Author’s Note: Being a person of Indian origin, my knowledge of the life and work of Ruth Bader Ginsburg was limited. It was all news articles and textbook material. Over the course of my research for this article, I slipped into a Notorious RBG rabbithole. I have cried, laughed, been overwhelmed and inspired merely reading up about her. To be a third person just reading about her life sent shivers down my spine, and I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to have lived a life so powerful. To RBG, the icon of feminist dissent.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been an important person in the history of gender equality. Her work and achievements are unfathomable. From fighting for equal pay to legal abortions, RBG is the icon of feminist dissent we hold close to our hearts. Here’s a list of (the first) 10 ways Ruth Bader Ginsburg changed the landscape of gender equality:
1. She is one of the only four female justices in the history of America
Ginsburg has gone on to hit more milestones during her lifetime appointment to the Court: She became the only female justice on the bench between O’Connor’s retirement in 2006 and Sonia Sotomayor’s appointment in 2009. Currently, there are three with the addition of Elena Kagan in 2010; but to put this in perspective, out of all the 114 Supreme Court Justices ever, 110 (96.5 percent) have been men.
2. Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought for equal pay
In 2007, Justice Ginsburg dissented in the ruling against Lilly Ledbetter — a tire factory employee who learned, decades into her tenure, that she was being paid much less than men in the exact same supervisory role: She was making $3,727 per month, while her male counterparts were making between $4,286 and $5,236 per month. However, she lost the case because the Civil Rights Act had a statute of limitations for reporting on discrimination.
In her scathing dissent, Justice Ginsburg wrote that gender discrimination can be hidden for a long time and “the ball is in Congress’s court” to change the rule. In 2009, Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which extended the Civil Rights Act’s statute of limitations and guaranteed women equal pay for equal work.
3. She was the first tenured female law professor at Columbia
Ginsburg became the first tenured female Columbia Law School professor after joining the faculty in 1972 the pressures on Professor Ginsburg to be an exemplar for her sex were surely weighty. It’s never easy being the first and the only representative of your class of people.” While at Columbia, she co-authored the first law school casebook on sex discrimination in 1974.
4. She fought for the equal rights of employees no matter their gender or reproductive choices.
ACLU Women’s Rights Project attorney Susan Deller Ross and Ginsburg pushed to have pregnancy discrimination recognized as a form of sex discrimination, according to the ACLU. The pair is credited for helping pass the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an amendment to Title VII in 1978 which acknowledges pregnancy discrimination as unlawful. Women are now more protected against getting fired, or not considered for a job because they are pregnant or have plans to get pregnant.
5. She led the ruling decision that State-funded schools must admit women.
In 1996, Ginsburg led the ruling decision in the United States v. Virginia case. Until then, women had been prohibited from attending the Virginia Military Institute. Ginsburg argued that rather than create a separate women’s program, they should be allowed to join the same program as men.
6. She’s the reason juries include women.
Up until 1979, jury duty was considered optional for women in the US. Several states argued that women should be exempt from participating due to family and household obligations. Ginsburg fought to require women to serve on juries on the basis that their civic duty should be valued the same as men’s.
“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made,” Ginsburg told USA Today in 2009. “It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”
7. She was the first justice to officiate a same-sex marriage
RBG has taken her crusade to end sex discrimination even further with her support of same-sex marriage, which was made legal under federal law in 2015. In 2013, just after the Supreme Court struck down two laws restricting same-sex marriage, Ginsburg became the first Supreme Court justice to officiate one, at the wedding of Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser to economist John Roberts in Washington, DC.
8. She fought for equal social security rights for both men and women.
Throughout her career, Ginsburg stressed how gender equality benefits both men and women.
In 1968, Ginsburg represented Charles Moritz, a man who had never been married and claimed a tax deduction for caring for his mother, according to Smithsonian Magazine. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) denied his deduction because he was a man and unmarried. The US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that the IRS had violated the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution and in 1971 Section 214 of the IRS Code was amended to allow individuals to claim caregiving deductions, regardless of sex.
In the 1970s, Ginsburg later won two cases representing men who were not granted survivor benefits under Social Security because they were men. The case set the standards for how sex-based lawes are evaluated under the constitution
9. She’s the reason women can open bank accounts without a man’s approval.
Ginsburg’s work paved the way for the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which passed in1974 and allowed women to apply for bank accounts, credit cards, and mortgages without a male co-signer. She also helped ensure that women could receive the same military housing allowances as men, and women are no longer required to pay more for pension plans than men to receive the same benefits, according to the ACLU.
10. She constantly advocated and fought for the right to safe and legal abortions
In the landmark Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case in 2016, the Supreme Court — including Justice Ginsburg — ruled that two abortion restrictions in Texas were unconstitutional because they would shut down most clinics in the state and cause Texans an “undue burden” on access to safe, legal abortion. The case exposed the lie that anti-abortion politicians have been peddling for years: that it’s somehow “safer” when the state imposes medically unnecessary, onerous targeted restrictions against abortion providers (TRAP) laws.
In her concurring opinion to the majority, Justice Ginsburg wrote:
Given those realities [that keep abortion access out of reach], it is beyond rational belief that H.B. 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law ‘would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions’… When a State severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners… at great risk to their health and safety.
With this historic decision, the Court reaffirmed the constitutional right to access legal abortion. This decision was a triumph for abortion access — a triumph reaffirmed this June, when the Supreme Court struck down a medically unnecessary law that would have made abortion virtually inaccessible in Louisiana.
By Harshita Chhatlani
A chai-enthusiast, Harshita is the founder of The Safe Space Project. She is a feminist who believes that the future is intersectional.