Supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or “The Notorious RBG,” as she is known colloquially, has become something of an icon in years past. She’s made appearances in art, memes, books, and even raps on SNL. She’s had a number of movies made about her and it’s not hard to see why. Ginsburg is as tough as they come, sharp as a tack, and a complete and total badass.
Now approaching 86 years old, she has been in the news recently for making it abundantly clear to the president that she isn’t going anywhere and he isn’t getting her seat on the bench either. She was back to work a few days after breaking her ribs and then again after surgery to remove cancerous nodules from her lung. And with her difficult workout and her ability to bounce back after numerous injuries, we’re all rooting for her.
Although many are familiar with the supreme court justice, many are unaware of how RBG got her start, and the newest film about her does its best to show you.
On The Basis of Sex shows Ruth’s beginnings: opening with her first day at Harvard Law as one of only nine women and ends with her (spoiler alert) successful first case as a lawyer. The audience watches Ruth fight for her right to attend Harvard as a woman, take care of her sick husband while making sure he also passes all of his Harvard classes, and struggle to find a job after graduation despite being at the top of her class, all while raising a daughter.
It is easy to get exhausted simply considering all of that. Ruth handles it all with a stubborn kind of grace.
When her husband shows her a tax case involving a man being discriminated against for taking care of his unwell mother, Ruth decides to represent the man in court and a legend is born.
At the time, only women or divorced men could be seen as “caregivers” and be given tax breaks in order to care for their people. The man Ruth decides to represent is passed over for tax breaks because he had never been married.
The whole purpose of Ginsburg taking the case is in order to set a precedent. Up until this case, discrimination on the basis of sex or gender was legal in the United States. The way that court cases are ruled is by the court cases that precede it. Up until that point, every case involving sex and/or gender had ruled in favor of sex discrimination. In taking this man’s case, Ruth hoped that the panel of judges would rule in his favor, as he was a man, and that a new precedent would be set, one in which discrimination on the basis of sex was unconstitutional.
Throughout the movie, Ruth is often told to give up and let her husband (a tax lawyer) argue the case and yet RBG doesn’t relent.
On The Basis of Sex is a powerful (and true) account of what it takes to be a hero. Ginsburg, although smart, is an underdog throughout the majority of the film. Her place at Harvard is frequently questioned and undermined. You watch her go into job interviews and be ogled by the interviewer, you see a panel of white men look down at her as if she is a child as she stands before them, a Harvard educated lawyer.
The whole world, it seems, it pushing for Ruth to fail. And, yet, she pushes on. And, in doing so, she shows what it means to be a hero.
She doesn’t back down, although the odds are stacked against her. She faces down her bullies with nothing but a stone in a sling and raw determination. She shows that all it takes to be a hero is a lot of courage and the will to do what it takes to do what’s right.
Ill-equipped and outnumbered, Ruth faces down Goliaths without wavering and succeeds, taking one giant leap for women’s rights.
Watching Ruth fight for her right to be in the room brought tears to my eyes.
I felt what she felt at the job interview, realizing that she wasn’t getting the position as the interviewer’s eyes fell to her chest. As she and her daughter are harassed by men on the street. I have felt that same powerlessness so much in my own life. That same objectification. I have also felt small and inconsequential, as the men in the movie seemed determined to make RBG.
To watch Ruth fight tooth and nail to prove her worth and come out victorious gave me hope. To watch her face down the bullies and the powerful and win made me feel limitless. It gave me renewed strength to walk down the street alone and courage for the day I tread into a male-dominated field with a big bust, a lengthy resume, and plenty of opinions.
She showed me that the fight is not for nothing. The fight for justice and the struggle to do the right thing will never be worthless. There will always be victories to be won, no matter big or small, if we resign ourselves to never give up the fight.
In a world of Trumps and Kavanaughs, I really needed that reminder.
I envy the girls who get to grow up under the watchful eye of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. With her to look up to, they will surely grow up to believe in their own power. They will grow up fully aware of their worth and their own capacity to be a hero.
I marvel for a generation able to have her as an example. Able to read about her in textbooks and watch her in movies. A generation with her at the forefront will indeed make change.
Regardless, OTBOS proves that anyone can be a hero, no matter how tiny, and that RBG is, in fact, notorious.