I remember Aquinas’s Deus Est from medieval philosophy when I was an undergraduate. I have assumed that when we want to do for other notions what Aquinas assumed for his discussion of God, we could use like syntax. Aquinas was asserting the pure actuality of God, a being for whom there was no potential. Humans are beings of potentiality, but this arithmetic advantage is not a metaphysical one. To give attribute to God would subtract from God, at least rhetorically. Actually being able to subtract from God was and is impossible for mere mortals to do, but I understood what Aquinas was saying. We do the same when we give attributes to a woman, listing and labeling as we do to ourselves and others everywhere by saying this or that is what the person is. We miss the individual perpetually, daily, hourly, minute by minute..
If I were to speak of Women with the word ‘Woman,’ that is, not in the plural but in the rhetorically more advantageous singular, although an assumed collective, I could assert my thesis like Aquinas, Woman is. Herein, let it be said that to give attribute to Woman would rhetorically subtract from Woman. Woman is. We use the pronoun ‘she,’ but then, what is contained in this she? We say she is a woman, she is a mother, she is an alcoholic, she is pretty, she is thin, she is fat, she is tall, she is intelligent; moreover, we can string any number of subject complements following she is. This is a valid question concerning reference and the limits of not only what is sayable, but what is said when said. The necessity for knowing what she is to say anything at all about her is not as great as knowing who she is, and this is for reasons greater than who is for persons and what is for things. So many of the things we do make up who we are and these things are interrogatively expressed with ‘what.’
A woman is a being of potentiality, yet she does so many things in her life. We examine what she actualizes, what she realizes in her living. How much of her life is defined by her living, though? We must also recognize that we could continue this, when, where, why, how is she and so on perpetually. All the subject complements we could string after she is, attaching one attribute after another, may bring us no closer to who she is, than following the path of infinite regression would bring us closer to God, or in this Aristotelian’s logic, the Prime Mover. The infinite is unreachable; infinity is the uncountable number. Lists of attributes bring us no closer to understanding a person than if we did not consider the person at all.
Woman is and in her is she exists apart from all notions of what she is and who she is. We rhetorically subtract from the presentation or representation of a person, which leads us into confusions about the person, about the woman–and I refer to rhetoric here because we cannot metaphysically subtract from a woman–yes, we do perform this rhetorical arithmetic on a woman and think we are acting rightfully, normally, humanely. And I stress humanely here as the first and last in being human; without this humane treatment of others, there is no being human, our humanity is assaulted.
To be a woman or not to be a woman; becoming a woman is what she might be in face of her being one. Each woman is actually herself greater than herself as a woman. She is macrocosm to the microcosm of her womanhood. This is what we need to understand in order to respect her as anything, anywhere at any time, more accurately, in the ways she chooses to be defined.