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How would you be different if you had been born the opposite sex? Last week, I watched a YouTube video in which Dustin Hoffman discussed that question. He had recently finished the award-winning 1982 film TOOTSIE for which he received an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe for playing a male actor who must pass as a female actor in order to secure a steady job. Hoffman was dismayed to discover that even the best makeup experts couldn’t make him look more than ordinary as a woman. He had assumed if he were a woman, he would be gorgeous. His standard for women slapped him in the face. He realized for the first time how many potentially fascinating women he had brushed aside in his life because they weren’t physically beautiful.
That the society values beautiful women above the others is no news for women. Why else would we spend outrageous amounts of money on products to enhance skin, hair, face, and figure? We want to have an equal chance. Some women even obsess over the whiteness of their teeth. Adele, who certainly didn’t need anyone to vouch for her talent, had to remind media representatives she wasn’t about to stress over her shape when it was her voice that made her famous. Women applauded…and then went home and prepared wardrobe, makeup, and skin creams for the next day. Jennifer Hudson restructured herself. We secretly accept the standard.
I asked myself how I would be different if I were a man, and the answer to myself was sobering. I think I’d be bolder. Remembering that women are routinely paid less, treated with less respect, and have fewer opportunities to achieve executive status, insecurity would seem to be appropriate for a woman. Our word is often suspect. Would the public have been as ready to believe the outlandish slurs distributed via social media about Hillary Clinton if she had been a man? Regardless of whether people disliked her record or policies, wouldn’t they have applied a more rigorous standard of credibility? They certainly gave wide margin to the record and experience of her stereotypical male opponent. A woman in power must operate beneath microscopic examination. We are expected to approach moral and physical perfection unless we promote ourselves as sex objects.
In the film HIDDEN FIGURES, based on a true story, Mary Jackson is asked if she would wish to be an engineer if she were a white male. She replies, “I wouldn’t have to. I’d already be one.” Being a man doesn’t automatically provide benefit if he’s black. Thus we’re confronted by the complications of both intelligence and race. The question above didn’t address race, but that would certainly be a major factor in the answer. The film version of Mary Jackson didn’t have to think about her response. I suspect the real Mary Jackson wouldn’t, either. Many men would like to think women are less intelligent and less capable than they are—especially if the women belong to a minority.
How would you be different if you had been born gay? I know many people don’t believe that’s possible, but it’s an interesting question. The old advice to walk a mile in the shoes of others before you stoop to criticism still holds. Even when the stroll is imaginary, you may experience a whole new perspective on yourself and the others. For myself, I intend to be bolder.