Women Who Inspire Me #4: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Women Who Inspire Me

So here’s a brief story that a lot of Rhyme & Ribbons readers won’t know: I double majored in International Studies (with a focus on conflict and security in Latin America) and Theatre. But theatre was always the “fun” aspect of my studies, where as I.S. was my degree because I had decided that I wanted to practice international law. And then, about halfway through my degree, I realised very, very abruptly that I did not in fact want to practice international law, I just liked reading about history, following politics and trying to make the world a better place. Which does not necessarily make a good attorney. 

So this week’s instalment of Women Who Inspire Me, harkens back to that time. The time when I thought that I might be helping draft international human rights law for the U.N. one day: The Notorious RBG

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

It would be unfair to call her career anything short of trailblazing. She’s had to be exceptional to get to where she is. She was only the second female Supreme Court Justice. But even before she joined the court she was one of the co-founders of the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU. She’s had some pretty “radical” opinions during her time, but has shown herself to be a shrewd tactical and pragmatic person that tries to move society towards her agenda without alienating those she disagrees with. (She’s been particularly skilled at illustrating how men can be harmed too by continued gender inequality). 

Ginsburg was accepted into Harvard Law as 1 of 9 women in a class of 500. And at the time, she was still having to justify to the Dean why she should be taking a spot that belonged to a man. She then went on to be an Ivy-League (Columbia) school’s first female tenured professor. Ginsburg struggled her way up the career ladder, not only being a woman, but a Jewish woman in a field that was predominantly an “Old Boys Club”. 

She’s a multiple cancer survivor and continues to work out with her personal trainer multiple times a week well into her 80s. (Hopefully because she’s aiming to live forever.) It’s also clear that she really, really loves her job. 

Ginsburg is witty, clever and maybe unsurprisingly funny. But she also knows how to craft a blistering dissent. In 2014, her Hobby Lobby dissent became in instant classic. (Some brief background to the case: Hobby Lobby decided that its company didn’t have to provide healthcare coverage that covered birth control for religious reasons under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court sided with Hobby Lobby. Not Ginsburg.) 

She argued: “in a decision of startling breadth, [which would allow corporations to opt out of almost any law that they find] incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

  • “Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community.”
  • “It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.”
  • “Would the exemption… extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]… Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.”
  • “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

I look up to Ginsburg because she’s been a woman in the highest court in America for decades and that is a really big deal. 

When her husband of over 60 years passed away, she delivered a speech that he was meant to be giving a few weeks after his death. Just think about the kind of iron-clad will power that must have taken. 

She’s one of the most powerful women in American politics, but sometimes overlooked due to the more high media profile nature of roles that women such as Hilary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren have filled. 

As the oldest judge now serving on the court (84), she has no plans to go anywhere soon. In fact, she has law clerks on staff until the 2020 term, so the earliest she could step down (if she wanted to) would be 2021 when she was 88. Now the radical Christian right is just one SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) seat left away from a majority. A majority that would radically change US constitutional law.

If there’s any good in this world, please keep Ruth Bader Ginsburg safe. And let her serve until there’s a new president in office. 

Here are some awesome quotes from RBG to help you carry on with your day: 

“[W]hen I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the supreme court]? And I say ‘When there are nine.’ People are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

“[J]ustices continue to think and can change. I am ever hopeful that if the court has a blind spot today, its eyes will be open tomorrow.”

“I was a law school teacher, and that’s how I regard my role here with my colleagues, who haven’t had the experience of growing up female and don’t fully appreciate the arbitrary barriers that have been put in women’s way.”

“Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” (From her dissent on the gutting of Voting Rights Act 2013) 

Read similar posts: 

Women Who Inspire Me #1: Joan Didion
A Christmas Gift Guide for Your Favourite Feminist
Women Who Inspire Me #2: Sylvia Plath
Feminist Reads for Every Age 

Women Who Inspire Me #3: Georgia O’Keeffe

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