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To Be A Woman: How Men Portraying Women Changes Society

Updated on September 19, 2014
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I have a B.A. in English with a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. I've been a Goth since age fourteen, and a Pagan since age fifteen.

Up until the seventeenth century, women were not permitted on stage, but woman characters were. Society saw women as the weaker sex and actresses were viewed as unlady-like; therefore, boys were hired to dress in drag to play the roles of women because of their high voices. All of this was due to the oppression of women at the time. Finally, in 1660, women began acting in theater. This changed the face of performance, forever.

Having real women portray women is important. It gives everyone else involved more prospective. On the other hand, having men portray women, when it involves society treating them as an actual woman, changes the way men see women. The power men have due to their gender becomes more significant to the actor(s).

Women know how hard it is to live in a man's world, but it's liberating to see men portraying women. It raises women up, and allows men to at least come close to grasping what women have to go through to be who they are. Each fictional story of a man portraying a woman involves the man learning from his perception as the opposite gender.

"Dustin Hoffman - 1968" by Studio - ebay. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
"Dustin Hoffman - 1968" by Studio - ebay. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.


The 1982 film Tootsie starring Dustin Hoffman is about an actor, Michael Dorsey, who can't get a job, but is hired after impersonating an actress named Dorothy Michaels at an audition for a hit soap opera. Michael learns how hard it is to be a woman, and feels experienced enough to speak out about the struggle. His character is so uniquely outspoken, in the show, that it inspires countless women fans. Playing Dorothy off-screen also teaches Michael how to be a better man.

Gendered Language

In the film, Michael realizes men refer to women like they are children. Men don't always use women's names the way they would if they were speaking with a man. It's a subtle way society continues to reinforce the belief that women are less than men. Many women are so used to this behavior that it doesn't bother them. Meanwhile, when the concept is brought to a man's attention, they frequently try to brush it off as women overreacting. What they don't ask themselves is how they would feel if another man, such as a client or co-worker, called them "hun" or "sweetie."

"There are too many interesting women I have not had the experience to know in this life because I have been brainwashed."

Dustin Hoffman on portraying Dorothy

In an interview, Hoffman talks about how being in the film has taught him the depth of how hard it is to be a woman. Now, as a man, he feels regret for the way he has treated women in the past due to their inability to attain society's required level of beauty. Neither the character Michael Dorsey nor the real-life actor Dustin Hoffman can completely understand the struggles as a woman, but a decent amount has gotten through.

If actors can be changed by their experience playing a woman then the male audience could as well. If men are less-likely to go see a film starring actual women, but would see a film starring a famous actor portraying a woman then it serves as another gateway to show men how they should treat the opposite sex.

Robin Williams U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Tabitha M. Mans -
Robin Williams U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Tabitha M. Mans - | Source

"Mrs. Doubtfire"

Robin Williams plays a woman in the 1993 film Mrs. Doubtfire. This time, actor Daniel Hillard is portraying a woman for personal reasons. Women are automatically believed to be maternal; therefore, when his ex-wife, Miranda (Sally Field), won't let him see their kids more frequently, he goes undercover as an older woman, and is hired to take care of their children.

Through his time as a woman, Daniel grows as a father. He is more responsible for his children rather than just being their friend. In addition, Daniel sees his ex-wife through the eyes of a woman. Miranda confides in "Mrs. Doubtfire" about her former marriage to Daniel as well as her new love interest in Stu. By the end of the film, Daniel's acquired background as Mrs. Doubtfire lands him a role on television as his alter-ego. His personal interest in playing a woman ends up helping his career.

The film is popular with children of divorced parents. Unlike many divorce stories of fathers abandoning their children, Daniel is a devoted father. The movie is about the lengths he goes to be paternal. It suggests that men can be as loving a parent as society makes women out to be. Again, while many men may not want to go see a movie about a mother fighting for her kids, they may want to see a determined man succeeding at more than just business.

John Cameron Mitchell 23 May 2006
John Cameron Mitchell 23 May 2006 | Source

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch"

John Cameron Mitchell wrote, starred and directed the film version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. In this film, Hansel Schmidt undergoes sexual reassignment surgery in order to marry his boyfriend, Luther Robinson. The sex change goes wrong, and Hedwig is left with undefined genitalia rather than a vagina. He adopts his mother's name, Hedwig, and leaves Germany with his husband to live in America as a woman. Hedwig goes through many struggles along her path to be a rock star, but the feminine image helps the band gain a few fans -- including her later enemy, Tommy. The wigs and outfits add intensity to each song performed. It is through experience as a woman that Hedwig finally feels whole without fame.

Many straight men may fear their sexual reputation being tarnished by seeing this film or musical, but Hedwig is more than a trans woman. She is still a man. The undefined line between masculine and feminine lures both genders; especially, anyone who is a fan of the rock genre since Hedwig is a rock star before a man or woman.

"Everyone's got a little girl or a little boy [in them], and it's exciting."

John Cameron Mitchell

Hedwig and the Angry Inch - On Stage

Neil Patrick Harris is currently starring as Hedwig in the live show. In an interview, John Cameron Mitchell talks about how everyone has a little of both genders in them, and that it's beautiful. That is what makes performances of one gender by the opposite gender interesting. When an audience watches different interpretations of the gender opposite of the actor's it creates something to think about. Audience members may be thrilled or bothered by that type of performance, but either way it inspires questions to be asked about gender performance.

Equal Inequality

Both sexes are oppressed in different ways. Nobody is just male or female. Race, class, sexual orientation, etc. are all cause for discrimination; therefore, men portraying women assists to combine the struggle by making it about both sexes. Men and women should join together in order to free themselves from social restrictions rather than fight each other to continue the battle.

Which film does the best with portraying women?

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© 2014 social thoughts


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