine, and people are going to love and appreciate it,” said Questlove, the tour’s bandleader. “And then by mid-tour it just became, what can we do to stop the ‘Take it off’ stuff?” D’Angelo started cracking under the pressure to give his fans what they wanted, often delaying shows to do stomach crunches. He hated taking his shirt off for shows, but he would. “One time I got mad when a female threw money at me onstage, and that made me feel fucked-up, and I threw the money back at her,” D’Angelo told the magazine. “I was like, ‘I’m not a stripper.’” He eventually fell into an emotional tailspin that led to addiction and a dozen-year break before he made his recent new album.
Let’s be better than the men who came before us — and show them we can appreciate a good-looking guy, even a fantastic body, without being gross. That doesn’t advance any cause, feminist or otherwise.