In the 21st Century films about ‘men in dresses’ can seem rather backward and awkward, especially if the vast majority of the humour is about the supposed hilarity or men doing things that are stereotypically ‘women’s’ jobs, and the ‘emasculation’ of putting on a skirt. However, Tootsie is slightly different and in some ways its take on gender roles seems even more relevant now than when it was made.
The film is surprisingly careful not to make the joke that it’s Dustin Hoffman pretending to be a woman, instead ensuring the humour comes from his character’s negotiation of his own assumptions about gender roles. While it is about a guy learning to be a better man by becoming a woman (and therefore the focus is on the male), its viewpoint is very much on the side of women and how society has marginalised them, often without actively thinking about what it’s doing. What he does is essentially to exploit womanhood, but in doing so he learns things about the world around him he’d never realised. [Read more…]