Today’s post was supposed to be about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, another excellent example of American womanhood, but it only seems fitting to pay tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a.k.a. RBG, a titan of American law and arguably the best feminist America has ever had. Her death is nothing short of tragic, and it leaves our country and its women with a huge loss. This is a painful post to write, understandably. What makes her an exemplary model of womanhood? Here are some thoughts:
-She was always a lady. Her mother had given her advice to be a lady, meaning she needed to be independent, and not let negative emotions control her. RBG embraced womanhood, never denied the fact that she was a woman, always presenting herself elegantly. She loved wearing different collars with her robes, had good taste in art, and came across as someone with a sense of propriety rather than brash vulgarity. Diminutive and soft-spoken, her demeanor belied a formidable intellect.
–She was smart as hell. The first time I saw Ruth Bader Ginsburg speak was on a panel of women in law that was being presented on C-SPAN. Never in my life had I heard anyone choose their words so carefully. It is a tremendous accomplishment even today, for anyone male or female, to attend Harvard and Columbia Law schools (where she made the review) as well as Cornell University (where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa). She knew her facts and she knew them cold. She spent countless hours researching and writing and was highly informed–perhaps this was why her male peers were so intimidated by her, because the open secret is that nothing is as intimidating to men as an intelligent woman.
–She used facts and stayed calm in order to create great social change. While numerous activists were outspoken, radical, and even abrasive, RBG worked within the system–the most rigid system in the country: the law–and quietly and steadily helped dismantle policies that discriminated against women, minorities, and even men. No one could dispute her ideas without being equally informed and calmly persuasive.
–Feminism was about gender equality. Many feminists in the 60s and 70s became quite radical and partisan; their strategy was to remedy the centuries of gender-based oppression by fighting for things as individuals and dismantling patriarchal structures in society. For many of them, this meant opting out of marriage, childbearing, or even relationships with men. Unfortunately, American feminism still often bears the stigma from these individuals–even Gloria Steinem, the poster child for this movement, has in some ways done ordinary American women a disservice. But RBG never bore a deep hatred or contempt for men even as she fought vehemently against the entrenched discrimination against women. Her greater belief was in gender equality, for when she encountered a case in which a widower and single father, Stephen Wiesenfeld, did not receive his late wife’s pension after she died in childbirth, she fought for him to be able to receive benefits just as a widow would. While she stood up for women like nobody else, she also valued men.
–She got along with the enemy. This is especially important at a time like now, when America (both its people and its politicians) is more polarized than it has ever been for decades. She vehemently disagreed with the conservatives in the court, like Justice Antonin Scalia; however, the two of them were very close friends outside of work, sharing many common interests such as opera and celebrating holidays together. She was often questioned about this, and her response was to say that their shared humanity and friendship were greater than their differences. An opera was even made about the two of them, thereby immortalizing the justices through art.
–She was happily married and a mother. Ruth Bader Ginsburg had the great fortune to choose a spouse who would support her not only in her career, but also in her personal life. Martin Ginsburg valued his wife’s intellect in a way that was rare for his time and encouraged her to do what she believed in. While many men do this today, they do not often take the action needed to ensure a woman is not overburdened at home. Martin Ginsberg famously did the cooking, helped care for the children, and reputedly campaigned for her to be nominated as a Supreme Court justice. What comes across in interviews is how much Ruth loved her husband, and how happily married they were for decades. It is inevitable that she would have struggled with work-life balance. But the point is, she did not become radical or bitter about “traditional” life choices even as she lived as a very modern woman.
–She never let adversity stop her. This is also extremely significant, as we live in an age of cancel culture, hypersensitivities, and a lack of personal responsibility. Ruth Bader Ginsburg scarcely got to know her sister who died as a child. She still graduated high school, despite the fact that her mother died the day before. She chose to get married even though many educated women had to stop working once they bore children. She still spoke fondly of her husband even though she was battling the very male establishment. She persisted in becoming a lawyer, even though she had to make a case for her presence simply because she was a woman, and even though no one would hire her, despite having a degree from Columbia Law. Later in life, when her serious ailments arose, Ruth Bader Ginsburg valiantly battled them, not letting them stop her pursuit of legal justice. Feminists such as Gloria Steinem or–even worse–Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon seem to be excuse makers in comparison. Ruth Bader Ginsburg faced the same obstacles as everyone else, but she did not seem to feel the need to adopt some sort of radical role as a woman.
It is a tragic loss for our country, and now we are left with a crisis. I personally belong to the camp that feels she should have retired during Obama’s administration. It is true that there would have been no guarantee she would have been replaced by another liberal; however, anyone Obama chose would have been better than anyone Donald Trump chooses. It was not wise to bet on having another Democrat in the White House after two terms of Obama as we have not had three consecutive Democrats as president since FDR (and his was a special case due to the war). This was her one great flaw in a lifetime of tremendous public service to this country. One can only hope that there will be another female superhero in the legal system of this country, although nobody could truly take the place of the tiny, elegant woman with the owlish look and calm, measured voice. Thank you, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for being such a wonderful role model for young women–and men.