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.”