Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Magic Mike" and the Heterosexual Closet

No Adam Rodriguez?
You bet your ass I went to see "Magic Mike" last week and I'll be damned if it isn't the best male-sex-object movie since "Boogie Nights." But I had an interesting experience at "Magic Mike." I went to see it at the Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek, which is in the suburbs. Going up there is what my mom calls a "cultural experience." The theater was 99% female (I don't remember seeing any men, but don't want to leave anyone out) and the women were dressed up. Like tube tops, tight jeans, heels, makeup. On a Tuesday night. I had come from the gym in stretch pants, a sports bra and a wrap sweater. Oops.

I was stunned to discover that Adam Rodriguez, the super hot star of "CSI:Miami," was in the movie, because he wasn't named or pictured in any of the publicity materials. This man has the best jawline in television and plays the sensitive foil to Callie's strong lady firearms expert. But that's neither here nor there.

The movie is good. Not a little bit good; it's a lot good. The story is interesting, the acting excellent, the dancing inspired, and the story reminds us of the ugly human price associated with our collective dirty pleasures.

But at the end of the movie the friend who had organized the group outing walked up and down the aisle saying, "The acting was terrible, the plot was worse, but the eye candy was great." And I thought, wow, that's weird; I thought this was a really great movie. Am I wrong?

I'm not wrong; the movie has been declared good by critics far more qualified to judge the value of films than I. But "Boogie Nights" got a similar treatment, I remember, when I saw it: women I knew were reluctant to describe it as a good movie because it was so overtly sexy, even though the sexiness is balanced with ickiness. Seeing Mark Wahlberg's fake giant penis at the end (spoiler alert) is really the lowlight of an otherwise awesome movie about how our porn sausage gets made.

The movies had more in common than just eye candy--Don Cheadle's character in "Boogie Nights" wants to get out of the porn business and open a speaker store but can't get a loan from the bank that doesn't approve of his time served on the dirty screen, which of course foreshadows one of the main themes of Mike's struggle to get out of the dance biz.

The quality of the movie, though, isn't really what I'm after here. I was surprised that my friend described the movie so immediately and dismissively; but I'd seen similar comments from many other women on Facebook and heard from friends who had seen it that made clear that the only value the movie had was its eye candy, it wasn't like they thought it was good or anything. Ladies, can we not have a movie that is both sexy and good?

A concept I've batted around for a while is something I call the Heterosexual Closet. We are very familiar with how the heterosexual closet works for men: Madonna/Whore. Good girl/bad girl. Lady in the street/freak in the bed. But what does the heterosexual closet look like for women?

Sexual economics holds that, in the heterosexual "marketplace," female sex is a resource that is exchanged with men for access to material and/or social resources. The lower the "price" at which a woman "sells" sex, the more difficult it is for her to "sell high" (i.e., get a commitment) later. I use the theory to teach my students about patriarchy and the effects of slut shaming.

The theory has its flaws (though I really encourage anyone who rejects it based on popular conceptions to read the actual theory itself, and my feminist analysis thereof) and one of the many nuances left out of the is that women do in fact desire sex for sex itself; they just are really good at figuring out ways to either sublimate that desire completely (viz: sexual dysfunction) or to exercise it in ways that don't affect their standard "price."

This is demonstrated by spring break sex, female sex tourism, and the relationship between Mike and Joanna in the film. A similar finding came out of Premarital Sex in America: that unemployed men with less than a high school education had more sex partners than men who were employed and college graduates. The author couldn't understand why any woman would have sex with a man who had no "resources" to exchange for sex; to me, it was obvious that women were choosing to have sex with these men because their own value was totally unaffected by these men's low status.

"Magic Mike" addresses this issue of "respectability" and class as it applies to men, something that is rarely, if ever, mentioned in our culture. A friend of mine has a game he calls "Stripper or Supreme Court Justice?" in which we laugh at women's names and figure out where they are likely to fit in as adults. There is no such game for men. This closetedness is also shown by women's immediate distancing from the movie itself, which sounds almost like they hooked up with a dumb hot jock at a party: "I was drunk, he was hot, I would never introduce him to my friends or family so it doesn't matter that he's a stripper/waiter/bartender/personal trainer."

Though it sucks, women do really have to police their reputations; in a patriarchal system making sure they distance themselves from people, ideas, clothing, and behavior that indicate a "low price" is critical to maintaining respectability. For those women who don't just bury their sexual desire one of the most efficient ways to do this is to pursue sex with men who are inherently low-stakes: people much younger or older than you; exes; long distance hook ups; guys you meet on vacation who you'll never see again; men whose work keeps them out of your own social class and whose word no one would ever believe over yours.  Mike had absolutely no idea that Joanna even had a boyfriend, much less was engaged. She didn't want to tell him about her graduate work in psychology because she assumed he'd never show up in her social milieu. 

The way men experience being a low-stakes sex partner isn't something I can speak to, because I'm not a man. But if it's anything like being a female low-stakes sex partner, it can be both really hot and kind of crushing to realize you're the one who doesn't matter. "Magic Mike" shows us a little bit of how that plays out in the lives of men who are at the bottom of the class ladder and how they can be used for sex figuratively--as erotic dancers--and literally, as sex partners you keep secret. That is the definition of being closeted, and it hurts everyone.

Go see this movie, seriously.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

1Flesh: 1Fail

Are you not satisfied with the wildly inappropriate level of interference by the Catholic Bishops in this year's debate over insurance coverage of birth control? Do you wish there were a slick marketing campaign and social media presence which could spread lies about modern contraceptive methods so that those women who won't have coverage anyway won't feel bad about experiencing structural inequality at the hands of a Church that claims to care for women?

You are in fucking luck!, a project of Marc Barnes, an eighteen year old blogger for Patheos and a group of other "college-age kids," is focused on making not using birth control seem hip. With a library of cool graphics that contain total lies about contraception, the site proposes a "better way" than birth control that they call a "revolution against contraception in marriage" [because you're waiting until marriage to need contraception, obvs]: the Creighton Model.

The Creighton Model was developed by a Catholic physician at the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, which terrifyingly, really exists. The method is described as not a contraceptive method, because contraception is not okay for Catholics. It is a method of "true family planning." The Creighton website differentiates between "periodic abstinence," which those other natural family planning methods rely on, and "selective intercourse," which means that couples "actively choose" to have sex.'s probably better if you read it for yourself. Using Creighton, a couple is:
selecting, in a responsible way, the very best time to have intercourse. Perhaps even more importantly, they are mutually selecting that time. Thus, spontaneous intercourse involves the submission to emotional impulses while selective intercourse submits itself to choices evaluated and implemented through the incorporation of the intellect, the will and the values that the couple shares.

All italics in the original. The Pope Paul VI Institute also designed something called NaPro Technology, which seems to be a "medicine" based on...not doing anything about women's health problems that are usually treated using hormones. Curiously, 1Flesh also promotes NaPro Technology even though it's not really related to "bringing sexy back" to Catholic marriages.

Whether or not natural family planning is effective or a valid choice isn't relevant--for the record, I'm in favor of people having non-hormonal choices and I've written positively about CycleBeads on this blog for years. I wish more people who had bad experiences using hormonal methods--because I talk to women like this all the time--had other choices that physicians understood. But trying to trick people into thinking that birth control causes breast cancer, kills fish, that condoms ruin sex, and that semen cures depression and infertility (!) is fucked up.

Reading scholarly articles: ur doin it rong. 

Claiming that the pill causes cancer and that sex should be saved for marriage isn't new for Catholic anti-abortion groups, obviously, but this site is conspicuously lacking any mention of abortion. One of the graphics says, "We are the 37%," referring to a 2010 study that found that 64% of married women didn't have an orgasm at their last sexual encounter. For one, learn math. For two, sdfkasd;lfkhads;lkj!

The difference between Creighton, Billings, and Sympto-Thermal as taught by the Catholic church in mandatory pre-marital classes and, say, CycleBeads, is that those methods prohibit the use of other forms of contraception during fertile times and don't acknowledge that humans are pretty bad at not having sex when they are fertile. We didn't get to 6 billion people for nothing. CycleBeads explicitly makes clear that, if you want to have sex during fertile days, another form of contraception must be used in order to prevent pregnancy.  It may seem like a small point and like it would be super obvious, but if I've learned anything doing sex education in Texas it's that I can't take for granted that women who have been taught from birth that sex is bad and knowing about sex is worse actually understand things like the menstrual cycle. They don't.

Look, I get it. Bedsider makes birth control seem so *cool* and you guys wanted to have your own website. You don't want to feel excluded just because you're waiting til marriage for sex. You want to be considered "rebellious." But guess what: no one cares that you're waiting for marriage. Wait all you want! Use whatever natural family planning method you like. I'm sure my grandmother, who goes to mass every day and had eleven children, would be happy to tell you which one worked for her. But to claim that condoms ruin sex and that birth control causes cancer--well, now you're in my house.


Conspiracy Theory Corner: I just heard about NaPro Technology a few weeks ago from a nurse friend who had a patient that was seeing a doctor who "uses" NaPro here in Austin. I had never heard of it, nor had I heard of the Creighton Method. For someone who isn't Catholic I think I'm pretty well versed in natural family planning methods so I am surprised that all of a sudden this slick web campaign has emerged to promote a method that no one teaches outside of pre-marital classes at Catholic churches.

I can't find any indication on the 1flesh website that they are funded by the church or the Pope Paul VI Institute, but I believe that they are. The website design is credited to a Matt Sich who works for a company called Petros Media, which bills itself as "Rock Solid Communication for the 3rd Millenium Evangelization" and whose portfolio is all church-based apps and other projects. Their Facebook page has this status update: "Our latest project is almost out. Married couples wanting to start a family could get a lot of use out of it." A Creighton Method iPhone app, perhaps? Will keep you posted.