CNN published a style piece Monday about the fancy, frilly collars, known as jabots, often worn over her black robe by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The jabots were apparently first worn by Sandra Day O’Connor who, as the first woman on the Supreme Court, wanted to add something decorative to her attire that would distinguish her. Ginsburg took that to a new level by wearing certain collars to signal whether she approved or dissented of a particular ruling:
There is her favorite “majority” collar (an embellished gold jabot with tiny, delicate pendants) and her “dissenting” collar, for example, which instantly telegraph Ginsburg’s opinions (to those court observers fluent in “Ruth”) before a single word can be uttered. (Ginsburg wore her “dissenting” collar to President Donald Trump’s inauguration — a dark, beaded number composed of long, metallic, finger-like projections, resembling a piece of medieval armor — throwing sartorial shade while maintaining the official neutrality demanded by protocol).
Fair enough. CNN isn’t speculating about any of this they are just reporting what Ginsburg has actually done. And then the story takes a weird turn into something else:
When worn by a group, such as the nine Court justices, the robe merges distinct persons into a single entity consisting of seemingly disembodied heads, suggesting pure, abstracted intellect — minds detached from bodies that have been ‘disappeared’…
This risks perpetuating the traditional presumption that the justices’ bodies will always be the ones we expect, the ones resembling those originally meant to wear the robe: straight, white, and male. It also implies that such bodies comprise the only subjects of the law.
Ginsburg’s collars forestall such presumptions. By drawing attention to the specific person beneath the robe, they disrupt the amorphous collectivity of nine black-clad jurists. Her collars re-inject the concept of “body” into the dis-embodying judicial robe, signaling not only the presence of a woman, but by extension, the presence of a biological human body — which demands acknowledgment and consideration.
To re-establish the body within the robe is a progressive political statement: Theoretical (and visual) bodiless-ness is a privilege available only to those whose bodies do not hinder them.
Wow, okay, I’m sure that would go over great in a Women’s Studies class, but what does it actually mean? Are the men not biological humans because they’re men? Who was it who assumed that? I sort of doubt male members of the court are all committed ascetics who were seen as floating heads from Zardoz prior to the arrival of RBG.
The black robes aren’t meant to make people body-less, they’re meant to signal the wearer has authority in the legal process. It’s a costume for the role they play, not unlike referees who wear black and white stripes to signal their authority over the game on the court/field. If Ginsburg wants to dress up her authority with a bit of flair, that’s fine with me, but the idea that her collars themselves are a blow to the patriarchy or that they mark her as uniquely empathetic just sounds like feminist jibberish.