Ruth Bader Ginsberg: Passing of a Legend

Sep/22/2020 / by Seema Kumar

Every so often in history, there comes along a leader who makes an indelible impact on society. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of them. While the passing of the US Supreme Court Justice leaves a major void in American justice system, the legacy she fought for lives on in the women whose rights she championed. Many of us fight for women’s rights in our own ways, including here at SEEMA, but ‘notorious’ RBG, as Ruth Bader Ginsberg was known, took action and enacted change. 

There were many things to admire in Ruth Bader Ginsberg but it is hard to put down in words why she inspired so many. I, for one, slept well knowing she was on the Supreme Court. She was like a fierce matriarch looking out for you, having your back in a male-dominated system. Or a shield holding offthe slings and arrows of gender-based injustice. She was “a steel magnolia,” in the words of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the third woman and first Latina appointed to the Supreme Court.

Much has been written about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her career in law, her time on the bench, her great contributions and the landmark opinions that have advanced gender equality and rights for disabled Americans and immigrants. But we admired her for much more than those judicial victories. It was what she represented and the struggles she endured in her own personal life which made her relatable, while her refreshing candor and humor as a public figure made her human.

Ginsburg was one of just nine women in a class of 500 at Harvard Law School and the first female member of the prestigious Harvard Law Review. This was in the mid 1950s when women did not have the right to even open a bank account in the United States. To persevere against the odds when one is a member of the minority takes courage and will power. When she graduated at the top of her class in 1959 she had no job offers and settled for a clerkship in Manhattan, but she worked her way up slowly but surely. She achieved many firsts, even becoming the first woman to teach at an American Law School. To this day, we can relate to the experience of walking into boardrooms as the minority and fighting for equal pay and equal access to capital.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg advocated for women’s rights but RBG also had healthy relationships with men. She loved her husband and moved from Massachusetts to New York to be with Marty when he got a job in Manhattan. She had a great relationship with Justice Antonin Scalia, her buddy at the opera. They vacationed together, even riding together on an elephant. She argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of men and against sexual discrimination against men. As a justice she also fought for same-sex marriage and authored the opinion allowing equal rights for people with disabilities. As mothers, sisters, daughters, wives and colleagues we can relate to the notion of peacefully coexisting with and enjoying the company of men, even those who we disagree with, as long as we get the respect we deserve.

Ginsburg reminded us that you don’t need to look like a star to gain rock star status. ‘Notorious’ RGB had a brilliant brain but leavened that cerebral heft with with disarming joie de vivre.She had an indomitable spirit and a zest for life — being a woman’s woman while also being a feminist. RBG followed her mother’s advice of being both a lady (your own person) and independent. She loved her accessories, and she worked out regularly. She was normal, falling asleep during the State of the Union because she was “tipsy” and perhaps because the speech was monotonous. Another reason was that she had stayed up late the night before because her “pen was hot.”  Her sense of humor, and her corresponding quips, were priceless: 

“It helps sometimes to be a little deaf (in marriage and in) every workplace, including the good job I have now,” she once remarked. 

As human beings we are not defined merely by our feminism but by our humanity, and Ginsburg showed us how to keep that balance. We can and should be feminists, fighting for equal rights and gender parity, while also being able to love and work with men. 

As she herself put it: “When I’m sometimes asked ‘When will there be enough (women on the Supreme Court)?’ and my answer is: “When there are nine.’ People are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

Read another Beyond Limits post on social justice.