Why SCOTUS Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Is More Than Just a Feminist Meme

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Women's HistoryIt's officially Women's History Month -- the perfect excuse for us here at The Stir to pay tribute to the ladies who have paved the way and continue to make huge strides for us. From activists to authors, politicians to scientists, these women are our role models. And, of course, there is no one more honorable (in every sense of the word) to kick off our month of accolades than the woman who has inspired those #NotoriousRBG memes -- Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  


Of course, this roughly 5-foot tall powerhouse is clearly more than just a pair of glasses and a fancy jabot with a cult following.

Who She Is

In 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the second woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States -- and has since been a strong liberal, feminist voice on the highest court in our nation. There, she has voted on the side of justice regarding marriage equality and upholding the Affordable Care Act, and she dissented on the historic Bush v. Gore case, the Hobby Lobby decision that put religious liberty before employee access to contraception, and the Court's decision to uphold a ban on partial-birth abortions that she says chips away at a woman's right to choose.

But her accolades and work for women's rights go back to when she was the cofounder and director of the Women's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union during the Roe v. Wade era, advocating and testifying before courts on cases of gender discrimination ... as she was herself discriminated against, earning less than her male counterparts did as a faculty member at Rutgers Law School.

Who she is at the core was shaped by her own mother, who died the day before her high school graduation. She said her mother always told her two things: "One was to be a lady, and the other was to be independent. The study of law was unusual for a women of my generation. For most girls growing up in the '40s, the most important degree was not your BA, but your MRS." Of course, she went even farther than a BA, and during law school she was the first woman on two major law reviews -- Harvard and Columbia. You show 'em, RBG.

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How She Is Shaping History 

Clearly, her work on the Supreme Court has helped to uphold -- and at the very least, provide voice to -- liberal and feminist ideals. Throughout her life, she admits to becoming more vocal as she's gotten older, not accepting discrimination based on gender. Now, she says, "I try to teach through my opinions, through my speeches -- how wrong it is to judge people on the basis of what they look like, [the] color of their skin, whether they're men or women."

Before she turns 83 on March 15 (yeah, even as the now oldest SCOTUS member, she isn't planning to give up that coveted post any time soon), she will be part of a now eight-person court hearing arguments in the case of Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt. The health care provider is challenging a Texas law that could close 34 of the 40 abortion clinics in the state, placing what the court hopefully will determine to be an "undue burden" and "substantial obstacle" to those seeking an abortion.

We assume RBG will vote on the side of women, as she has so many times in the past, specifically low-income women who are most affected by restrictions placed on their ability to access -- and therefore choose -- what is right for them and their bodies. She has said, "There's a sorry situation in the United States, which is essentially that poor women don't have choice. Women of means do." She also noted, in her 1993 Senate Confirmation hearing, that "the state controlling a woman would mean denying her full autonomy and full equality."

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Her Words to Live By

While it is impossible to boil all of RBG's notable quotes down to just one, her outlook on feminism -- told to Makers in 2012 and inspired by Marlo Thomas's song "Free to Be You and Me" -- is perhaps the most stripped down, "simplest" explanation of what the word means.

Free to be, if you were a girl -- doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Anything you want to be. And if you're a boy, and you like teaching, you like nursing, you would like to have a doll, that's okay too. 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 -- man-made barriers, certainly not heaven sent.

Her outlook on achieving full gender equality is also probably something parents should adhere to (men in both heterosexual and same-sex parenting partnerships take note!) and then teach their children.

Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.

Why She Inspires Me

RBG is an undeniable feminist force whose lifelong professional accomplishments uphold the gender equality ideals (a woman's right to choose EVERYTHING for herself) that I fiercely believe -- but, for me, the octogenarian is also a personal inspiration.

Maybe it's because I can relate to her as a Jew from Brooklyn who graduated from Cornell (Go Big Red!), and she actually reminds me, as she is a mom and grandma herself, of the strong women in my family (love you, mom). And maybe it's because she practices in her personal life what she preaches in her professional one.

RBG defied gender norms in her own marriage (she hadn't cooked a meal for her family since 1980!) and refers to her husband, whom she met at Cornell and who died in 2010, as her "life partner" and her "best friend." Her definition of a good marriage and "having it all" echoes what I feel about choosing a husband who also finds my brain pretty damn attractive: 

I had a life partner who thought my work was as important as his, and I think that made all the difference for me ... he was the first boy I knew who cared that I had a brain. 

See, my guy cares, too:

My man knows the way to my heart. #rbg #notoriousrbg #loveher #sundaysurprise

A photo posted by Barbara Kimberly Seigel (@barbarakseigel) on

Intelligence ... strength (RBG still hits the gym and can do 20 push-ups at a time!) ... integrity ... style (those jabots!) ... and a serious sense of humor (girl laughs at that RBG Tumblr that turned her into a pop culture icon and that her grandchildren love) ... it's no wonder she's referred to as Notorious RBG, our Queen Supreme.


A photo posted by Notorious RBG (@notoriousrbg) on

Thank you, RBG. Love, BKS.


Image via Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images; design by Anne Meadows

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