An 85-year-old supreme court judge makes for a most unlikely rock star. But this is exactly what Ruth Bader Ginsburg (aka Nortorious R.B.G.) has become for a legion of young women around the world who sport RBG-inspired manicures and share memes of the dimunitive judge.
She’s one, though, who’s more than earned her elevated pop culture standing. She’s been called a path-maker, a demon, a radical progressive. She became the face of the resistance against Trump.
And she is the focus of a new film, On The Basis of Sex, which opens in Singapore on Jan 10, 2019. We’re here to tell you why it’s important.
The well-documented truth is that Ruth has proven herself to be a thoughtful person who fights for equality and against discrimination. “All I ask our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks,” she says in a documentary released in 2018. And she has spent her life ensuring that the law protects all her brethren.
“Women will only have true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg
First, the facts: Ginsburg is a powerful advocate for gender equality. She lived through the predominately male-driven world of the 1950s. But in this world, she excelled.
A new mother (she was married to forward-thinking tax lawyer Martin Ginsburg until his death in 2010), she was one of nine women out of 552 students at Harvard Law School in 1956.
There, she encountered a hostile, male-dominated society. She transferred to Columbia Law School with her husband, graduating at the top of her class in 1959.
Despite her acadamic honours, she faced gender discrimination and could not find work within her field. She settled for a teaching job in 1963, but wasn’t happy with the status quo.
By then, she had spent time in Sweden for a comparative law project , and had been exposed to a culture where it was normal for women to work while maintaining family obligations.
Marty Ginsburg played by Artie Hammer in On The Basis of Sex
Her husband Martin (played by Armie Hammer in On The Basis of Sex) championed her ambitions (he also cooked for the family, a thing unheard of in his time). It was Martin who brought a sex-based discrimination case to her attention in 1972.
Their client was a salesman taking care of his elderly mother who had hired caregivers for her. The tax code prohibited him from deducting caregiving expenses, because he was a man.
It is this case that On The Basis of Sex documents – one which challenged centuries of legal precedent that placed a rigid structure around gender norms in place. It was Ginsburg who overturned the this precedent, and thus changed the cultural milieu.
The proceedings set her career alight. Following this, she litigated sex discrimination cases for the American Civil Liberties Union and was instrumental in launching its Women’s Rights Project in 1973.
“If you’re going to change things, you have to be with the people who hold the levers.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg
In 1993, Ginsburg accepted President Bill Clinton’s nomination to the Supreme Court. The year 2018 marked her 25th year in her seat.
She has been outspoken on politics, unfailingly for civil rights, and against “I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be,” she said in 2010.
She championed same-sex marriages in early proceedings, and was the first Supreme Court judge to officiate at a same-sex ceremony in 2016.
Ginsburg never was for a biopic on herself, but On The Basis of Sex was written with her permission by her nephew, Daniel Stiepleman. She was closely involved with the filming, according to reports.
If reviews call it a little “Hollywood-ized”, well, at least it is a documentation of her early years that should inspire.
In 2015, MSNBC asked how she wanted to be remembered. Her reply: “Someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability, and to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has.”
She has no plans on retiring, although she has been treated for cancer twice – during which she never missed a day of attendance in court hearings. In 2018, she had two cancerous nodules removed from her left lung and is in recuperation.
There is no evidence of any remaining disease, according to a court spokesperson, nor is there evidence of disease elsewhere in the body.