Dustin Hoffman: A Viable Heroine, But Dubious Hero

If you’ve been on social media in the past few weeks, you probably know that Dustin Hoffman was a total Not-the-It-Girl. Or, at least, he thought he was when he first encountered himself in the makeup he’d wear for Tootsie, the classic comedy in which he (figuratively and kinda literally) acted his balls off to play an actor playing an actress playing a female hospital administrator. The feelings of inadequacy that he had when he saw his as-good-as-it’s-gonna-get feminine side–feelings ladies know all too well–apparently spawned a sad realization: he’d missed out on a lot of interesting women because they weren’t pretty enough to approach. And it is this admission that has woman everywhere swooning over the aging thespian.

Hoffman’s getting a lot of attention, but anyone who’s seenTootsie should have realized these things already, because the film (probably my favorite, ever) has pretty much the same theme as the viral video: dressing as a woman makes a man understand women and become a better man. In the movie, Michael is an actor who’s so difficult to work with that he has to pose as a woman named Dorothy to get hired.  Initially, the idea is all about how talented Michael is–he’s capable of playing the role while playing another role–but all of this soon forces Michael to understand the challenges women face: the way men use you, struggling to afford clothing, battling beauty standards, etc. He expresses his indignation through his spitfire female character. In doing so, he becomes a heroine to women everywhere–and a better man.

I want to tear up along with Hoffman when I consider movie heroines and find myself hard-pressed to name more than a handful as compelling as Dorothy. I forget she’s a he and find myself wanting to channel her ability to project forceful, authoritative femininity and stand up to patriarchal restraints while using words like “badoobies.” She’s also much more relatable than most rom-com leading ladies. Decidedly average looking, she worries about coming off dumpy, being fat, and having a mustache. Isn’t it a bit sad that it takes a male, albeit a very talented one, to play a woman who is at once sympathetic and empowering?

I’m also kind of sad that Hoffman gets so much credit for what he said in the video, since all he did was get caught up to where a man should be. Regardless of how blind many men are to the fact that beauty norms are incredibly difficult to live with, he made a really obvious observation. It’s nice to have you on our side, Dusty, but it would be nicer if you realized how difficult we have it  by listening to the women in your life or reading books by women or doing something in which you did not have to claim to be one of us.

We know that we should hate various forms of discrimination and oppression through empathy and humanity, not firsthand experience. Why shouldn’t men be expected to develop disgust for gender inequality through the same means? And, honestly, there just aren’t enough drag roles in rom-coms for all of our lovers, friends, fathers, brothers, coworkers,  and so on to make similar revelations.

Also, should we really be applauding a man who admits that he went several decades without making the bold revelation that non-beautiful women could be interesting? Regardless of any subsequent revelations he might have, I’m just not impressed by a man who entertained that notion for so long. I can’t help borrowing a phrase from my girl Dorothy: “shame on you, you macho shithead.”

But I still think you are really talented, Mr. Hoffman.

You can contact Betsy, the author of this post, at betsy@nottheitgirls.com.

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