A review initially written for Ecurrent magazine in southern Michigan.
At 84 years old, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become an icon, rock star, and heroine.
In a culture that seems to find people over 40 of little value, even Ginsburg herself seems flummoxed at her newfound fame. “I’m 84 years old and everyone wants a picture taken with me,” she says in the documentary RBG. Mainstream awareness about her equal rights work has reached an apex in recent years, but her contribution in helping women take their battle for equal status under the law from the streets to the courtroom has been life long.
Be a lady, but be independent.” Ginsburg explains that to "be independent” meant don’t rely on a man to be the breadwinner. This was pretty radical advice for the early 1950’s when women were sent to college essentially to meet a husband.
RGB follows Justice Ginsburg’s life starting with her childhood when her mother was one of the biggest influences on her life. Her mother’s advice: “Be a lady, but be independent.” Ginsburg explains that to “be independent” meant don’t rely on a man to be the breadwinner. This was pretty radical advice for the early 1950’s when women were sent to college essentially to meet a husband. Ginsburg laments that many of her female classmates at Cornell (where the ratio of men to women was four to one) suppressed their smarts so as to not be more than what the culture expected of them. It was while in college that she met her husband who she describes as “the only boy I ever met who cared that I had a brain.” They were supportive of each other’s careers, nurturing a marriage that would last all of their lives.
In 1993, in her early 60’s, President Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court when many considered her too old t0 serve.
The film goes on to discuss how Ginsburg entered the women’s rights movement, not by marching in the streets, but by spending much of her legal career as an advocate for gender equality (for both men and women) and women’s rights. She chose her legal battles wisely and strategically. For example, Ginsburg argued in favor of a husband receiving benefits he was initially denied after his wife died in childbirth. She argued six legal cases on gender equality before the Supreme Court in the early 1970’s, and won five of the six. In 1993, in her early 60’s, President Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court when many considered her too old to serve. She then won the hearts of a new generation when she was forced to move from a more centrist philosophy to that of a dissenter when Trump was elected president and the court became more conservative than ever.
It’s very important that girls understand there was a time not long ago when women couldn’t be all that they wanted, and that we must be vigilant about equal rights under the law for ALL people. I can remember sitting in my macroeconomics class in 2013 among a sea of young women. When the subject of credit cards came up I told the class that my own mother struggled to get a credit card on her own, without the signature of her husband. The room went silent. I continued, " Yes, there was a time not long ago when women could not obtain a credit card without a man (usually her husband) co-signing, and of course this meant women couldn't build a credit history. Without a credit history you can't buy a home, rent or buy a car, and so many women had no choice but to stay in their marriages or try to get married again." This is just one small example of how the law doesn't work properly if it doesn't treat everyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation etc as equals under the law.
Justice Ginsburg with her granddaughter who informs her that 2018 - the 200th anniversary of Harvard Law School - is the first year the school has had an equal amount
of boys and girls attending Harvard Law. .
Justice Ginsburg believes in GENDER equality and although women haven't been treated fairly under the law it's important to understand that while it's women who have been repressed the most by laws that impede them on the basis of their sex - the point is GENDER equality. I know there will be a tendency for women to want to take their daughters to see this film, but if they really want to further the understanding of the fight for gender equality, they should bring their husbands and sons as well.