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RBG’s Legacy to America’s Daughters

The notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020) passed away yesterday from complications from pancreatic cancer. She was my favorite Supreme Court judge, a firebomb of a woman that worked tirelessly for equality, especially in the area of gender.

“My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent,” she once said. In her day, it was rare for a woman to pursue a career of any sort, let alone one as influential as a lawyer, judge, and ultimately a powerful presence as a Supreme Court judge. What makes her journey and ultimately her influence so remarkable is how her firsthand experience with gender discrimination didn’t dissuade her from pushing forward. Her career, both academic and professional, is punctuated with episodes that could easily buckle a less tenacious person.

A few notable episodes include:

  • After graduating with her bachelor’s degree at the top of her class, she got married and moved to Oklahoma. She worked for the Social Security Administration and was demoted for getting pregnant with her first child;

  • In 1956, she was accepted as one of nine female students at Harvard Law School out of a class of 500. The dean asked her and the other female students, “Why are you at Harvard Law School, taking the place of a man?”;

  • She was rejected from several employment opportunities despite her academic success specifically because of her gender;

  • She became a professor and was told point blank she would be paid less than men in her position because she had a husband with a well paying job;

In her tenure on the bench, her decisions consistently advocated for the equal treatment of all people, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or any other factor that could used to differentiate people. With so many landmark cases that equalized the opportunities available for women and minorities, her efforts made possible a new generation of American trailblazers.

Today, women are able to pursue nearly any career provided they have the grit to do the work to make that a reality. Today, we see notable women pursue politics for both major parties. Admissions to prestigious universities have become significantly more inclusive of women and minorities. There are greater numbers of women who can and do raise families while building multimillion dollar companies.

When I consider the notion of bias and preconceived notions, I don’t believe it is possible for people to truly separate their personal experiences from their perspectives. In Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s case, I’m certain that being discriminated herself influenced her decisions. She recognized and experienced the frustration of having her efforts and success dismissed, not because the fruits of work was subpar but because of her gender.

My hope is that her legacy for America’s daughters is one of tenacious grit. Everyone can achieve their goals, regardless of gender, regardless of race, regardless of socio-economics, regardless of any of the many ways society at large distinguishes one another. Yes, some paths are smoother than others. Some are gifted opportunities that are not readily available to others. Ginsburg’s limitations mostly consisted of a society that believed women were inferior to men. She proved herself in ways that exceeded the possibilities imagined for her generation. For women today and the daughters of our future, be independent, be true to yourself, and work for your dreams regardless of the naysayers that might dismiss you for an inconsequential distinction.


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