Ruth Bader Ginsburg may have been just 5ft tall but she was a towering giant in the world of women’s rights. The Supreme Court Justice – who died yesterday from cancer aged 87 – spent her life waging war on gender discrimination, with a steely ferocity and humour that earnt her the label “the notorious RBG”.
Turned down by 14 law firms after she graduated top in her class from Harvard and Columbia universities in 1950s, Ginsburg’s unbending resolve to smash glass ceilings was driven by first-hand experience.
It was no small battle but Ginsburg had grit: by 1976, she had argued six landmark gender equality cases before the Supreme Court, and won five of them. Suffice to say, the fusty arbiters of justice in that era (nearly all men) didn’t know what had hit them.
In her personal life, Ginsburg had the support of her beloved college sweetheart Martin “Marty” Ginsburg, who championed her right to fight just as she championed other women. Her progressive views on abortion rights and gender pay were her gift to women everywhere, and by the time YouTube and Tumblr came around, “RBG” had become an undisputed rock star of the liberal movement.
Ginsburg carried on fighting the good fight right to the end of her life – “as long as I think I have the candlepower, I will do it,” she vowed in 2013 – and her voice became all the more vital in an age of Trump-fuelled misogyny and #MeToo.
So here, in memory of one of history’s most fearless and formidable advocates for women (how she’ll be missed!), we look back on Ginsburg’s finest quotes. There’s no truth without Ruth, after all.
A woman’s place
“My mother told me two things constantly. One was to be a lady, and the other was to be independent. The study of law was unusual for my generation. For most girls growing up in the Forties, the most important degree was not your B.A. but your M.R.S.”
Roadmap to equality
“Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”
(via The Record)
Having it all
“You can’t have it all, all at once. Who – man or woman – has it all, all at once? Over my lifespan I think I have had it all. But in different periods of time things were rough. And if you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it.”
(via Yahoo/ Katie Couric)
Vivacious and tenacious
“Justice O’Connor had set the model. She had breast surgery and she was on the bench nine days after her surgery. She said, ‘Now, Ruth, have your chemotherapy on a Friday. That way, you have the weekend to get over it.’”
(via CBS News)
Moment of courage
“It was an afternoon argument. I didn’t eat lunch because I was afraid I wouldn’t retain it. When I got to the podium I was at first terribly nervous and then looked up at the justices and thought to myself, ‘These are the most important judges in the United States and they have to listen to me.’”
“Feminism … I think the simplest explanation, and one that captures the idea, is a song that Marlo Thomas sang, Free to be You and Me. Free to be, if you were a girl—doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Anything you want to be. And if you’re a boy, and you like teaching, you like nursing, you would like to have a doll, that’s OK too.”
Power of choice
“It is essential to woman’s equality with man that she be the decision-maker, that her choice be controlling. If you impose restraints that impede her choice, you are disadvantaging her because of her sex.”
(via Ginsburg’s 1993 Supreme Court confirmation hearing as reported in Stylist)
Paying it on
“[I would like to be remembered as] someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has… Cause I’ve gotten much more satisfaction for the things that I’ve done for which I was not paid.”
“In the course of a marriage, one accommodates the other. So, for example, when Marty was intent on becoming a partner in a New York law firm in five years, during that time, I was the major caretaker of our home and child. But when I started up the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, Marty realized how important that work was.”
(via The Rachel Maddow Show)
“There was a senator, I think it was after my pancreatic cancer, who announced with great glee that I was going to be dead within six months. That senator, whose name I have forgotten, is now himself dead. And I am very much alive.”
(via NPR as reported in Stylist)
“On the day I was married, my mother-in-law – I was married in her home - she took me aside and said she wanted to tell me what was the secret of a happy marriage: she said ‘Dear, in every good marriage, it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.’ I followed that advice in dealing not only with my dear spouse but in dealing even with my colleagues on the U.S. Supreme Court.”
(via NPR as reported in Stylist)
Strength in numbers
“People ask me sometimes… ‘When will there be enough women on the court?’ And my answer is, ‘When there are nine.’ People are shocked, but there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”
(in a speech to Georgetown University via PBS)
Good vs great
“I tell law students… if you are going to be a lawyer and just practice your profession, you have a skill—very much like a plumber. But if you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself… something that makes life a little better for people less fortunate than you.”
(via The Mercury News)
“Once it happened all the time that I would say something and there was no response. And then a man would say the same thing and people would say, “Good idea.” [Laughs] That happens much less today.”
“It was beyond my wildest imagination that I would one day become the Notorious RBG. I am now 86 years old and yet people of all ages want to take their picture with me.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, RIP: a phenomenal woman, now and forever.