Dear Justice Ginsburg,
May I call you Ruth? I want to call you Ruth because I consider you a friend (especially now more than ever). I know you didn’t know me, and I know I could be one of the millions of women who are writing you a letter after your death, but you see, you helped me come alive.
Let me explain.
I didn’t pay attention to you or politics when I was younger. I was a stupid teenager who thought politics did not affect me. I thought the world just was. I believed I never had to worry about my rights (What are those?). I believed I would always have control over my body or my life. I was convinced there was no questioning the land of the free, the home of the brave, and the country where anything happens.
I didn’t pay attention to the Supreme Court. In high school civics class, I learned the purpose of the Court and what the branches of government do. I discovered our government is set up with checks and balances, so no one becomes a dictator. I learned why we have senators and representatives, how they take an oath to represent the people, and I believed they did. Even though I engaged in my civics class, I didn’t realize any of it mattered. I didn’t think Supreme Court decisions would affect my life.
Now fast forward two decades. After a move across the country, college degrees, an abusive marriage, a divorce, lots of healing, a new outlook on life, a different house, a new marriage, a major personal shift in values, politics, and religion, and a six-year-old grieving daughter, I was not stupid anymore. I had lived.
In my forties, I became aware of the injustices in the United States (and the world):
I learned what the word oppression meant. And, that I had experienced it.
I discovered what sexual harassment is. And, I had experienced it, too.
I learned about worker’s rights, and that it was you who made it possible for me to take maternity leave after giving birth to my daughter. Thank you.
I learned I was paid less than my male coworkers for the same job. I wondered why. And, I was angry. It was you who fought for equal pay for me. I discovered that I had been a victim of sexism.
I discovered that not too far in the past, women could not buy property without their husband’s consent. Why? I wondered about women who chose not to marry or were widows. What did they do?
I learned women were not allowed to have credit cards in their names in the past. Why?
I finally understood how important it was to have the only say over my body. Why does anyone else get a say? What kind of sick, twisted evil is that?
And, my mother… well…
Ruth, my mom spent hours per day washing clothes by hand and hanging them on the clothesline (Remember that? I am sure you do.) She did this because our family could not afford a washing machine and dryer, after all my father, a patriarch, would not allow my mother to work outside our home.
You see, Mom spent her days cleaning, cooking, and tending after my siblings and me behind four walls. She was TALENTED – VERY talented, intelligent, and one of the most creative persons I have ever known. But, she chose to stay within the social construct for women, the ill-conceived boundary line: “Women clean, men work,” as my father would often say.
Mom was not allowed to drive (again, the patriarchy thing). She did not obtain a higher-level education, because she believed that her place and her life’s purpose was to remain home (I am the only person in my family with college degrees). She believed stepping outside of that boundary was wrong. She believed her talents, as amazing as they were, were only second to her submission to my father.
Second always no matter what. SECOND. She would secretly whisper to me, when we were alone, when it was only the two of us, “Go after what you want.”
I watched her misery grow and grow and destroy her spirit over the years until one day, she collapsed at home, fell into a coma, and then died.
And, as I watched my oppressed mother’s body put six feet under on that unforgettable, cold March day, I vowed to choose a different fate for myself. I learned she did not have to suffer, and neither did I. I learned she had bought the patriarchal gender line hook, line, and sinker as she lived in her cage, and she had never been on a pedestal.
“A gender line … helps to keep women not on a pedestal, but in a cage.”- Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth, this is personal. You made an impact in my life because you helped me to see the box I had been put in and the mindset that kept me in that prison. You helped me come alive. I could never, in a million years, repay you.
You helped me see because you dared to follow what was right, no matter what the obstacles, and you managed to change the trajectory for every woman in this country (if they want it). Your mother died from cancer the day before you were to graduate from high school, and you did not quit. Instead, you excelled and purposely made your life inspirational.
That is courage.
But Ruth, I did not have your courage. Even though I had my mother as an example of what not to do, I still listened to the damaging voices in my head, “You can’t – you’re a woman.” “Women don’t do that. “Only men do that.” “What would people think?”
“Don’t worry your pretty, little head.” They said.
I wish I had not listened to those lies. Let me tell you that it took me years to pick up my jaw off the floor.
And I know I am not alone. There are millions of women who still think the pedestal puts them on high. They believe in the lie of artificial boundaries. They think they have to accept things as they are. They think the gender line you fought so hard to dispel is written in stone, unmovable.
“My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.” -Ruth Bader Ginsburg
To say that I am thankful to you is the understatement of the year. The best way I know to thank you is to continue your legacy, to fight for women’s rights, human rights, worker’s rights, LGBT rights, immigrant rights, and be a person of integrity as you were. This is how I will thank you for your service to every woman in this country. Thank you for being one of the world’s most influential feminist icons.
Ruth, if you can hear us women mourning your death from wherever you are, please rest in peace knowing you ignited a fire that will surely not be put out anytime soon. Women everywhere are fighting hard. Hard because of you.
“I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg
I realize you were only one person, Ruth – one small, tenacious, dauntless person who made a HUGE difference. There are so many other women and men fighting daily without media attention. I am thankful for them, too. But, it is you who deserves the credit for helping to pass laws that protect women.
Thank you, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. With admiration and gratitude, we will pick up the torch now.
Rest in peace.
“Feminism [is the] notion that we should each be free to develop our own talents and not be held back by manmade barriers.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also known as the Notorious RBG, has a long list of accomplishments. Here are some of her achievements:
- RBG graduated from Columbia University first in her class.
- She was the first person (not just the first woman) on Harvard and Colombia Law Review.
- She co-founded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.
- Ruth was the second woman and first Jewish person to serve on the Supreme Court.
- She argued six cases in front of the Supreme Court and won five.
- She fought for the LGBT community, disabled people, voting rights, and worker’s rights.
- She argued sex-based discrimination cases for women and men.
- Ruth became famous for her many dissents.
- She became known as the Notorious RBG in her eighties.
“I … try to teach through my opinions, through my speeches, how wrong it is to judge people on the basis of what they book like, the color of their skin, whether they are men or women.” – the Notorious RBG
To learn more about the Notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg, go to Achievement.org.
P.S. On September 25, 2020, Ruth Bader Ginsburg made history (again) by becoming the first woman to ever lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.