Discovering for the first time what it’s like to be a woman within a patriarchal society can bring a grown man to tears.
Just ask Dustin Hoffman, who cried when he saw what he looked like as his character Tootsie — a struggling actor who disguises himself as a woman to land roles in the 1982 hit comedy of the same name.
‘I was shocked that I wasn’t more attractive and I said [to the make-up artists], “Now you have me looking like a woman, now make me a beautiful woman”,’ Hoffman said in an interview dug up from the AFI archives and republished by Mary Sue’s Jill Pantozzi.
‘If I was going to be a woman, I would want to be as beautiful as possible’, ‘And they said to me, “Uh, that’s as beautiful as we can get you”.’
Thirty years later, when he recounts his shock in discovering that Columbia Studio’s make-up artists couldn’t make him look beautiful, the Academy Award winner fought back the tears again.
It’s easy to see how a man could believe in the fantasy that physical beauty is within the grasp of every woman — or even every man pretending to be a woman.
Women are sold this lie daily: that beauty is simply a matter of drinking eight glasses of water a day, eating mountains of chia seeds and quinoa salad, a good moisturiser and a touch of lippy and mascara.
The multi-billion dollar beauty, diet and cosmetic surgery industries are testament to the fact that much of the time women are conned into believing it too.
The reality is that we can’t all be physically beautiful. Even the women who did strike it lucky in the genetic lottery have a beauty expiry date. Those who age as nature intended are castigated for letting themselves go and those who try to cling on to their youthful appearance — an essential component of beauty standards — are mercilessly mocked for drinking from the fount of someone else’s youth when they undergo plastic surgery and botox.
But Hoffman’s tears were not just because the best make-up artists in the business were unable to make him look hot. He cried because he realised the lesson that every woman has to learn the hard way: that our culture uses a woman’s beauty as the primary standard of her worth.
‘I went home and started crying to my wife, and I said, “I have to make this picture”. And she said, “Why?” And I said, “Because I think I’m an interesting woman when I look at myself on screen, and I know that if I met myself at a party, I would never talk to that character because she doesn’t fulfill, physically, the demands that we’re brought up to think that women have to have in order for us to ask them out”.’
His distress was also caused by the realisation that our culture’s reduction of women’s worth to that of eye candy, had hurt him too.
‘There’s too many interesting women I have not had the experience to know in this life because I have been brainwashed.’
Three decades on, the brainwashing continues apace.
Regardless of our education, profession, accomplishments and contributions, our value is still determined by whether or not the men in the room want to bang us. We need look no further than the very public discussion of Australia’s first female Prime Minister’s legs, breasts and a*se by everyone from political opponents to noted feminists for confirmation of this.
Just thinking about the individual tyranny that women must endure and the collective waste of human potential, is enough to bring anyone to tears. It’s just a shame that it takes a man to impersonate a woman before we realise it.