nown in some internet circles as ‘The Notorious R.B.G’, with a range of t-shirts and dedicated Tumblr page, it is fair to say that Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has developed something of a cult following. It isn’t hard to see why; Ginsburg has been a pioneer for women’s rights and gender equality throughout her distinguished career, and at 83 years of age, she is showing no signs of slowing down. Taking on none other than Donald Trump himself, she has recently courted controversy for her politically charged remarks, given her position as a Supreme Court Justice. "He is a faker," she said of the Republican presidential nominee in an interview with CNN "He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego”. While she has faced criticism, calls for her retirement and even impeachment for these remarks, many others are of the opinion that she was justified in her comments. After all, as philosopher Edmund Burke memorably said, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing; and the Notorious R.B.G certainly isn’t one for doing that.
As one of only nine women in her Harvard Law School in 1956, Ginsburg has had first-hand experience of the rampant gender discrimination that women have, and still do, face. “For most girls growing up in the '40s, the most important degree was not your B.A., but your M.R.S." she recalls, and has told of how she and her female classmates were regularly chided for taking up places that would otherwise be occupied by men. Despite her outstanding academic record Ginsburg also found it difficult to initially get a job upon graduation, with many law firms being loath to hire a woman. Fast forward several decades, however, and Ginsburg has been a trailblazer for women in her field. Co-founding the ACLU Women’s Rights project and becoming the first woman to be granted tenure at Columbia Law School amongst other achievements; today she is the most senior Associate Justice sitting on the Supreme Court, as the second ever female to join the bench.
"Women's rights are an essential part of the overall human rights agenda, trained on the equal dignity and ability to live in freedom all people should enjoy" she says. In her belief that the law should, quite rightly, be gender blind and over her career as a lawyer Ginsberg fought no fewer than six landmark cases concerning gender inequality in front of the Supreme Court. Her Women’s Rights Project saw the end of gender discrimination in many areas of the law for both men and women, one of her notable victories being the compulsory inclusion of women on juries. Ginsburg’s idea of feminism and what she believes to be the simplest explanation for the concept, is that a person should be able to be anything they want to be. “That notion that we should each be free to develop our own talents, whatever they may be, and not be held back by artificial barriers—manmade barriers, certainly not heaven sent."
And it is not just gender inequality cases that the Notorious R.B.G has fought for. In 2015 she performed a significant role in gay marriage becoming a constitutional right in the US, with her voice playing a key role in shutting down the conservative dissent. Since the court’s historic decision she has even personally officiated a number of marriages – something which has only gained her more popularity and ‘notoriety’ as a spokesperson for social progression.
An undoubted liberal champion, Ginsburg’s only concession to conservativism is in her style of dress. As a Justice, her work uniform is more rigid than most, with black (obviously) being the main colour of choice. However the Justice often opts to accessorise her robes in court with her extensive collection of collar for all occasions. Her consistency of style, with Ginsburg even donning a specific collar for dissents, actually reflects the ideal attitude to a working wardrobe; the idea of adding a constant touch of personality to a standard uniform to express a steady style personality. Ginsburg chooses to rock a pair of lace gloves that the media has dubbed as her signature look. Ever practical however, her style always has a purpose. “Justice (Sandra Day) O’Connor said when I was having chemotherapy after colon cancer, ‘You are vulnerable now, and you’re going to receptions and shaking hands with lots of people, so you should at least wear gloves,’” she explained in an emailed statement. “This was in 1999. So, I wore gloves and liked them so much, I decided to keep wearing them.”
What with facing two bouts of cancer in her lifetime and still never missing a day on the bench, despite the second being one of the most deadly forms there is, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has certainly earned her Tumblr nickname. From taking on Trump, to continuing to be the voice of equality and civil liberty in the Supreme Court of Justice, Ginsburg is Notorious as they come and seemingly unstoppable. On the future of women in her profession, Ginsburg has been asked many times how many women is enough on the Supreme Court and always gives the same answer. “When there are nine. People are shocked. But there’s been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that."
On equality: Women will only have true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation
On failure: So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great good fortune.
On having it all: You can't have it all, all at once. Who—man or woman—has it all, all at once? Over my lifespan I think I have had it all. But in different periods of time things were rough.
Words by Scarlett White
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