The duality of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Oct. 16, 2020, 3:35 p.m. | By Anika Seth | 3 years, 8 months ago

An Opinion

Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been a critical piece of my own political socialization. She showed me and so many other young women that we have a place in this world––not only as lawyers and jurists, but as strong advocates and leaders, too. Ginsburg fought for and secured a number of women's rights, including—but not limited to—the ability to take out credit cards in our own names and to purchase and lease properties without a male co-signer.

At the same time, I have to recognize that Ginsburg was not the perfect progressive she is often idolized as. 

Her progressivism was not intersectional—several of her rulings were harmful to already marginalized groups. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Ginsburg ruled against tribal jurisdiction over tribal-owned land. In 2016, she famously criticized Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players for refusing to stand during the national anthem, calling their actions “really dumb.” 

Though Ginsburg eventually expressed regret for her Native-related rulings and retracted her harmful statement, the damage was done: She set a precedent that lower courts relied on to repeatedly dismiss Native land claims, and she invalidated Black trauma by rebuking protests against police brutality and systemic racism. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg can be both: She can have been the last line of defense for so many of my basic rights—marrying whomever I love, accessing safe abortions and contraceptive options, and consenting to my own medical treatment—while also being the figurehead of white feminism.

I am terrified of what the future will bring now that there is an open seat on the Supreme Court, terrified that my own civil rights are in jeopardy. While I will forever be grateful for her leadership in the fight for gender equality, women like myself who are fortunate enough to benefit from her activism must also recognize that this progress was not real for many marginalized communities. 

As a nation, we need to continue Ginsburg’s work in tearing down gender roles, promoting equal wages, and advancing bodily autonomy. But our intention should not be to simply replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

It should be to do better than Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Last updated: Nov. 25, 2020, 12:14 p.m.

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