Women can wear a mask of femininity. In Womanliness as a Masquerade Joan Riviere makes the argument that woman either dumb themselves down or make conscience choices to exert femininity. This theory is the reverse of men over exerting their masculinity.
Through the example of a housewife presented by Riviere we see a woman concisely dumbs herself down when talking to workingmen to “avert…retribution”. When talking to worker such as builders, butcher and baker “she has a compulsion to hide all her technical knowledge” and acting a part “she puts on a semblance of a rather uneducated woman” hiding her competence, culture and opinions.
Through a lecturer we se a woman putting of the mask literally by wearing clothes that are more feminine which in turn make her peers react to her word jokingly. To protect her ego she has learned “to treat the situation[s]… as a game [or]…a joke” when having to display more masculine characteristics.
Riviere also presents a powerful businesswoman who after gaining success in her work would but on the mask of feminine woman and look for “unmistakable father-figures” to get reassurance and the fulfillment in the act of being a woman, while not giving any importance to the man. She used her interactions with men as “device[s] for avoiding anxiety [rather] than as a primary mode of sexual enjoyment”.
This reading was eye opening to think that “womanliness may be assumed as a mask” as Riviere puts it. I have heard of women acting dumb for the egos of a lover or to gain material possession but not as a way of protecting their own egos.
Patricia Hill Collins through her theory in Shifting the Center: Race, Class, and Feminist theorizing about Motherhood expresses the need for incorporating perspective into feminist theory. “Mothering occurs in specific historical contexts framed by interlocking structures of race [and] class”, expresses Collins with her presenting of Spelman’s writing. I totally agree with this because in the context of my family structure it does not resemble the family archetype expressed in many of the theories we have already encountered in this class. Spelman also says that “despite the significance of race and class, feminist theorizing routinely minimizes their importance.
By not incorporating race and class into feminist theory “those who are working class or from racial ethnic groups [are seen] as less autonomous, and therefore as fitting objects for the elite male domination.” (Collins, 1994) To properly theorize on females and family structure because working with race and class helps define the experiences of woman in society.
In “Shifting the Center: Race, Class and Feminst Theorizing About Motherhood” Collins says, “Native American, African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American women, motherhood cannot be analyzed in isolation from its context”(56) She highlights the fact that women in overlooked and arduous communities have taken motherhood and acted it out in a manner in which counter the assumptions of the dominant culture. For racial ethnic women in America, motherhood is much about survival as shown in her statistics. It is also a search for self-identity and a struggle for maternal empowerment. Collins does not wish to promote one group’s motherwork over another, instead she feels that we should move towards a median, which will in turn point towards feminist theorizing embracing differences as a vital part of being united.
In Motherwork and Physical Survival, Collins quotes “When we are not physically starving we have the luxury to realize psychic and emotional starvation,” from Moraga p.29. Understanding that racial ethnic children who are “physically starving”(61) have no assurance that they will physically survive, although commonly seen in society, still created a painful reality check within my thought process. The statistics behind Hispanic children and poverty, where Collins states that one third of those children who survive infancy live in poverty, made me realize the complexity behind mothering. Mothers hold survival in their hands and have an immense responsibility beyond the paternal figure and their “domination in the political economy and the household.”(57) Referencing back to my home town and actualizing that in my lifetime I have known people who live within this statistic, helped me internalize Collins work.
When reflecting on my community it immediately brought me back to my family. As a Latina with immigrant roots, the mothering that came about when my grandmother brought all 9 of her children to the U.S., can be considered heroic. Brining them into an impoverished community where people were known to either be caught in the system, live on the streets, or become involved in violence, she had to create a home environment in which they stayed out of it. Though the Hispanic statistics behind mothering and survival are astonishing, I believe that (when actually embraced) Latina mothers have the instinctual ability to create an environment in which their children stay focused on what they are expected to do or become in their lifetime. Concluding with Collins saying “survival, power and identity shape motherhood for all women”(72) and noticing that these factors should stop being marginalized for the sake of accurate theorizing, we can move towards the her hope of creating that median.
The section I most identified with was under the subheading:Motherwork and Identity. In the Black community, as well as other non-white cultures, the notion of ‘passing’ is a prevalent theme. I’ve witnessed this phenomenon in my family and amongst my close friends. A cousin of mine(fair in complexion) insists he’s white. Even if he’s old enough to understand the concept of race, he’s not hearing it . One of my close female friends(she’s from a blended family of Black and Indian) was ridiculed as a child for her darker skin. Some of her female relatives refused to date/marry ‘pure’ Black men, for fear of producing children with dark skin and kinky-coily hair. Literature also sheds light(no pun intended) on this occurrence. In Sapphire’s Push, Precious mentions, ” I would be light skinned, thereby treated right and loved by boyz. Light even more important than being skinny…Boyz overlook a lot to be wif a white girl or yellow girl…”(Sapphire 113)
But as Collins states, “since children of color can never be white, assimilation by becoming white is impossible”.(Collins 69)The bleaching of the skin to lighten its appearance and the pulling of the nose to straighten its structure can be considered attempts to assimilate into White culture, or to whiten the Black race. Interestingly enough, it’s rare, but not uncommon, for Black males to forgo part-taking in this. I believe that mothers-Black mothers in this instance are definitely more conscious of the role that “racial privilege”(Collins 68) plays in their children’s lives.
Some might argue that interracial dating for Blacks is a way of assimilating, but these same individuals are often times the ones labeling others sell-outs. Just a few weeks ago, my Pakistani friend and I were waiting for the train on 145th street. A Black girl said to her friend, “I hate to see Black women with White men.” I can’t understand why she would say such a thing, nor do I care.