“I ask no favor for my sex . . . all I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks.” —Sarah Moore Grimke (1792-1873), self-educated attorney, judge, femininst, abolitionist
At a time when our 24-hour news cycle is saturated with all things constitutional and the advancement of women’s rights, RBG delivers a mighty dose of inspiration. The life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg resembles that of a Marvel Comics superhero, as a pioneer of gender equality. Unafraid and always thoroughly prepared, she has made a career of arguing cases to level the playing field for women, while juggling her own schedule as a wife and mother of two.
Filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen saw Ginsburg’s story as a documentary waiting to be made. Based on the book Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik, this multifaceted film features archival footage and interviews with friends and admirers, including Gloria Steinem, Lilly Ledbetter, Bill Clinton, and Senator Orrin Hatch. RBG also reveals the depth of her partnership with her husband Marty Ginsburg, a prominent tax attorney who was her constant support. RBG will have you laughing and crying and wondering how such a quiet little introvert could achieve so much against such great opposition, with so little fanfare. And so little sleep.
Born in 1933 in Brooklyn, New York, Joan Ruth Bader rose to the top of the legal profession against all odds. In 1956, after graduating Cornell, she attended Harvard Law School among 500 students that included only nine other women. And the dean reportedly asked the women how they justified taking a spot in Harvard from qualified men.
Ginsburg was beyond intimidation. Her habit of being thoroughly prepared, along with following her mother’s advice to never speak in anger, helped her argue the courts on behalf of outdated practices that treated women as second-class citizens. Her mission was to educate lawmakers about the many ways that women were discriminated against on a daily basis. During her first time arguing before the Supreme Court in 1973, she quoted Sarah Grimke’s declaration (above), which silenced all nine justices and won the case.
Her endless bio includes professorships at Rutgers and the first tenured female professor at Columbia Law. She helped female faculty at both schools file and win lawsuits for fair benefits and equal pay. She cofounded the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU, and was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1980 and by President Bill Clinton in 1993 as the second woman justice on the United States Supreme Court. What her history does not include is practicing at a law firm, since no firm in New York City would hire a woman at that time, regardless of her credentials.
RBG documents the life of a crusader for the moral ground of public policy, whose long career has improved the lives of so many. Yet she’s never too busy for a night at the opera, regular workouts at the gym, and water skiing—which she continued into her 70s. Now 85, Ginsburg says she will not think about retiring as long as she can still recite the names of cases. Which is music to so many ears. From any political vantage point, the unstoppable RBG is the stuff that legends are made of. This entertaining documentary belongs on your must-see list. A