Womanliness as a masquerade : 1929 : Joan Rivière

by Julia Evans on January 1, 1929


1)  International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 1929, Vol 9, p303-313

Available at www.LacanianWorksExchange.net  /authors a-z or authors by date

2)  Or  p89-102 of Joan Rivière, The Inner World and Joan Rivière, Collected Papers 1920-1958 : Karnac Books :1991 : See [i] for Athol Hughes (Editor)’s introduction to this paper.

Available at www.LacanianWorksExchange.net  /authors a-z or authors by date

References to Sigmund Freud

P95 of Collected Papers : Her attitude to sexual intercourse before marriage was a set determination to obtain and experience the enjoyment and pleasure which she knew some women have in it, and the orgasm. She was afraid of impotence in exactly the same way as a man. This was partly a determination to surpass certain mother–figures who were frigid, but on deeper levels it was a determination not to be beaten by the man. 3 [Footnote 3 I have found this attitude in several women analysands and the self–ordained defloration in nearly all of them (five cases). In the light of Freud’s ‘ Taboo of Virginity ‘ : 1917 [1918a], this latter symptomatic act is instructive.] 

As quoted by Jacques Lacan:

1)  From Introductory Remarks to ‘Guiding Remarks for a Congress on Feminine Sexuality : 1958 : Jacques Lacan’ :  Availability given Guiding Remarks for a Congress on Feminine Sexuality : 1958 [Presented in Amsterdam, 5th September 1960] : Jacques Lacan or here

p86 of  Feminine Sexuality, Jacques Lacan and the école freudienne : 1982 : Edited by Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose. : Published by Macmillan  See [ii] :

Quote : ‘Guiding Remarks for a Congress on Feminine Sexuality’ takes up points of controversy on the specific issue of feminine sexuality, as it appears in clinical practice. It is, therefore, a complement to ‘The Meaning of the Phallus’. It was written in the same year, 1958, two years before a Colloquium on feminine sexuality, organised by the Société française de psychanalyse, which took place at the Municipal University of Amsterdam in September 1960.

The article appeared in 1964 in a special issue (no 7) of La Psychanalyse (the journal of the Society) on the question of feminine sexuality. The issue included, together with the papers from the congress, articles by Helene Deutsch (1925), Ernest Jones (1927, 1933) and from Joan Rivière (1929) which had formed a central part of the earlier psychoanalytic debate on femininity in the 1920s and 1930s. …

2)  Seminar VI: Availability given Seminar VI: Desire and its interpretation: 1958-1959 : from 12th November 1958 : Jacques Lacan or here

Seminar VI : 4th February 1959 : Ch 11 : p159 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation:

… and it cannot be ruled out that at that time it may have come to Ella Sharpe’s mind. It is not at all a question of bringing into play a notion which was not within her range? we are in the English milieu which is dominated at that time by discussions such as those being developed for example between people like Jones and Joan Rivière whom we already brought up here in connection with her article: ‘On Womanliness as a Masquerade’. I spoke to you about it in connection with the discussion concerning the phallic woman (or phase) and the phallic function in feminine sexuality. 

See also, for reference to phallic woman, p88, p125, p135, p150, p153, of Cormac Gallagher’s translation – Seminar VI.


[i] Chapter Five : Defensive femininity : p89 of The Inner World and Joan Rivière : by Athol Hughes : op. cit. : Quote : Introduction.

Joan Rivière’s creativity is evinced in this paper. She demonstrates with convincing clinical material a fraudulent femininity in a certain type of woman, not overtly homosexual, but not fully heterosexual. This bisexual woman hides a wish for masculinity behind a mask of womanliness to avert anxiety and the retribution she fears from both men and women.

Rivière traces the roots of the homosexual development in women to frustration during sucking or weaning which gives rise to intense sadism towards both parents, particularly the mother. This results, as Klein reports in her paper ‘Early stages of the Oedipus conflict’ (1928), in an overpowering fear of her mother and consequent need to placate her.

This paper has been of interest to those who espouse a feminist cause. Stephen Heath, in his article, ‘Joan Rivière and the masquerade’, in the book ‘Formations of Fantasy’ (1986), quotes Rivière’s paper to substantiate his contention that sexual identity in women is precarious. However, he does not seem to see that the paper is exclusively about a certain group of women, neither clearly homosexual nor clearly heterosexual, in whom femininity is a masquerade. Rivière gave a broader understanding of the complexities of women’s sexual development in the paper she presented three years later, ‘Jealousy as a mechanism of defence’.

[ii] Both Introductions are available ‘Introduction I’ by Juliet Mitchell & ‘Introduction II’ by Jacqueline Rose or here. This article by Joan Rivière is referred to by both – see p 15 & p43

Texts quoted

The Early Development of female sexuality : 1927 : Ernest Jones : See The early development of female sexuality : 1st September 1927 (Innsbruck) : Ernest Jones or here 

The Nosology of Male Homosexuality, Contributions to Psycho–Analysis (1916) Sandor Ferenczi

– Taboo of Virginity : 1917 : Sigmund Freud

The Taboo of Virginity (Contributions to the Psychology of Love III) : 12th December 1917 (Vienna) (1918a) : Sigmund Freud : SE XI : p193-208 : Freud presented “The Taboo of Virginity” to the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society on December 12, 1917. He published it in 1918 as the third of three essays entitled “Contributions to the Psychology of Love” (Beiträge zur Psychologie des Liebeslebens), the first two of which were revisions of his earlier papers, “A Special Type of Choice of Object Made by Men” (1910h) and “On the Universal Tendency to Debasement in the Sphere of Love” (1912d).

P309 Horney was the first among others to point out the sources of that complex in the Œdipus situation : Probably On the Genesis of the Castration Complex in Women : September 1922 (Berlin) : Karen Horney  or  here

‘Early stages of the Oedipus conflict’ (1928) Melanie Klein : See Early Stages of the Œdipus conflict : 3rd September 1927 Innsbruck [1928] : Melanie Klein or here 

N. Searl, ‘ Danger Situations of the Immature Ego’, Oxford Congress, 1929.

Related texts

Feminine Positions of Being : 1993 : Éric Laurent or here  

Introduction – I to ‘Jacques Lacan & the École Freudienne: Feminine Sexuality’: 1982 : Juliet Mitchell or here

 Introduction – II to ‘Jacques Lacan & the École Freudienne: Feminine Sexuality’: 1982: Jacqueline Rose or here


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Julia Evans

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst, London


Further texts

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Écrits : 1966 : Jacques Lacan or here 

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