RBG: Professional Activist

By Tess Fox

In honor of International Women’s Day (which is today, March 8), our blog is writing about influential women, celebrating their accomplishments and what their contributions mean to us today.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg poses for a portait.
Ginsburg’s Supreme Court portrait

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second female Supreme Court Justice, has turned into an Internet sensation. It’s not because she’s a celebrity or the start of a television show on Bravo. Yet, you can buy a mug with her face because she has served as a figurehead for civil rights movement, mainly feminism, for almost fifty years.

“Young women today have a great advantage, and it is that there are no more closed doors,” she said in a speech at Harvard University. “That was basically what the 70s was all about. Opening doors that had been closed to women.”

She should know, she is one of the women that kicked down those doors.

Ginsburg earned her Bachelor’s degree from Cornell University. She and her husband Marty began law school together at Harvard Law. The Law school dean at the time refused to grant her a degree, so she left for Columbia Law for her final year. Several deans have offered to fix the mistake.

“Marty always told me to say no, and hold out for an honorary degree from the university,” Ginsburg said in an interview with the New York Post.

As a young Columbia Law graduate, Ginsburg had great difficulty finding a job. Exactly zero job offers. A professor helped her find work with a federal judge. She worked on several projects before landing at the Rutgers School of Law-Newark and receiving tenure in 1969.

She gained notoriety during the 1970’s by arguing gender discrimination cases as an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer.

“The object was to get at a stereotype that held women back from doing whatever their talent would allow them to do,” she said. “The notion was that there were separate spheres for the sexes. Men were the doers in the world and women were the stay-at-home types.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg holds up a t-shirt with her face and the words, "You want the Ruth? You can't handle the Ruth."
Ginsburg holds up a t-shirt featuring her face.

Ginsburg wasn’t just the champion of women’s rights. She argued the cases of gender discrimination, like the case of Stephen Wiesenfeld. His wife died in childbirth and he wanted to raise their son. He applied for survivor benefits from Social Security but was denied. Widows automatically receive benefits, but widowers had to prove that the benefits would be their sole source of income. Ginsburg won the case unanimously in the Supreme Court.

By themselves, each case was important to those involved or with similar troubles. But knitted together, Ginsburg’s case victories in gender discrimination, like Wiesenfeld’s case, showed that legislation could not be made that drew distinctions between men and women.

Ginsburg demonstrates how important it is that women are represented. Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female to be nominated to the Supreme Court, is quite different from Ginsburg in personality and approach.Yet the two women show that women aren’t all housewives wearing checked aprons and cap sleeves. Every woman is different. This is why it’s important that women be represented, not just by one woman, but by multiple.

Ginsburg, with the help of O’Connor, have opened doors for women today. Without their help, women may not have the opportunities afforded them today.

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