“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.