How should we remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg? As the notorious RBG? As a cancer warrior? As only the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court? As a fashion icon, known for her collection of decorative collars? As a dissenter?
Can we simply remember her as Ruth? The outpouring of emotion at her death was in truth more than political.
Over her long public career and especially in recent times, we came to know her as a friend who shared some of our common experiences. Though graduating in the top of her law class, she was unable to land a top-ranked job, clerkship, or teaching position for the same reason many of us have been overlooked for an award, recognition, or a job. So, we got her. Though fortunate enough to hire help with home and family duties, as a young mother, she studied late at night after her children were asleep or after helping her husband finish his work while he was recuperating from a serious illness. We’ve been there.
So, calling her Ruth could not seem more natural because her personal and judicial life reflects and impacts how women live today. If you doubt this, just look at the messages left on the funeral home website set up to honor her. Thanks: for making it possible for me to sue for equal pay; for the mortgage I got without a man; for the right to be pregnant and employed; for affirming that disabled people have the right to live in the community …. And on….
Call her Ruth. But we would be wrong to think she only worked for women’s rights. Yes, she championed the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and opening the Virginia Military Institute to women and supported the right of women to choose. However, her work also resulted in opening social security survivor’s benefits to widowers as well as to widows. As recently as 2019, she decisively argued that the residency rules governing the citizenship of the child of an unwed couple where one parent is a US citizen should not be based on the sex of the parent.
Our Ruth held the simple notion that there should be no separate spheres for men and women in the eyes of the law.
And in doing this, she not only changed the law, but she changed how women and men think of each other and themselves.
Thank you, Ruth.
Note: This tribute to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was written and read by Chapel Hill NOW President Geraldine Richards at the 2020 NC NOW State Conference.