Life

The Ruth Bader Ginsburg guide to fighting sexism

In partnership with
On the Basis of Sex

Learn from the OG octogenarian how to smash the patriarchy…

We know her as the Notorious RBG, but how did she gain her notoriety? 

The Supreme Court Justice known for her trailblazer attitude and relentless work ethic has become an unwitting pop culture icon, but the reality is she’s been a feminist icon throughout her career. 

With the release of her biopic On the Basis of Sex on 22nd February, there’s an even bigger spotlight on her battle against gender inequality. 

From Bader Ginsburg being considered unequal to her male Harvard peers to being denied a job based on her gender, the film not only highlights the outrageous sexual discrimination of the 50s, it shows what it takes to stand up to inequality, essentially acting as a guide to taking on everyday sexism.

With that in mind, here is how to channel RBG, whether you’re being ignored or just tired of the injustice. 

If you’re being excluded from the narrative

The RBG solution: Reframe it to make people listen. 

On the Basis of Sex shows Bader Ginsburg challenging injustices so deeply ingrained into society, they weren’t just the norm - they were legal.

Bader Ginsburg revealed her and her husband Martin’s strategy was going after each stereotype written into law, “to show that men could be disadvantaged by the stereotype, as well as women.” 

She used her inaugural court case Moritz vs. Commissioner of Internal Revenue (involving an unmarried man denied a tax deduction for looking after his elderly mother) to shine a light on gender inequality. It captured the court’s attention and became a defining moment for her.

After expanding her argument in this case to accommodate this larger point about equality, it became harder to ignore. 

As Bader Ginsburg argues, “The law says women stay home, men go to work, but all people must be treated equally”. 

There’s no truth without Ruth.

If you’re being ignored

The RBG solution: Persist and persevere.

“Consider: what does it mean to be a Harvard man?” 

These are the Dean of Harvard Law School’s (Sam Waterson) opening words in On the Basis of Sex.

In the film we see Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) later hold two dresses against her, joking to Martin: “Which one makes me look more like a Harvard man?”

From women being snubbed in the classroom, to being disregarded from intellectual conversations at parties, women being ignored by men is nothing new.

What does RBG do? Persevere. 

When her hand is ignored, she leaves it raised high; when she is interrupted, she waits before finishing her point. 

Her philosophy? “Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.” 

In true RBG fashion, channel any indignation you feel into your endeavours for advocating greater change – if you’re proactive and persist, you will be heard. 

If you feel like you’re constantly having to prove yourself

The RGB solution: Back yourself and know your worth.

In one scene Harvard Law School’s dean shockingly demands the female students introduce themselves and explain “why you’re occupying a place that could have gone to a man”. 

The women stumble as they try answering over the dean’s interruptions – a problem equally prevalent in today’s society. A recent study revealed that women are more likely to be interrupted than men.

RBG is unafraid to call out anyone who tests her, informing the dean she’s at Harvard to learn more about Marty’s work, “so I can be a more patient and understanding wife”, which provokes ripples of laughter around the room. 

Equally, her problematic ally Mel Wulf (Justin Theroux) repeatedly tries to make Bader Ginsburg hand her case over to a man, believing they would do a better job. 

RBG refuses to back down; she knows she’s earnt her seat at the table and her sceptics would like to see her fail. 

In the end does her hard work and determination pay off? As they say, the rest is history…

If the sexism is wearing you down

The RGB solution: Mobilise support.

Bader Ginsburg is so driven by challenging the legal framework that denies equal rights based on gender, that she never seems to lose sight of the end goal. 

But more eye-opening moments in On The Basis of Sex remind us of everything she was up against. 

In these instances, Bader Ginsburg’s Women’s Rights group alleviates the burden of the “me v. them” mentality, while her daughter Jane (Cailee Spaeny) reinvigorates her activist spirit.

The take out? When your faith is dwindling, surround yourself with people who will spur you on with love and support. 

Importantly, never forget that at the heart of feminism is equality.

On The Basis Of Sex is in cinemas on February 22 2019.