Rebecca Kamm
Poking a stick at ladies' issues, pop culture, and other cutting-edge curiosities.

Rebecca Kamm: Understanding what it's like to be a woman

Actor Dustin Hoffman as a woman in the film 'Tootsie'.
Actor Dustin Hoffman as a woman in the film 'Tootsie'.

In case you haven't heard, there's a person called Kim O'Grady from Perth who spent four months sending out job applications but got only rejection letters in return. It made no sense - Kim had a wealth of relevant experience, and there were opportunities galore. Even applications for more junior positions were declined. It was a mystery.

Kim O'Grady was a man. And "a horrible truth slowly dawned" on him: he was being dismissed because people thought he wasn't.

So he added "Mr" to his name, and - shock and awe - the interview offers flooded in. "I got an interview for the very next job I applied for. And the one after that," says O'Grady, whose Tumblr article How I Discovered Gender Discrimination has gone viral.

He "pictured all the managers I had over the years" in the male-dominated industries of sales, engineering and manufacturing.

"Forming an amalgam of them in my mind, I read through the [application] document as I imagined they would have.

"It was like being hit on the head with a big sheet of unbreakable glass ceiling."

O'Grady had also emphasised in his applications that he was married with children, in order to demonstrate his reliability: "But when I viewed it through the skewed view of middle aged men who thought I was a woman, I could see it was just further damning my cause."

Finally, he considers a past female colleague who'd worked tirelessly for years to reach the top of her field. "She was the example everyone used to show that it could be done, but that most women just didn't want to. It's embarrassing to think I once believed that. It's even more incredible to think many people still do."

O'Grady's Tumblr post comes hot on the heels of another viral sensation with a similar resonance: a video of Dustin Hoffman in which the actor explains how acting as a woman for a part in the film Tootsie lead to the realisation he'd been "brainwashed" about female beauty.

When the makeup artists insisted they couldn't make him any more conventionally attractive, Hoffman "...went home and started crying. Talking to my wife, I said I have to make this picture, and she said, Why? And I said, Because I think I am an interesting woman when I look at myself on screen.

"And I know that if I met myself at a party, I would never talk to that character because she doesn't fulfill physically the demands that we're brought up to think women have to have in order to ask them out ...

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

I occasionally find myself explaining to guys that there are aspects of society - in my case Western society - that make life less comfortable, or harder, for women. "Imagine walking past a group of men in a public space and you're hyper-aware of your body and even how you're walking because they're leering, or commenting out loud on your appearance." Or: "Think for a second how you'd react if you discovered your colleague got paid $10k more for the same job - because he had different genitals." Sometimes it leads to a, "Yeah, I hadn't really thought of it like that". Which is nice.

But it's no match for the likes of O'Grady and Hoffman. Witnessing someone witnessing their own privilege, then feel moved enough to share it with the world, is infinitely more powerful.

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