This video from AFI featuring Dustin Hoffman was posted last December, but just now seems to be getting some traction. I first saw it as a series of gifs on tumblr, and then people started posting the video along with commentary.
(video embedded beneath all my wording, below)
In the clip, he’s talking about his motivation to play the character Dorothy Michaels in the classic movie Tootsie. It’s hard for me to believe, but this movie came out in 1982, when I was 12 years old. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve rewatched it since the 80s, for that matter.
My mother, a second wave and somewhat stereotypically bitter feminist (not her best character trait) hated the movie because she disliked the implication that it took a MAN to show women how to stand up for themselves. While I think her anger was overkill, she had a point that still stands. It’s a problematic movie, even though it’s generally a female-positive, feminist one. Well, I suppose given when it was made, we’d be hard pressed to hope for better from a major producer.
What’s interesting about this interview clip concerning the movie, though, is that it’s not about women empowering themselves or feminism making for better men. It’s about Hoffman’s rocky road of self discovery concerning his own brainwashing (his word) about what the value of a woman is.
On one hand, he’s feeling sorry for himself for missing out on meeting awesome women because of his shallow sexism regarding a woman’s value being solely in how good looking she is. He’s telling women something that we already, intimately, know: society judges us on our looks almost exclusively (ref. how the recent French women’s Wimbledon champion, Marion Bartoli, has been pilloried online for not being “pretty” or thin). It would be easy to roll our eyes and say, “thanks, Dustin, for nothing.”
BUT…part of the job of “consciousness raising” (to get all retro on your ass) is not preaching to the choir, but to the unconverted. One reason I think this video has hit such a chord with people is because it is such a relief to see a straight cis-gendered guy GET IT. He’s getting it within the framework of how he sees the world, sure, but then we all do that. What is important here is the story of how a very stereotypically guy’s guy, who was no Robert Redford himself, got in a dress and realized that not only was he not a beautiful woman, but that he was a woman that every man he knew would dismiss out of hand.
He could have written that off as “well sure, that’s because I’m an ugly woman, duh!” And that would have been that and Tootsie probably would not have been made.
Instead he saw the bigger picture (so to speak) of his situation: a smart, talented, experienced person who just happened to look like a not-very-attractive woman. That realization gut-punched him so hard, he cried not for himself but all the people he had wronged over the years.
I think that deserves respect.