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What young feminists can learn from Ruth Bader Ginsburg

22 September 2020

12:00 AM

22 September 2020

12:00 AM

So Ruth Bader Ginsburg is gone. What do I hope is her legacy? That younger feminists take a leaf out of her book and fight for real, material change instead of targeting older feminists as ‘bigots’ and ‘irrelevant’.

An old-school, early second wave feminist, Ginsburg was nevertheless loved and admired by legions of young women. In an era where the efforts of older feminists are often derided, ignored or taken in bad faith by younger women it was heart-warming to see Ginsburg attain rock star status in later years, and nicknamed the Notorious RBG, in honour of fellow Brooklynite, the rapper Biggie Smalls. Mugs, t shirts, and facemasksbearing Ginsburg’s image are available to buy, and many young women in Brooklyn even bear RGB tattoos.

Why was she respected and loved by so many younger women? Because they discovered, through the widely distributed films about her life that Ginsburg made an actual difference to women’s lives – black, poor, migrant, disabled. The changes she fought for benefitted all women, and those at the bottom mattered more to her than did the women hitting the glass ceiling.

But what about the accusations that judges should remain in the shadows, discreetly doing their jobs, unlike Ginsburg who was a household name? We need to have these women as role models, otherwise her many achievements would never inspire young women who wish to make a difference in the world. Brett Kavanaugh’s name is certainly well known; as the man appointed to the Supreme Court by Trump despite allegations (which he denied) of sexual assault in his youth.


Ginsburg was a woman who would often persuade men to take the interests and needs of women to heart. We need women with this skill more than ever during the tsunami of misogyny sweeping the world.

The firebrand feminist was the subject of a brilliant biopic On the Basis of Sex (2018). These days, with extreme transgender ideology dominating much leftist and liberal discourse, using the term ‘sex’ rather than ‘gender’ is enough to get even the most robust of feminists ‘cancelled’, but Ginsburg always knew that women are oppressed because of our sex, not some individualised ‘gender expression’.

The day I saw the film, scores of young women were in the cinema, many of them clapping and cheering at scenes where Ginsburg took on her male counterparts and won. The fact that the term ‘sex’ was in the title as opposed to the more commonly used ‘gender’ was a victory in itself. And of course, many of the battles Ginsburg fought and won involved reproductive healthcare, pregnancy benefits and equal pay, all issues that affect women because of sexism, not ‘gender expression’.

Known as a liberal rather than a radical, she was however admired by the most fiercely uncompromising feminists. Andrea Dworkin, fellow feminist icon, once remarked that Ginsburg had a rare ability to make even the most sexist of men see her point of view.

At an impromptu memorial service on Saturday outside the Supreme Court in DC, as thousands paid tribute, a lone man with a megaphone began to chant that ‘Roe v. Wade is dead’, a reference to the landmark Supreme Court ruling establishing abortion rights nationwide. His words were drowned out by thunderous clapping as a tribute to Ginsburg.

‘I ask no favour for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks’, Ginsburg once said. If young women, in particular those that dismiss the achievements of second wave feminists could at least recognise that it is possible, through ingenuity and commitment, free ourselves from the boot of patriarchy, future generations will pick up the mantel Ginsburg has left behind.

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