Lessons from the book of Ruth
If you are an American woman today, your life was made better by a tiny Jewish married mother from Brooklyn.
During the course of her remarkable life, #RuthBaderGinsberg lived, advocated for, and protected all our rights to be treated equally due to gender. The late #SupremeCourt justice Antonin Scalia described her as “the Thurgood Marshall of women’s rights.” For me, she was a model of what a woman can aspire to be: Smart as hell, loved deeply by her family, and revered and respected by all who were touched by her. What greater life can there be than that?￼
Last September, while closing our monthly lunch for our 110 WINGS (Women’s Initiative Nurturing Girls’ Strength) students in Celebration, FL., we reminded them, “Remember for next month’s Halloween meeting, come dressed as a #womanhero or anything that flies.￼”. Weeks later, an assortment of angels, warrior princesses, and fairies joined a couple of Women’s League baseball players from the ‘40s, Clara Barton, Ruby Bridges, and 2 Jane Goodalls - all to celebrate the real and aspirational power of #women. For me - a stunning monarch butterfly the year before - there was only one obvious choice, someone I wanted to honor and make sure to use as a teaching example for our middle schoolers:
Unlike the much taller and wider therapist who admired her, what added to #RBG's mystique was that all her wit, knowledge, chutzpah and steadfastness were packed into a soft-spoken tiny, feather-like frame. But make no mistake - this feather belonged to a true American eagle. She soared. Her genius side-door approach to securing more equality for women by fighting for it in landmark cases for men is well-known. Less realized by many is the impact her life had on rights women take for granted today: buying real estate in our own names, owning our own credit cards and being guaranteed equal rights in federal employment are just a few.
But Ruth Bader Ginsberg was a hero for more than her remarkable legal accomplishments. It was her grit and savvy that did it for me - her total unwillingness to be marginalized or underutilized, whether by illness, circumstance, or the archaic long-held beliefs of those less enlightened. She found her life partner in husband Marty early in her adulthood, drawn to him because "He was the first boy I ever met who cared that I had a brain. And he always thought I was better than I thought I really was." Their partnership was not 50/50, as is so often described, but one based on each loving the other enough to sacrifice in the short term so their partner could reach a valued goal. That meant that at times, it was 80 Marty/20 Ruth, and at other times, the roles were reversed. "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 at the ACLU Women's Project, Marty realized how important that work was."
This child has two parents. Please alternate calls.
While asserting their dual career household in the "50s and '60s, the Ginsbergs found confusion from the most unlikely places. When her son's school repeatedly called her to complain of his latest shenanigans, Ruth finally felt compelled to clarify the situation: "This child has two parents. Please alternate calls." And what should happen? The calls miraculously decreased because "they were much more reluctant to take a man away from his work than a woman." Perhaps today's schools could take a lesson.
Beyond her body of work and her progressive lessons on marriage that resonate today, Ruth Bader Ginsberg had the unique ability to work with, respect and - GASP - even like - others with whom she had deep philosophical disagreements. She loved the law and the Constitution, but did not take personally that some of her colleagues held a dramatically different view of both. She believed they loved them too. Her dissents were legendary and brilliant, but she let the work speak for itself. By not bashing others over the head with her own beliefs - bullying them into submission and demanding their conversion to her point of view - she built her own influence and the admiration of millions of Americans. And oh yes, she did all that with a voice as soft as her will was strong. What can we learn from this regard for humanity?
When my first granddaughter arrived in May of 2019, I naturally busied myself with the grandmotherly duties of adding special items to her nursery - family heirlooms, colors here and there - but one item had to stand proudly on her shelves:
Ruth stands there as a reminder to Grace that there are many amazing women who have paved the way for her, and that she has the responsibility to - in her own way - pave the way for her daughters and granddaughters. We all need heroes. I hope someday that one of mine will be one of hers too.