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Archive for April 17, 2012

The Three Modes of Female Spectatorship

In Film and the Masquerade (1982), Mary Ann Doane takes up the issue with “the eviction of the female spectator from a discourse purportedly about her (the cinema, psychoanalysis)—one which, in fact, narrativizes her again and again.” (21) In the world of cinema the female assumes the position of the one who is viewed. She is the object; the one looked upon. According to Doane “theories of females spectatorship are thus rare…” (21).  Yet, she takes on the challenge of conceptualizing the female spectator by providing the different modes of female spectatorship.

Doan acknowledges that “it is admitted that women is frequently the object of the voyeuristic or fetishistic gaze in cinema” but challenges “what is there to prevent her from reversing the relation and appropriating the gaze for her own pleasure?” (20). The reality for the female spectator is that “she is the image” (22). As the object, she is within close proximity to what she is viewing “given the closeness of this relationship, the female spectator’s desire can be described only in terms of a kind of narcissism—the female look demands a becoming.” (22). The female spectator runs the risk of exposing herself to narcissistic and masochistic behavior. It is here Doane puts forth the argument that there are three different approaches (means adopted in tackling a problem) for female spectatorship: over-identification/ narcissism, transvestitism, and masquerade.

In each mode there is a certain degree of proximity or distance. Within the theory of female spectatorship there is “an opposition between proximity and distance in the relation to the image.” (21). Proximity or closeness is negative in female spectatorship because it “is conducive to what might be termed an over-identification with the image” (22). Doane sees that the “pervasiveness, in theories of the feminine, of descriptions of such a claustrophobic closeness, a deficiency in relation to the structures of seeing and the visible” keeps the female spectator from achieving a critical distance from the woman onscreen. Distance from the image is positive; it prevents the jeopardy of over-identification and or narcissism.

There is much distance between the female spectator and narcissism when she adopts the masculine position, or that of the transvestite. This position allows the female spectator to “at least pretend that she is the other” (25). This gives the female an advantage while “the male is locked into” his “sexual identity” (25). Moreover, the mode of masquerade creates a distance between the female spectator and the image of the woman onscreen. Masquerade is a form of gendered performance; it is a way to “manufacture a lack in the form of a certain distance between oneself and one’s image.”






Wearing the Mask

Joan Riviere’s Womanliness as a Masquerade discusses the mask of femininity that many women wear in their professional and home lives. Riviere says ” Womanliness therefore could be assumed and worn as a mask, both to hide the possession of masculinity and to avert the reprisals expected if she was found to possess it-much like a thief will turn out his pockets and asked to be searched to prove that he has not stolen goods” (133).

Riviere’s piece is very relevant to today’s society, in which the definition of “the perfect woman,” has seemed to change. Like the woman who was the stay at home mother and wife of the 20th century, the 21st century woman must be all of that, but also much more. The idea of a woman in the workplace has not replaced the idea of the homemaker. Today, women must be both in order to be seen as the ultimate woman, and at the same time mask the masculinity of taking  on what was once considered a man’s job.

Riviere gives different examples of these women who walk around with the womanly mask. These women go to work and take on the professional world, but make sure to not dominate their male counterparts. Riviere says that these woman look for reassurance from the male “father-figures.” She says these women seek, “First, direct reassurance of the nature of compliments about her performances; secondly, and more important, indirect reassurance of the nature of sexual attentions from these men” (133).

Today, women are still fighting to be equal to their male counterparts. At the same time, maybe subconsciously, women also try to preserve their femininity, and try to be seen as not too “hard” or dominating. Are women wearing this mask for the purpose of pleasing male society, or are they doing it to please themselves?

All the world’s a stage–or at least for women


Riviere begins the essay by stating that the essay will “attempt to show that women who wish for masculinity may put on a mask of womanliness to avert anxiety and retribution feared from men,” (132) this quote immedietly brought to mind Sarah Jane. Although Sarah Jane does not wear a mask of womanliness to avert anxiety and retribution feared from men she does wear a mask. Her mask shieldes her (in her mind) from the stereotypes and scrutiny she will recieve if people discovered that she was African American. It also allows her to conform to the white male idea of a perfect woman. Later she mentions the relationship between the woman and her mother , “by it she surpassed her mother, won her approval and proved her superiority among rival ‘feminine’ women (134), but in the case of Sarah Jane she surpasses her mother by shunning her. This allows her to step into a new world of conformity and compete with these ‘feminine’ women that Riviere mentions.

Riviere goes on to say that, “womanliness therefore could be assumed and worn as a mask, both to hide possession of masculinity and to avert the reprisals expected if she was found to posses it–much as a thief will turn out his pockets and ask to be searched to prove that he has not the stolen goods” (133). Her description of her aquantaince who hides her ability to do certain “masculine” tasks and passes them off as ‘lucky guess’ made me think of single mothers who have to learn “masculine” task to get through everyday life but are ridiculed because of their knowledge. This has alot to do with our society which at a young age reinforce the idea that you need a man in your life. For example, in my family I am often questioned about not having a boyfriend, speaking my mind, being careless, or knowing to much. I’m often told that I have to put on this “damsel in distress” persona in order to attract a man which I don’t agree with at all. Women have to maintain the idea of a perfect woman that was put on her from childhood, e.g. Barbie (she can do anything). As Riviere states, “She conformed in almost every particulaer to the description…excellent wives and mothers, capable housewives; they maintain social life and assist culture; they have no lack of feminine interests. (132)

Theorizing like Doane

Womanliness as a Masquerade

I was very pleased at the synthesis of so many theories within Riviére’s essay “Womanliness as a Masquerade”.  She brought in the feminist Freudianism of Horney in a way that was fresh and accessible. The concept of contemplating the female performance echoed our conversations about Butler. But what was interesting, was that it seemed to dialogue with Chodorow’s theory piece “The Reproduction of Motherhood”. More specifically I felt this piece related back to an argument I started to construct in reaction to Chodorow’s theory, saying that if masculinity required being nurtured in the ways of femininity, and women more completely embody their gender role then men, that women should be more successful at being men. I asked the question if women should become masculine to be successful in public world.

With Riviére being our first theorist to consider “a particular type of intellectual woman” (Riviére 132) who seeks to make her own way through an educated and public life, I was curious to hear her chime in on the issue, and I was a little surprised that she not only disagreed with my premise that women needed to adopt the act of masculinity to be successful in this public world, she completely disagreed with it. She sees that these woman took pride in conforming to “womanliness” in a way that was masterful, that allowed them to surpass their mother’s but also to please their fathers simultaneously with their ability to wear “womanliness” well and the intellectual abilities they were keeping safe and concealed with their act.

I thought it was fascinated that Riviére referred to this act as propagandist and that she said this masquerade of “womanliness” ways like a thief turning out his pocket to prove he has not stolen masculinity. The contrast of the severity of these terms and the seeming sneaky indirectness of women overcompensating for their masculine traits was surprising. This habit of overcompensation, does complicate her response to my question of whether women should become masculine in the world though. Women already have within them the masculine traits that they need for the public world.

This complication to the conversation of women’s masculinity in the public world made me think about why women need to be so conscious of their act and the role that masculinity plays in their internal behavior versus their external act. Riviére describes  reactions to the masculine presence mentally and feminine presence through physicality through one case.

It is significant that this woman’s mask, though transparent to other women, was successful with men and served its purpose very well. Many men were attracted to this way and gave her reassurance by showing her favour. (Riviére 134).

This revealed a concern with women’s masculinity that I had not anticipated: women see through the act of gender more than men. Though I have not read it, I wonder if the solution for women in the public sphere is really as simple as Steve Harvey’s book “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.” There is a lot to ponder in this essay and it really takes a global stance on femininity as an act if it makes me think of a comedian’s best-seller.

Too Close to Hold: The Dilemma of theFemale Spectator

“Throughout history people have knocked their heads against the riddle of the natyure of femininity… to those of you who are women this will not apply– you are yourselves the problem”

In her chapter “Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator”, Mary Ann Doane explains how the proximity of the woman to the image of the female body impedes her ability to analyze the “nature of femininity”. Doane cites Freud’s statement in his lecture on “Femininity”, and his exclusion of the female spectator to introduce the following ideas: the ability to decifer the enigma of woman is not  afforded, “to the unitiated, to those who do not hold the key”; since the image of the female body is presented for the scopophilic pleasure of a male spectator, the female spectator can only engage with the image in a narcissistic relationship, one of becoming rather than viewing; femininity is a masquerade that woman can put on or remove, which juxtaposes woman’s transvestive ability to put on masculinity. Despite her winding argument, Doane comes full-circle by the end of our excerpt, and reintroduces the significance of woman’s iconic role, but the significance of woman’s transvestivism seems to undermine much of her argument.

According to Doane, the female spectator is met with the dilemma of being “too close to herself, entangled in her own enigma, she could not step back.” The reference to hieroglyphics in illustrating the setback in having too close a proximity is somewhat problematic, at least initially,  because closeness is indeed what makes a hieroglyphic understandable. The one who creates the sign is by far the closest to it, and is the best source for understanding its meaning. By incorporating the idea of  cinematic imagery, Doane clarifies this point by implying that since the woman does not create the image, but in a sense actually is the image, then she does not have “the key” to understand the image. Engaging Luce igrigaray, Doane expresses the idea that possession requires a dissociation from the object, and therefore posession, “is antithetical to woman.”  This signifies that woman is so close to the object that she cannot possess it, and being the object, she essentially cannot posses herself. From my underatanding, this means that woman has no control of the image of the female body that is constructed in cinematic representation; therefore, as a spectator and appropriator of the image presented, she does not own the image that she inhabits– “the female must become the object of desire.”

Doane further uses Freud’s explanation of the way male and female children understand the image of the genitals of the opposite sex to imply male privilege in the ability to take a  “second look” at an object. According to Freud, when girls see the male genitals, she realizes her own lack and immediatly concludes that she wants what she lacks. Conversely,boys look at the female genitals and see nothing, and can dissociate himself from this nothingness, but he will ultimately come to view this lack as a “threat of castration.” In a sense, Doane is saying that a feeling of “lack” overrides a woman’s ability to engage the depth of the object, but instead identifies the object with herself– seeing what she lacks she seeks to appropriate this image. This position is problematic for woman because, “the woman who identifies witha female charactermust adopt a passive or massochistic position, while identification with the active hero necessarily entailsan acceptance of… a certain masculinization of spectatorship.” I find Doane’s assertion that woman can identify with the male character and furthermore can appropriate this masculinity simply by “slip[ing] into male clothing” to be problematic, and undermining because it displaces the idea that the woman must become the image,and it also diminishes the dilemma of the female spectator, who in this particular view actually has a choice in which characteristics to appropriate. This would imply that woman has more control in cinematic representation that Doane has previously stated.

Gender Passing.

While reading Joan Riviére’s Womanliness as a Masquerade, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Sarah Jane from the film Imitation of Life. Constantly seeking approval from white society, the African-American Sarah Jane takes advantage of her fair complexion and throughout the film, passes as white to varying degrees of success. According to Riviére, this phenomenon is not only racial, but also occurs across the gender line with “men and women [who]…plainly display strong features of the other sex.” Both Sarah Jane and “women who wish for masculinity” attempt to project what society wants them to be, but women, Riviére argues, have become so skilled at this “masquerade” that they may seamlessly shift personalities depending on the situation. (132)

Riviére frames her essay by reminding her readers of a time when gender essentially determined the job one could do, and to engage in work not designated to one’s gender was nearly impossible. For example, a woman entering the world in intellectual pursuits had to be “an overtly masculine type of woman, who in pronounced cases made no secret of her wish or claim to be a man.” (132) This image harkens back to illustrious director Dorothy Arzner. A pioneer in the film industry for women, Arzner eschewed the mask of femininity Riviére claims women now adopt, choosing instead to wear her hair and clothes in the same style as her male colleagues. For Arzner, there was no balancing act, and her story begs all sorts of questions concerning gender play and how gender is perceived in society, like how did simply looking and acting like a man make a woman’s presence in the directing world suddenly acceptable? Was gender and job truly mutually exclusive?

Evidently, society has, to some degree, seen the folly of its former viewpoint, and as Riviére writes, a healthy dose of feminine energy has been injected into the previously masculine-dominated intellectual world, so much so that “it would be hard to say whether the greater number [of women] are more feminine than masculine in their mode of life and character.” (132) Riviére goes on to write of what sounds like an ultimate marriage between conservative and progressive ideas regarding woman’s role in society; she talks of women she meets “in University life, in scientific professions and in business…who seem to fulfill every criterion of complete feminine development.” All this sounds very encouraging; it would appear that, despite what one may have heard, women can “have it all,” so goes the old adage.

However, Riviére warns, things are not as pristine as they may appear. She recounts a story of a woman who balances the dual roles of “masculine academic” and “feminine homemaker,” yet underneath the facade of gender-balanced perfection, Riviére cannot help but notice the woman’s “need for reassurance [that] led her compulsively…to seek some attention or complimentary notice from a man or men” after having given a speech. Immediately, one is made aware of this woman’s rush of “feminine” energy on the heels of performing a “masculine” activity, like giving an academic speech. Instead of feeling empowered as a man would undoubtedly be in the aftermath of his success, this woman downplayed her obvious talents and reverts back to a more comfortable, more familiar role those of her sex are expected to play.

This leads Riviére to her thesis:

Womanliness therefore could be assumed and worn as a mask, both to hide the possession of masculinity and to avert the reprisals expected if she was found to possess it –much as a thief will turn out his pockets and ask to be searched to prove that he has not the stolen goods.
Womanliness as a Masquerade, pg 133

Are then, women any better off than they were in the days of Dorothy Arzner? She who had to embrace a wholly masculine identity in order to function in masculine society? While it may now be possible for women to more fully explore their identities, one must tragically admit that women must maintain, at the very least, the facade of the subservient feminine in order to function in the still very much masculine-driven society.