Even though some may prefer to use the term hero more for fictional characters because all human beings are imperfect, I think that real life people who work to leave behind a world that is better for everyone truly deserve that designation. The respect and deference that accompanies calling someone a hero or heroine seems to me like the natural response when a person uses their life to achieve improvements that benefit many, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of those people. The work for gender equality accomplished by RBG is some of the most important of recent decades.
Ruth Bader was born on March 15, 1933. In June 1954, she both graduates from Cornell University and marries Marty Ginsburg. She attends law school at both Harvard and Columbia, graduating from Columbia in 1959. She will later teach at Rutgers law school and at her alma mater, Columbia. In 1980, she is appointed a district appeals court judge, followed by a nomination and confirmation to the Supreme Court as an associate justice in 1993. Ruth and her husband have two children over the course of their years together, Jane and James; they also each face many bouts with cancer during their lives. Marty passed away in June 2010, while the world lost Ruth just last year on September 18, 2020.
The strides she made in her own career weren’t the only way Ruth left behind a legacy of fighting for women’s equality—she used her legal career to change the law itself as well. She co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union in 1972 and argued many gender equality cases in front of the Supreme Court in the years after that until becoming a judge herself. She was only the second woman ever appointed to the Supreme Court (though two would be added to work beside her prior to her death and one would take her seat after her passing). As a Justice, her opinions, especially her dissents, are known for the memorable way they adhere to a straightforward promotion of law that is equal for all, particularly in the face of Conservative onslaught.
Of course, Ruth is too good a subject to have not appeared on screen. So she did—TWICE in one year! 2018 to be specific. First, the wonderful documentary simply titled RBG gathers interviews and footage of Ruth and others to tell her story. It captures her undeniable appeal. Then, Felicity Jones stars as Ruth in the mid-1970s as she begins the bulk of her women’s right work in On The Basis of Sex. The performances are strong, while the direction from Mimi Leder and the slick production values glide the film along. A viewer can’t come away from these films without realizing the cultural impact of this woman.
Some of the most important advancements in society in modern times have been towards gender-based equality, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is perhaps the most significant name in the story of that work. Though there is still more to do, Ruth showed by example how improvements can be made if we put in the time and effort. That makes her a hero in my estimation.