Tuesday, July 09, 2013

what is like to be a woman in Hollywood? ask Dustin Hoffman

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"And in the category of “Strongest Female Character in Film”, the award goes to…"

Dustin Hoffman as Michael Dorsey playing Dorothy Michaels in TOOTSIE?


Twice in the past two months I have read articles about Strong Women in Film, and in both lists Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of a man who pretends to be a woman has ranked either near or at the top of the list.

It's hard to believe that, in 2013, with all the talented female actresses past and present, and all the strong female characters in movies made over the past 100 years, a character played by a MAN pretending to be a woman the most admired female character.

Mind boggling. And I never even liked that movie.

Then today, I saw this video of Dustin Hoffman discussing his role in TOOTSIE:

Makes me want to watch the movie again with new eyes.

I almost lost it when he said, after going through the makeup test, “When I looked at (myself) on screen, I was shocked that I wasn’t more attractive.”

Raise your hand if you’ve said the same thing to yourself when you looked at vacation pictures, family movies, or the Facebook video from your friend’s wedding.

Dustin Hoffman said to the makeup artists and producers, “You have me looking like a woman. Now, make me a beautiful woman, because if I’m going to be a woman I want to be as beautiful as possible.”

Don’t we all. Culture tells us if we are going to be women – if we are going to be considered worthy of being called a woman – we must be as beautiful as possible.

Beautiful by cultural standards.

Beautiful as in physically proportionate, preferably thin.

Beautiful as in groomed and coiffed and waxed and made up.

Beautiful as in sexual. 

Because if we aren’t these things, we aren’t called “women.” We’re called cow or hag or whale or butter face or bimbo or skank or other insults that I’d probably rather never know.

When the amazing Dustin Hoffman asked the crew to make him more beautiful as a woman, they replied, “That’s as good as it gets. That’s as beautiful as we can get you.”

That’s enough to make any woman choke up.

That was enough to make Dustin Hoffman choke up, too. Dustin Hoffman, a man, successful in every other way, choking up at the humiliation of being told he will never be a beautiful woman. No matter what. Never.

Many of us know the feeling. Even those women the rest of us think are the high standard, the pretty ones, the talented ones, the skinny ones, even they feel this way.


Hoffman knew his character Dorothy Michaels was an interesting woman, but also knew that if he met her at a party he would never talk to her or take the time to get to know her, because she didn’t physically fit the idea of what men are taught to admire.

He tearfully admitted, “There are too many interesting women I have not had the experience to know in this life because I have been brainwashed….(TOOTSIE) was never a comedy for me.”

Just like being a real woman is rarely the romantic comedy we're made to think it should be.

I’m glad this video is making its rounds on Facebook and UpWorthy and YouTube. I’m happy that I saw it first on a man’s Facebook page. I’m impressed that Dustin Hoffman was able to experience the same self-doubt many women feel every day of their lives. And that he was able to articulate it for the world to hear.

I still think there are hundreds of strong female characters in movies played by actual women that should trump a female character played by a man.

But I will hand it to Mr. Hoffman. Dorothy Michaels wasn’t just Dustin Hoffman in drag. He may have created her, but she gave him perspective, humility, and depth. She took what he had and made him richer by the virtue of being in his life.

Just like every other strong woman I know.

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