Behind the Mask: How and Why Women Hide their True Identities to Ingratiate Men

The role of women in patriarchal societies encompasses a wide range of attributes, most of which are in place to accommodate the expectations of men. In essence, a woman is expected to “smile and be cheerful … which signal[s]… docility and… acquiescence in [her] situation… [in which, truly, she is] being made invisible.”[1] A woman’s actions are regulated by men, who set the standards for how a woman should behave by either praising or criticizing what they see from a female. The idea of a “double life, … [or an] apparent acquiescence to an institution founded on male interest and prerogative… has been characteristic of female experience… in motherhood and many kinds of heterosexual behavior.”[2] This can be illustrated in the popular TV show Mad Men, which focuses on a successful advertising agency in the 1960s and the goings-on of the men and women involved with the company and its employees. The main character, Don, is a stereotypical American businessman, who is focused on rising in his company and maintaining the status of a man highly desired by women. Though he is married, he continuously takes part in liaisons with other women during business trips, and soon he ventures to partake in an affair with a woman who is his daughter’s school teacher and lives in the same town. His spouse plays the dutiful and supportive mother and wife until she, too, has an affair and grows tired of her husband’s devotion to work and other activities about which he shares no details.

The women working for Sterling-Cooper know their place as well. Every woman except one who works in the advertising agency holds the position of secretary. Each day, they come to work dressed appealingly and ready to answer their bosses’ demands. One secretary steps up to Don and requests a raise, mentioning the law passed which states that men and women doing the same job deserve the same pay, but Don defers this plea, though the secretary has contributed some new ideas to his projects. Some women enter into affairs with their employers, who personify the “charismatic through brutal, … unreliable” sexual nature of men, at least one of whom has left his wife for his more attractive secretary.[3] Essentially, the women in the show are either single and trying to impress men or are married and are trying to keep their men from cheating on them. The purpose of women, as exemplified in this show, is to serve men; they are the tools for men’s happiness and are only loved and admired if they are lovely and excel in embodying the ideal feminine image and role.

The women in this show exhibit the careful adherence to men’s standards and only deviate from their acquired personas and let down their guard a bit when speaking to other women, when they gossip and release some of their stress which comes with putting on an act. These women are different in the presence of men, mainly for their survival in the business and home settings. The ways of self-portrayal they adopt are often present in the women of today, though females have begun and are continuing to honor their own personhoods over men’s wishes and also demand equality between the sexes. (View Mad Men online at

A present-day example of women working to catch men’s eye comes in the form of blogging. One woman, who goes by the name of hotforwords on YouTube, uses her sexuality to sell her job. As a philologist, Marina, the blogger’s real name, studies words and their origins; on YouTube, she accepts requests to break down words and reveal their meanings in English, Latin, and other languages. To grab viewers’ attention, she uses the surest method to do the job: her attractiveness. Often clad in revealing attire, Marina and her YouTube channel do not try to conceal the fact that she is using her sexuality to sell, much as do the advertisers in Mad Men. Her new book, Hot for Words, invites readers to take “a titillating journey through the origins and meanings of words and phrases,” and male readers won’t be disappointed, for included are “provocative, full-color photos of the alluring author.”[4] Marina even acts like a silly school-girl, saying that questions about words “keep [her] awake all night long.”[5] Her whole image, and who she is as a person, reflects the idea that she will be heard if she uses her body to sell her message. She personifies the idea that sex sells, an idea she has acquired no doubt through her interactions with heterosexual men. Though Marina is free to do what she wants, her way of “teaching” actually reinforces numerous social expectations of how women should look, especially the belief that women should always be sexy, and especially if they are doing something on the dull side, such as talking about words.

(See Marina’s book description at Watch her videos at


[1] Frye, Marilyn, “Oppression” in Feminism is for Everybody, South End Press (Cambridge, MA: 2000), 2.

[2] Rich, Adrienne, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and lesbian Existence” in Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. (New York, NY: 1986), 60.

[3] Rich, Adrienne, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” in Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. (New York, NY: 1986), 62.


[5] Ibid.


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