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Netflix documentary ‘RBG’ celebrates the life and work of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

By Nina Steele 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a fierce advocate for gender equality and women’s rights. She was loved by many, including childfree icon Gloria Steinem who was interviewed for the documentary. Of her admiration for RBG, Gloria Steinem said: “She is really, when you come right down to it, the closest thing to a superhero I know”. The documentary was released in 2018. RBG as we know, passed away on September 18, 2020, aged 87.

RBG is described in the documentary as having “quite literally changed the way the world is for American women”. She herself said this about the early days of her career: “I became a lawyer in days when women were not wanted by most members of the legal profession”. She put much of her career success down to having had a supportive husband by her side. Of that she said: “I have had the great good fortune to share life with a partner truly extraordinary for his generation. A man who believed at age 18 when we met, that a woman’s work, whether at home or on the job, is as important as a man’s”. That was part of the speech she gave during her Supreme Court confirmation hearing in August 1993.

Of the struggles she faced for being a woman upon graduating from law school, she said: “When I graduated from Columbia Law School in 1959, not a law firm in the entire city of New York would employ me”. That injustice along with many others, was what spurred her on to fight for equal rights for women.

She became a law professor in 1963 up until 1980. It is during that time that she started dealing with sex discrimination cases. One of her early cases, in 1973, Frontiero V Richardson, went all the way to the Supreme Court. Arguing her case, she said this to the then all-male justices: “Women today face discrimination in employment, as pervasive and more subtle than discrimination encountered by minority groups. Sex classifications imply a judgement of inferiority. The sex criterion stigmatizes when it is used to protect women from competing for higher paying jobs. It assumes that all women are preoccupied with home and children. These distinctions have a common effect: they help keep a woman in her place, a place inferior to that occupied by men in our society”. She won the case. The first of many victories.

She was treated like a rock star wherever she went. Young women particularly are grateful to her for having the rights that they have today. One of them said: “I think it’s easy to take for granted the position that young women can have in today’s society. And that is a lot thanks to justice Ginsburg’s work”.

In April 1980, Jimmy Carter appointed her as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In June 1993, after meeting her for just 15 minutes, Bill Clinton chose her as his pick for the Supreme Court. During her Supreme Court confirmation hearing, she reiterated her support for abortion rights by saying: “It is essential woman’s equality with man, that she be the decision maker. This is something central to a woman’s life, to her dignity. And when governments control that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices”. She was confirmed on August 3, 1993. She served on the Supreme Court until her death.

Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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