Dustin Hoffman: enough to make a grown man cry

The Hollywood star admits he was once a shallow person who was obsessed with looks, but he shouldn’t tar all men with that brush.

Stuart Derbyshire

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Over the past few weeks, several people have independently sent me a link to an interview with Dustin Hoffman, where he explains why he had to make the film Tootsie. For those unfamilar with the movie, Hoffman’s character is a perfectionist, out-of-work actor who dresses up as a woman to land a part in a soap opera and becomes a TV hit. In the interview, Hoffman describes a personal epiphany following his portrayal of Dorothy Michaels. Choking back tears, Hoffman explains that if he were to meet Dorothy at a party he would never speak to her because, ‘she doesn’t fulfil physically the demands that we’re brought up to think women have to have in order for us to… ask them out’.

Oh Dustin, what are you trying to tell us? And why are we seemingly so excited?

Taken at absolute face value, Hoffman seems to be telling us he was once a complete dick. Apparently, the younger Hoffman went to parties and deliberately blanked women whom he did not find attractive. In fact, the younger Hoffman only spoke to women in order to ask them out. We can all be shallow and instrumental at times but, wow, what a douche. Glad you got better Dustin, really, but in future, maybe keep that kind of thing to yourself. It can be your dirty secret, no need to sully the rest of us with it.

But sullying the rest of us is the point, and the reason the video has gone viral. This is not just Hoffman’s personal epiphany, it is an apocryphal tale delivering a moral message about the awfulness of men driven by societally imposed versions of beauty. Men, we are being told, typically ignore women unless they look like models from Ann Summers or Victoria’s Secret. It’s rubbish, of course, as a trip to any pub, bar, club or, well, anywhere there are men and women, will duly demonstrate. There you will find men and women of all shapes, ages, sizes and degrees of attractiveness (however constructed or measured) interacting, talking, dancing, flirting and generally being human with each other. Hoffman can, if he wants, shed a tear at the inhuman douche bag he apparently was, but let’s not allow his self loathing to denounce all men as shallow scum.

Stuart Derbyshire is associate professor in the Department of Psychology, National University of Singapore (NUS) and A*STAR-NUS Clinical Imaging Research Centre.

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