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.