You might think that this blog’s masthead – Isabella Darling’s The Rag – was casually created, with little reason behind it. My name was already a given, and how much critical mass is there to The Rag? Well, here’s the scoop.
As a tender girl-chick handfed the politics of the 1960’s and ’70’s, I learned that the power to name is the power to claim.
A bit peckish? Not even. This chick is ticked.
This is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind.
Their ideas were radical and incendiary.
And they stoked that revolutionary fire with their Rags.
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, and pamphlets like it, were little more than pulp and promise vitalized by the printing press.
A steady flow of chapbooks and leaflets ignited enlightened notions of reason, free will, individual liberty, and the natural rights of man.
Nearly 250 years later, the technology may have changed, but the flame remains the same.
My name is Isabella
I am no Thomas Paine and I never could have been a Founding Father.
Prescribed duty comprised their material reality, under the rubric of “natural law.”
Natural law, which bestowed expanded rights upon men because they were specially created by God, contracted the rights of women – because they were specially created by God.
Instead of conferring privilege – as ability did in other instances – the ability to bear children exacted restriction.
The capacity to bear children became an imperative to do so. Capacity pointed to design, design pointed to purpose, and purpose was proven by the capacity.
The circular logic of this argument did not trouble most 18th century rationalists, since its consequences were both personally and politically expedient for the men who formed it.
Instead, the seamless, self-contained nature of the argument was hailed as testament to its perfection – proof that the arrangement was complete and divinely decreed.
And since the arguments that the revolutionaries were using to free themselves – the inalienable rights to which they laid claim – originated with God, questioning this arrangement would have been akin to taking a musket to one’s foot.
Such is the nature of pretzel logic.
Fast forward to today
The foul root of women’s diminished legal status is alive and well.
To the extent that women’s status has advanced, it has done so by working around the original, faulty premise of the 18th century “rationalists.”
But the original bad seed is now a poison tree in the garden of liberty, threatening to choke out the fundamental human freedoms that we as members of open society take as given.
It can be used against anyone, for any reason, at any time.
It is the underlying premise that privilege may claim the sovereign, exclusive, and absolute right to define meaning.
Why can’t a woman be more like a man?
The revolutionaries argued that the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness accrued to individuals by virtue of their God-given, human nature.
But they chose a baseline for and fashioned a construct of human nature – and therefore human rights – that was exclusively male (and white, and privileged.)
This resulted in the following logical fallacy: 1) Man is human. 2) Man has inherent human rights. 3) Woman is not man. 4) To the extent that woman is not man, woman does not have inherent human rights.
More plainly put: Man is human. Woman is not man. Woman is not human.
Shocking, yes. Hyperbole, no.
The fallacy still stands as a basic element of legal reasoning today.
(Witness implementation of the 14th Amendment, as it pertains to women as a protected class. Better yet, read Justice Scalia’s peculiar take on the 14th, in which he holds that the amendment’s guarantee of ‘equal protection under the law’ does not apply to gender discrimination.)
But woman is only ‘different’ if ‘man’ is the standard for ‘human.’
If woman was understood as fully human, women’s ‘differences’ would not be differences at all.
Instead, they would be (as they truly are) fundamental, essential components of human nature. From them, freedoms would flow, instead of constraints.
Through a different lens
No reasonable person disputes that pregnancy and childbirth are essential to the continuation of the human race.
No reasonable person would argue that men are defective, or that they deserve fewer rights than women, simply because they lack the ability to perform these vital functions.
And while women bear the significant physical and financial expense of pregnancy and childbirth, no one argues that women should be paid more than men – or that they deserve greater resources than men – simply because they are able to perform the fundamental, indispensable functions that men need and are unable to perform.
Quite the opposite.
Instead, men’s inability to procreate is torqued and redefined as increased economic capacity (as if new human beings were not the sustaining force of the economic system) and men are rewarded for this inability, in both the public and private realms.
Similarly, the following argument is not made, as it might logically be: 1)The primary, fundamental, human right is the right to possess one’s body. (You really don’t want to mess with this premise, folks – it is the legal foundation of every right you have.) 2)Pregnancy occurs within a woman’s body. 3)Therefore a pregnant woman has the right to complete and exclusive control over her pregnancy.
Aside from laws restricting and prohibiting abortion, current laws restrict women’s behavior during the course of pregnancy. What women eat, what drugs they take, the medical procedures they choose, even the work they do – all of these options are curtailed by unique legal limitations within the context of pregnancy.
Given a legal system that proscribes a pregnant woman’s control over her own body, and given that nearly 18% of all US women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, bodily integrity – the right to possess their own bodies – does not exist for American women.
(Thank God we live in a democracy.)
Even if sexual assault ended this minute, women would still lack the fundamental human rights enjoyed by men.
The prescription of abstinence for women who wish to preserve the right to their own bodies is a de facto, prima facie assault upon that right.
Men may engage in sexual relations without compromising the right to their own bodies. Women may not. This is not biology. This is pernicious legal construct.
If corporeal rights properly existed in America, the putative father who appeals to the court for control over a pregnancy that he facilitated would be sent home packing.
He would be told that if wants control over his seed and their fallout, he should keep them within his own corporeal limits.
Instead, he is granted a degree of property rights to a woman’s body simply by virtue of having tossed out a flag.
For a woman to retain the utmost of her inferior legal right – in order for a woman to possess her own body – she must not have sex.
And if a man wants possession of a woman’s body, he should have sex.
This is the logical outcome of an inherently flawed premise that cannot stand: A premise that ignores women’s nature when it comes to assigning freedom, and invokes it when it comes to establishing constraint.
New lenses and new frames
This framing – this circumscription of human identity, this appropriation of language and meaning that results in the classic double bind – underpins every manufactured injustice.
It underlies the perversions of democratic principle that we see today.
Detention without charge, denial of due process, strip searches for traffic tickets (one need not actually run the red light to enjoy a governmental reaming; the allegation alone will suffice) – these present-day attacks upon the Constitution might have the Founding Fathers spinning in their graves, had they not spent so much of their energy tossing out flags.
Affronts to liberty, and the corrupt rationales that forge them, snare subject and object alike.
They substitute expediency for reason and force for legitimacy.
Anyone who will use them on your behalf will just as readily use them against you.
At worst, they are invoked to legitimize rape, torture, starvation, and genocide.
They demean humanity, slash productivity, stultify progress, snuff human potential, and threaten us all.
They are repugnant to me.
But we can make a difference.
We must return to The Rag
I know (sadly) that I do not speak for all women, just as the revolutionaries did not speak for all colonists.
Some colonists were Loyalists, intent on undercutting their own liberties in exchange for the illusion of security.
But I know that I am not alone in my thinking, and that I speak on behalf of a select group of men and women who hail from every nation on the planet.
We are revolutionaries, members of a timeless caste of justice seekers, whose thinking is radical in the best sense – rooted in reason and grounded in democratic principles.
Modern-day Loyalists who deny reason and infringe upon the rights of others present themselves as defenders of freedom.
They contort the very meaning of the word.
When challenged, they try to distort and diminish the challenger’s standing with personal attacks.
They say that I am coarse and impolite. Unfeminine. Unwomanly.
They carp and cavil that I ‘rag on.’
They dismiss me as one of a rag-tag crew, a player of little consequence.
Some of these arbiters of etiquette and propriety even go so far as to say that I am ‘on the rag.’
With one gaseous breath they elevate motherhood, equating it with sainthood.
Then with the next, they raise the long arm of their law, wave the bloodied signal of my regenerative force, and declare it, us, me – defiled, Less-Than, Different-Than, Other.
Laid bare their arguments flush crimson with the shame of their hypocrisy.
Still a Darling, but Isabella has had enough
To you, fraudulent defenders, I say:
You’ve appropriated my flag, my patriotism, my motherhood, even my apple pie.
You’ve appropriated my rights, my choice, my democracy, my country, my world – my life.
Now, I am taking them back.
Now I am appropriating the symbol that you have too long used against me. The symbol that you’ve held out as evidence of my inferior intellect. The symbol that you have used to stifle my human rights.
Now I, and all true patriots of human freedom, claim it.
We invite everyone who believes in justice to join us, to raise the flag high, and to boldly and proudly declare:
We are on The Rag.
And You – You dear, testy Sirs & You poor, Delusional women – are not.
© 13 August 2010 Isabella Darling. All rights reserved. Video via standard youtube license. Images as attributed.