Thursday, 16 July 2009

A Woman by Any Other Name ...

I just watched an old movie the other day called "Tootsie". Probably a lot of people have seen it or at least heard about it. It's one where Dustin Hoffman plays an unemployed actor who's so desperate for work he dresses up as a woman to land a part in a TV serial. This of all leads to some comic moments, clashes with his personal life which of course includes his love life, and then he makes some feminist statements.

One of these is when he tells off the director at the TV station for calling him "tootsie" (as well as a variety of other names). The director there calls the men by their first names, but he tends to call the women names like "cutey" or "tootsie" as well as doing stuff like grabbing their butt and having sexual relations with a few of the good looking younger ones.

This is one of Hoffman's feminist statements and inspires some of the women to stand up for themselves.

I read on some of the IMDB comments some of the reviews for "Tootsie". In general it got good reviews. However one commenter said he didn't really understand whether being called "tootsie" was such a big deal. Was being called "tootsie" or "cutey" or "sweetie" or whatever such a big deal and was it any different from being called "pal" or "buddy" as men call each other at work and there is no real big deal made about that?

Well, I'd say that there is something different about it, but first of all, I'd like to say: What are people generally called at workplaces, do you know about, and do you think it's appropriate? First names, last names, nicknames, etc?

At my workplace it was first names except when you addressed the Judge in which case you said "Judge" or "Your honour" which was considered protocol. Naturally some people who were closer to the judges addressed the judge by his or her first name but when in doubt, title was best. Some people used to address me by my position instead of my name (but usually people from outside the building, clients etc).

Basically I think there is a certain difference, that is something like "pal" or "buddy" implies friendship and equality. You say "pal" or "mate" to someone, they can also address you the same way.

However, when a male says "tootsie" or "sweetie" or "cutey-pie" or whatever to a woman, especially to someone who is below him in rank, it sounds like a term that you would use to "pet" someone, and it makes reference to them in a way that could be easily seen as their sexuality or their looks or both.

What is most important about the situation in the movie is that the men were known by their names, but the women were given little cutesy nicknames, which separated the way they were treated, and they didn't find it favourable. (Not to mention the added fact that the man also grabbed butts and talked over women.)

All in all I think that as an isolated case, a nickname does not necessarily mean that you are demeaning someone or being out of line, but the context can determine it, and the way the nickname is chosen and used and what it could imply.

Maybe it's just easier to stick with names unless invited, boring as it may sound!

And then you've got the problem of, is it their full name or their last name plus title or do they like their name slightly abbreviated or ...



JahTeh said...

After the film came out, I read an interview with Dustin Hoffman who was really crushed that he didn't become a beautiful woman after all that effort.

Maria said...

Dustin Hoffman probably could take comfort that he did look like a beautiful woman. A beautiful woman with a lot of masking makeup, a wig and a prosthetic nose.

It seems it was the rage in Hollywood for beautiful women like Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron to put on all this stuff in movies and after his transformation Hoffman probably just looked right in with them. Kind of, except he had the guy from Police Academy trying to get into his pants.