The Emotional Impact of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Legacy

A trailblazer and cultural icon fought for change and altered our lives.

Posted Sep 20, 2020

Gone too soon, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) lived a life that was possible—she said in her Senate confirmation hearing—only in America. She loved learning and opera, cared deeply for others' challenges, and worked tirelessly.

“I wish I could have had her longer,” Justice Ginsburg said of her mother who passed when Ruth Bader was 17 years old. A prescient quote that joins many that emotionally reach us, in what her friend Arthur Miller recalls was a “shy, quiet, soft voice.”1 We lost her too soon. Her voice still speaks volumes if we recall:

History proves that trailblazing women face a tough double standard, such as when men slightly raise their voices they're assertive, but women are viewed as angry or shrill. We see that today in news clips of a political candidate attacking women on the opposing party's ticket. 

Eleanor Roosevelt inspired Justice Ginsburg. Roosevelt indicated that anger, resentment and envy were unproductive emotions. Best to let those negative feelings go. 

“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

Be the change you want to see in the world. Complaints and criticism may seem like convenient ways of blowing off steam. Action is where it’s at, changing the game in a forward direction.

“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn't be that women are the exception.” And “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” 

These speak to “why not,” not merely for one gender but for all who have been marginalized. Therapists often counsel clients with self-doubt, reticence, fear of following a passion, and with a penchant for pleasing others, at great detriment to what they truly believe. 

“It helps sometimes to be a little deaf, in marriage and in the workplace, including in the good job I have now.”

Reactivity is universal. Not everything that we hear must be met with a response. Not every thought deserves an argument, a tweet or a frustrated text. Tune it out. Reacting out of annoyance won't advance one’s ability to persuade, Justice Ginsburg once articulated.

“If you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it. I had a life partner who thought my work was as important as his, and I think that made all the difference for me.” 

On the Basis of Sex portrayed Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s love story with Marty, a man she met at Cornell, who admired her brains as well as beauty. No mismatch here. Each was self-confident and cheerleading of the other. When Marty battled cancer in law school, Ruth learned how to burn the candle at both ends, go to her classes, his classes and come home to a young child. That’s a fantastic and inspiring relationship model.

"This [abortion rights] is something central to a woman's life, to her dignity. It's a decision that she must make for herself. And when government controls that decision for her, she's being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices."  

At her Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Ginsburg stated: “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.” 

By virtue that women carry, give birth to and care for children when others decide reproductive issues for women, they may influence or take away women's ability to receive a formal education, contribute and work outside of the home, save for the future (including retirement), fulfill life goals and dreams, and become independent.

Official Supreme Court Photo/Bio
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Source: Official Supreme Court Photo/Bio

"Dissents speak to a future age. It's not simply to say, 'My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.' But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that's the dissenter's hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow."

In a world polarized by politics embracing winners and losers, we often fail to see the sheer force of any one dissent. That other opinion isn't the first clip on the evening news, and it’s relegated to fewer column inches in the newspaper. For sure, it should make it into our minds as well.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy encourages people to think less in all or nothing, black or white viewpoints, but to embrace shades of gray, to see another side that can be handled with respect. It's healthy also to look long-term since quick decisions that are made for the moment or appeal to one's base may be short-sighted.

“Collegiality is crucial to the success of our mission…We could not do the job the Constitution assigns to us if we didn’t—to use one of Justice Scalia’s favorite expressions—‘get over it.’”

At work, when recreating, in the office or chambers of our legislative bodies, it pays to simply be kind. Another icon, Mister Rogers, encouraged that. We get farther in life with honey than vinegar. It’s best to befriend than vilify, reach across the aisle than ice out.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg opened doors. Literally. "One thing that concerns me is that today’s young women don’t seem to care that we have a fundamental instrument of government that makes no express statement about the equal citizenship stature of men and women,” Ginsburg said in 2014. “They know there are no closed doors anymore, and they may take for granted the rights that they have."4

She'll be known as one of those gentle giants who wasn't afraid to articulate what she felt. She showed us grace, wisdom, courage, even apology, after she stated that she couldn't imagine a Trump presidency in 2016. Regretting that she commented upon a candidate, she said that, too.5

Hers was a life lived fully, in public service and in private, and fortunately for us, it was a life well quoted. 

Copyright @ 2020 by Loriann Oberlin. All Rights Reserved.

References

1. CNN Documentary RBG, 2018

2. CBS Sunday Morning https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ruth-bader-ginsburg-her-view-from-the-bench/

3. https://qz.com/910784/ruth-bader-ginsburgs-advice-for-success-in-marriage-the-supreme-court-and-everything-in-between/

4. https://newrepublic.com/article/119578/ruth-bader-ginsburg-interview-retirement-feminists-jazzercise

5. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/15/us/politics/ruth-bader-ginsburg-donald-trump.html