I finally made it to a showing of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary This week. Despite my long absence from the blog, RBG so resonated with me that I felt compelled to tell you why.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg the woman and RBG the documentary is everything.
I expected a thorough retelling of the life a remarkable woman. A quiet but fierce jurist and principled judge. A trailblazer among women and the strongest of advocates for equal rights. But I got so much more.
I didn’t anticipate that this was the kind of documentary that would make me cry. But I did. More than once. In fact, I cried several times. I shed tears of sorrow as the documentary follows the Ruth Bader through the grief of losing the bookends of her life, her stern but loving mother at age 17 and her soulmate since age 18 Marty Ginsburg. I welled up with tears of pride seeing her, just one of seven women in her law school class, making the Law Review, successfully arguing before the nation’s highest court for equality across genders in all domains of personal and professional life, and then telling of her struggles, of her sex’s struggles, including the struggle to exercise control over our own bodies before the Senate Judiciary Committee when she was under consideration for a seat on that same court. I cried the happy tears inspired by true love and affection. First, there was the adoration in Joe Biden’s eyes as he listened to Ginsburg’s testimony during her nomination hearings. Then there was the remarkable, heartfelt, and genuine friendship between Ginsburg and her ideologic foe Antonin Scalia. I mean to watch them have fun together and share in their love of opera was truly such a wonderful and tear worthy thing. And, woven throughout the documentary was the once in a lifetime, made for each other that the Ginsberg shared. Every word that Marty said about his dear wife as a wife, a mother, or a professional made me squeeze my own husband’s hand a little tighter as I dabbed my eyes. It’s the kind of love, mutual respect, and balancing of inherent traits through open dialogue that leads to lasting marriages. The Ginsburgs had that.
I also did not imagine that I was going to a comedy but laughed plenty during RBG. I giggled at the site of a rather serious pint sized woman occasionally not taking herself so seriously. There are multiple cuts of Ginsburg working out her burly trainer wearing her ‘Super Diva’ sweatshirt. It’s just the cutest/most badass thing to see her bust out real push-ups (“not the girl kind” which is the only sexist moment I caught in the whole film). There a multiple different times when Ginsburg’s prowess, or rather lack thereof, in the kitchen comes up. She is able to heartily accept her failings as a cook as others in her family mock her for it. While the sharing of memes and addition of music to video of Ginsburg in relation to her being dubbed the “Notorius RBG” are humorous, the really hysterical moment is when Ginsburg details who she and the Notorius BIG have a lot in common. It should surprise no one that Ginsburg is not an avid television connoisseur. Thus, watching her laugh at impressions of herself that are wholly unlike her in real life are ridiculously funny. Seeing Ginsburg in costume to do bit parts in real operas, sometimes even composing some of the speaking parts, is funny as well. And, who wouldn’t crack up learning how Ginsburg accessorizes her robes with collars based on the content of the judgment to be rendered.
I did expect, however, to feel anger and to be sure the RBG delivered. I was angry that Ginsburg had to fight so many battles on behalf of others who simply did not stand a chance in a system rigged to favor white men. I was angry that Ginsburg had to battle so many double standards to rise to her current position. I was angry that she has had to dissent on a number of key SCOTUS decisions, such as reversing voting rights protections or guaranteeing equal pay for equal work, that are taking our nation back to place resembling more the America of her childhood than the America in which I should feel that there is nothing to hold me back from being as accomplished as my male counterparts. There’s not much more to say. Anyone who is a thoughtful human would feel anger at this. In this regard, the documentary is pretty straight forward. Ginsburg has spent a lifetime fighting to make our nation a more fair and just place for everyone and she’s currently not on the winning side of the battle. It’s sucks. And it makes me really angry.
In the end, RBG was not just about anger, laughter, and tears. It was a playbook on succeeding as a woman in a man’s world. It was about grit, tenacity, and hunger to do good paired with a great mind. It was about giving permission to a generation of ambitious women to have a home life distinctly unlike that which has historically been most valued and expected in our society. It was about enduring love between two opposites driven by mutual respect and admiration. It was about the legacy of a principled woman of profound intellect who was not afraid to stand up and speak. We should be like RBG. We should be everything. The battle wages on and we need to be everything.