“I think that men and women, shoulder to shoulder, will work together to make this a better world. Just as I don’t think that men are the superior sex, neither do I think women are. I think that it is great that we are beginning to use the talents of all of the people, in all walks of life, and that we no longer have the closed doors that we once had.”
Eric and some of the his coworkers have decided to start a feminist book club - they’ve been talking about it for years, but a few weeks ago the idea finally came to fruition. The suggestion for our first book was Notorious RBG, and while I wasn’t particularly thrilled, I couldn’t offer any particular reason for my objection, and decided I needed to give it a shot. Ruth Bader Ginsberg was a cool old lady, I thought. I’d seen the Tumblr blog. The memes made me laugh. Cool quotes, too. Maybe it would be interesting.
I’m glad that I did, because it was.
This book follows the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who has smashed through countless glass ceilings and worked tirelessly to make the world a little more fair for women and men alike. She’s an unapologetic intersectional feminist, staunchly committed to furthering ideals that she believes are aligned to our Constitution, to the promise of a “more free and perfect Union”. She’s also able to keep friendships and politics separate - before reading this book, Justice Scalia was a name I only knew because people with similar political ideologies to mine growl it with vitriol in discussing basically any opinion he’s ever expressed. Now, I know that despite their polarizing differences of conscience that would typically be fodder for heated arguments, they go on trips with each other, bring their families to joint holiday parties, attend the opera together. She calls him 'Nino'. It would seem that for such a woman, it would behoove her to be as exacting as possible regarding her opinions, and the people she chooses as her friends and associates, but RBG's actions tend to fly in the face of what society would have her do. It’s kind of her thing.
I’ve never been particularly interested in law or government. I enjoy a few procedural dramas, but what I tend to enjoy most is the the otherness of it. Watching these shows, I often think to myself, Wow, I would hate for that to be my job. I squirm in discomfort at the notion of having to argue in front of a room full of people in order to persuade a group of total strangers to agree with my point of view. I’ve always been quiet, reserved, uneasy in crowds of people I don’t know. Practicing law looks awful.
My opinion hasn’t exactly changed, but I have a newfound appreciation and respect for the profession after reading what RBG went through to get where she got. Every chapter contains an excerpt from her opinions in cases she’s argued, and while I had to read, and reread, and reread, and sometimes reread a fourth time to understand what she was saying, I enjoyed the challenge presented, and more than that, the clear mastery she has attained in her position. Simply put, she knows her shit. And she isn’t afraid to let people know that she knows. It’s a character trait I envy and admire.
Slowly, surely, and ever so methodically, RBG worked to better the plight of women and men everywhere. And she did not fall into the trap of White Feminism, a worry which, frankly, lurked in the back of my mind as I began reading. In her famous Reed vs. Reed case that she brought before the Supreme Court, RBG credits black civil rights activist Pauli Murray by including her name in the list of authors of her brief. Murray had begun the work in 1965 when she co-authored “Jane Crow and the Law” that RBG planned to continue, and she wanted to be sure to give her that recognition and appreciation that was so often lacking in the world of feminists of color. RBG said she believed in making a better world for all people, and she meant it.
I would recommend this book without hesitation to anybody, at any time, anywhere. Carmon and Knizhnik do an excellent job of weaving together the story of a woman who refused to listen to the word “no”. The Biggie references are abundant, but not oversaturated - the joke never gets old. The illustrations and memes add to the notion of the universality of RBG's influence and popularity: she is truly an inspiration, and it is easy to see why. Her small stature and quiet demeanor combined with her intelligence and wit pack the kind of punch that truly resonates with my generation - downtrodden, indebted, fed up with inequality and injustice. We've been told we're post-racial, post-sexist, living in what was supposed to be a post-Y2K utopia, and yet here we are, on our way to hell in a high-powered handbasket. We're sick and we're tired but we're fighting. RBG is an unlikely hero, but somehow, an obvious one.
She is 82 years old right now, and has a much better diet and exercise regimen that I have ever had. I trust she will be around for some time yet. I feel fortunate to have learned so much about this incredible woman from Brooklyn. When Eve gets a little older, I’ll read this book to her. And I’ll try to remember, for myself, how vital it is to make yourself stand up and declare (no matter how tired you are, or quiet your voice is, or insignificant others make you feel), “I dissent”.