Girls are exposed to positive and negative role models every day: a strong mother who stands up against domestic abuse, a woman who quietly does things for others or someone that uses only sex appeal to be popular. And there are role models who can blur the lines between extremes. They all affect how a girl views her own potential in life. Girls (and grown women) use role models as mental references for whom they themselves can become, and whose behavior they will seek to copy in some way.
When girls – and grown women – see other women display qualities of confidence, competence, leadership and accomplishment, it helps enable them to envision themselves with those qualities. Strong role models can be women of any age, skilled athletes, coaches, community leaders, successful business people, celebrities, politicians, religious leaders, or any strong woman.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg died yesterday. She had been a Supreme Court Justice for more than 25 years. In 1993, she became the second woman ever to serve on the United States Supreme Court, after being nominated to the Court by President Bill Clinton. During her time serving on the court, she was a leading voice for issues of civil rights and liberties, women’s interests and gender equality.
I need to share some information about her life so I can lay out the point I’d like to make. Bear with me please …
Ruth Joan Bader was born in 1933. She was the second daughter of Nathan and Cecelia Bader. She grew up in a low-income, working class neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Ginsburg’s mother, who she described as a major influence in her life, taught her the important and value of a good education and independence.
Cecelia herself did not attend any type of college, even though she highly valued education. Instead, she worked in a garment factory to help pay for her brother’s college education. Ginsburg attended James Madison High School in Brooklyn, where she was a hard-working student who consistently excelled. Sadly, throughout Ginsburg’s years in high school, her mother battled cancer. Just a day before Ginsburg’s graduation, her mother died. She went on to Cornell University, and graduated at the top of her class in 1954. Also in 1954 she married a fellow student, Martin D. Ginsburg. Early years of their marriage were particularly challenging. Their first Child was born shortly after Martin was drafted into the military in 1954. He served for two years. After his discharge, the couple returned to Harvard where he continued his law school education and she also enrolled.
Martin was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1956. He required intensive treatment and rehabilitation. Ginsburg juggled caring for their young daughter and her ill husband, plus taking notes for him in his classes while she continued her own law studies. Martin recovered and graduated from Harvard Law school, and accepted a position at a New York law firm. Ginsburg transferred to Columbia Law School in New York City to join her husband,
Despite the unwelcoming situation of being a woman in a very traditionally male profession, Ginsburg excelled as a student, becoming the first female member of the prestigious Harvard Law Review in 1957. She did just as well at Columbia Law School, where she finished her law school education and graduated first in her class in 1959. It was a major accomplishment to achieve that distinction at two top schools.
Her personal experience with discrimination
The treatment Ginsburg received as a woman in law school no doubt sharpened her feminist instincts. She was one of only 8 or 9 women amidst a class of 500 men at Harvard Law School in 1956. She would later speak of how she and her female classmates were asked by the dean why they were taking up seats that would otherwise be filled by men.
Despite her outstanding academic record, however, Ginsburg continued to face gender discrimination while looking for a job after graduation. When a professor at Harvard Law School recommended her for a clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, the judge responded that he wasn’t ready to hire a woman. He asked the professor to recommend a man instead.
During the summer of her second year in law school, Ginsburg worked for a top law firm in New York. In an interview years later she said, “I thought I had done a terrific job, and I expected them to offer me a job on graduation.” There was no job offer. She interviewed with a dozen law firms. Only two gave her a follow-up interview.
Eventually, Ginsburg was hired to clerk for a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York from 1959 to 1961. After that, she received offers from law firms. Instead, she chose to work on Columbia Law School’s International Procedure Project. She co-wrote a book on Sweden’s legal system and translated Sweden’s Judicial Code into English. Ginsburg taught at Rutgers University Law School and Columbia Law School, and directed the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU
Ginsburg’s notable opinions included her majority opinion in United States v. Virginia, where women were given the right to attend the all-male Virginia Military Institute; her dissent in the employment discrimination case, Ledbetter v. Goodyear; and her dissent in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby on religious objections to mandates.
Ginsburg believed in the concept of a living Constitution. It is an approach to the law that believes the United States Constitution is a document that adapts to the times – is that it takes on different meanings depending on when it is interpreted. This is opposite approach of originalism or textualism, both of which deem generally that constitutional interpretation must give greater weight to the text of the Constitution and what the common meaning of the language was at the time it was enacted. She also believed that the law was gender-blind and all groups were entitled to equal rights.
In 1980, President Carter appointed Ginsburg to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. She served there until she was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993 by President Clinton. He had to fill a vacant seat and wanted someone with the intellect and political skill to deal with the conservative members of the Court. Senate Judiciary Committee hearings were unusually friendly, though some expressed concern over how she could go from being a social advocate to being an impartial Supreme Court Justice. Ultimately, she was easily confirmed by the Senate by a wide margin.
In the court
As a judge, Ginsburg was considered part of the Supreme Court’s moderate-liberal bloc. She had a strong voice in favor of gender equality, the rights of workers, and the maintenance of the separation of church and state.
In 1996, Ginsburg wrote the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in United States v. Virginia, a decision stating that the state-supported Virginia Military Institute could not refuse to admit women. In 1999, she won the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award for her contributions to gender equality and civil rights. She wrote the dissenting opinion in the case of Bush v. Gore, which basically decided the 2000 presidential election.
Ginsburg as a role model
On June 27, 2010, Ginsburg’s husband, Martin, died of cancer. She described him as her biggest booster and “the only young man I dated who cared that I had a brain.” They were married for 56 years. Martin was known to be very outgoing. He loved to entertain and tell jokes. In contrast, Ruth was known as serious, rather soft-spoken and shy. In an interview Martin was quoted as providing this as a reason for their successful marriage: “My wife doesn’t give me any advice about cooking and I don’t give her any advice about the law.” He was a well-respected and successful lawyer, but was clearly proud of the fact that she was even more so.
After 27 years serving on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18, 2020 due to complications from metastatic cancer of the pancreas.
in recent years, Ginsburg became something of a pop culture icon. Her impassioned dissents earned her the nickname “Notorious RBG,” a tongue-in-cheek nod to the rapper “Notorious BIG,” who was also born in Brooklyn. Mugs, posters, t-shirts, tote bags and figurines showing variations of her image and the catch-phrase “I dissent” helped catapult Ginsburg achieve pop star icon status. rock-star status.
That’s not why she’s a great role model.
I think she is a role model because she always was true to herself. She set goals and went after them as best as she could. She gave her heart to somebody who valued her and loved her for all that she was as a human being, not just for her appearance. She understood that sometimes we have to yield, or compromise, but other times we cannot compromise.
Ginsburg was the liberal anchor of the Supreme Court, yet had developed a close friendship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the most conservative justices. Their improbable, unlikely friendship showed that deep differences of opinion shouldn’t keep people apart – but despite differences of opinion, we can still find common ground.
We cannot replicate her legal mind and brilliance, but I think we can all certainly show ourselves and others the respect she modeled for us within her own life.