When reading about the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg — a respected jurist and Supreme Court Justice of the United States for 27 years — three things stood out that needed to be shared in her memory.
First, she was nicknamed the Notorious RGB after the late rapper Notorious BIG and she loved it, citing their connection as two children from Brooklyn who broke all kinds of social barriers through their work. Secondly, she had a unique sartorial accent which is always a good sign in a person: she collected and wore lace jabots.
And lastly, she was a liberal feminist activist. Three words that have always been dangerous on an individual basis but put together they become an expletive.
Over the course of her long and stellar career she was discovered, became a part of popular culture for liberals, feminists and activists of all kinds and in the wake of her passing she has given what momentum she had to campaigns that are trying to convince Americans to vote, and to vote away from President Trump and the Republican Party.
One small and quiet passage in the summary of her life that I read on Wikipedia gave me pause. When she graduated top of her class yet again from Harvard Law School, she was turned down for important Clerkship with influential judges.
All this on account of her gender. Reading that for all her brilliance, in a society that deludes itself on being the meritocracy the world should aspire to, she needed a man to call in a favour to get a chance to shine gave me a feeling of connection with her across time and across geography.
What gender-based discrimination and psychological, social and sometimes physical violence we have faced as a consequence of wanting to make the world a better place for women. The exhaustion that this can cause, and the difficulty of staying the course however big or small the battle.
Of late, it has come up more frequently that the feminism is really becoming a pejorative, as is the word activist. This deliberate move on the part of patriarchy is to be expected when things are tilting dangerously rightwards in any society: one brands progressives as fringe thinkers and works to undermine and dismiss them, even vilify them. And it takes its toll.
This brief flash in the world consciousness about a diminutive New Yorker who trail-blazed in the legal system of the US for over six decades feels like a parting gift from a woman I admire highly. Imagine if she had quit? Imagine if her professor, in recognition of her brilliance, didn’t resort to threats to get her career started? Imagine if she hadn’t been discovered and inspired a whole new generation of feminists, activists and liberals in her country and beyond? We would be the poorer for it.
Thank you for the recharge, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A mother elephant has fallen. We shall not forget the pathways you have taught us.