Rising to the Top at 5’1

During her tenure, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg not only transformed the law and challenged social conventions in every way possible, but also paved the unsteady path towards gender parity for generations to come. Unapologetic, courageous, soft-spoken (yet by far not quiet about her views), her passing away at age 87 this past September shattered the hearts of many, including mine. 

President Bill Clinton appointed Ginsberg to the Supreme Court of the United States in 1993; at the time, she was the second woman to be promoted to such an influential position. Her inspiration in the fight for women’s rights was sparked by her mother, who dropped out of school in order to facilitate her own brother’s going to college. Ginsburg was determined to live the life her mother could have only dreamed about, “had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve and daughters are cherished as much as sons”.  

Her fascinating legal career began when she was admitted to Harvard law school in 1956 and was one of nine women in a class of 500, facing interrogation from the Dean who asked her what gave her the right to take a seat that “could have gone to a man”. She pursued her education at Columbia University, where she graduated with a law degree only to return there, years later, to become the first woman to hold a permanent faculty position at the Ivy League school. 

Her ‘radical project’ – aimed at shaking up the preconceived notions regarding the distinction between career and family for women – took off following Ginsburg’s time abroad in Sweden, a country where women didn’t feel the need to choose between these topics. 

Throughout her life, the legal icon herself faced discrimination from countless law firms in New York, who denied her jobs simply because she was a woman. The women’s rights lawyer from Brooklyn started teaching at Rutgers Law school and founded the Women’s Rights Project in 1972 through the American Civil Liberties Union. The case ‘The United States v. Virginia’, 1996, was one of Ginsberg’s pivotal cases which brought her battle cry into the limelight. She argued that omitting women from the Virginia Military Institution solely because of their gender was a violation of the American Constitution. By winning such a case, Ginsburg set a precedent and an indirect warning in countless other similar cases of gender-related discrimination – not just for the United States but for the world entire. 

During her almost three decades at the Supreme Court, she also participated in many cases which dealt with controversial topics such as same-sex marriage or abortion. Opening a bank account without a male co-signer, signing a mortgage without a man’s ‘approval’, being part of the military, and having a job without being discriminated against on the basis of gender, are only some of the women’s rights which the Justice helped establish.  

In 2013, she earned the title of ‘Notorious RBG’ after a group of law students paired her dissenting opinions concerning the voting rights act to a rap beat. After taking part in a fitness challenge with Late Night host, Stephen Colbert, Ginsburg’s video became viral – she was 85 at the time!  Even when diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer, she refused to take a day off from her exhilarating job on the bench, never refraining from expressing her thoughts on the importance of equality. 

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was many things: a pop culture icon, a fitness guru, a trailblazing feminist, and an inspirational figure of the United States Supreme Court. Regardless of which title you associate her name with, one aspect of her life remains indisputable – the sublime legacy on behalf of equality which has now been passed as a symbolic torch for us to carry into the future. 

At a time when everyone’s thoughts are revolving around the current pandemic, I call upon you to follow in the footsteps of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and not be afraid: “Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you”. 

– Antonia Molnar 

Image: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is greeted as she arrives prior to President Barack Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress in Washington, D.C., on February 24, 2009. 

Courtesy of Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Reuters from theatlantic.com 

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