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It’s a wonder that media has issues figuring out how to depict a functioning, complex, strong female character when Ruth Bader Ginsburg is right there giving the perfect outline. Most folks have heard her name, if not in the news, then when she hit meme status as the Notorious R.B.G., but she’s way more than the biggest badass on the Supreme Court. Before “nevertheless, she persisted” became associated with Elizabeth Warren and an entire generation of women who were tired of being silenced, it could have easily been tied to Bader Ginsburg.
Back in the ‘50s, she was one of nine women enrolled in her class at Harvard Law School. This was much to the chagrin of the Dean, as he didn’t like that those women were taking spots away from the men. But Ruth didn’t stick around for long. After transferring from Harvard to Columbia, she became the first woman published in both the Harvard and Columbia law reviews. Being well decorated on paper wasn’t enough to get her involved in the Supreme Court on her first try (she was literally denied a clerkship position because she was a woman), but she’d take another clerkship shortly after under another judge.
That first position with the Supreme Court sums up the early stages of Bader Ginsburg’s career, and what she continues to fight for today. Though she lost her biggest supporter right before graduating high school (her mother), she has gone through her life with a fierce determination to fight for equality while blazing a trail for the women who would follow her. While her late mother’s support and inspiration laid the groundwork for her work on women’s rights, there’s a little bit more to the foundation of her ideals.
You ever just decide to pick up a language and co-author a book? Ruth Bader Ginsburg did. The other piece to her women’s rights advocacy puzzle resides in Sweden, where she studied for two years at Lund University. While there, RBG got a glimpse at how more progressive cultures treated women, and how those women flourished as a result. She would bring those ideals with her back to America and has spent her life since trying to make them a reality.
Bader Ginsburg cofounded both the Women’s Rights Law Reporter (the first law journal exclusively about womens’ rights), and the Women’s Rights Project for the ACLU. She’d later go on to act as general counsel for the Union, and build her career until she made her way to a seat on the Supreme Court. Since then, she’s been a vocal thorn in the side of anyone trying to take rights away from women and minorities, and done her best to pave the way for the next generation. When asked several years ago at The Women’s Conference how many women would be enough to have on the Supreme Court, her answer was “nine”. While that statement gained a few laughs, she went out to point out that there have been nine men on the bench for quite a while, so why not nine women?
Between her infamous workout routines, and her fierce opposition to anyone that would take rights away from the underrepresented, one might expect the Supreme Court Justice to be serious all the time while it’s actually just the opposite. Bader Ginsburg has quite the sense of humor, right down to her memeification (not a word, Urban Dictionary) and Tumblr notoriety. She’s even known to have a decent size stock of “Notorious R.B.G.” shirts that she gives out as gifts.
If all of that still has you doubting just how much of a well-rounded inspiration Ruth Bader Ginsburg is, let’s take a look at her health history. She had her first bout with cancer back in the ‘90s. It was in her colon, and she underwent surgery, chemo and radiation therapy. During that time she didn’t miss a single day of work. Next up would be pancreatic cancer, where she was out for only two weeks. Looking outside the realm of physical health, history shows her powering through the death of her mother, taking notes for both her and her husband in school after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer (while also taking care of their newborn daughter), and eventually continuing on after the death of her husband. After it was suggested that she step down from the Court to deal with Martin Ginsburg’s death, Bader Ginsburg insisted that her work helped, and kept on doing what she does best: being RBG.
Detractors would suggest she retire again during the Obama administration, citing concern with her age. While Bader Ginsburg is the oldest Supreme Court Justice, she remains sharp as a tack, and downright refuses to retire until she feels that she is no longer mentally fit to do her job. Thank god for the rest of us, because the world needs real life superheroes right now, and that’s exactly what she is. A time will come when she heads off to see her husband and mother, but for now let’s just be thankful that we’ve got this big of a champion still fighting on the highest court in the land.