October 2, 2020
By: Hattie Hill
Every once in a generation, a leader comes along who is so transformative that they come to symbolize both a people and a struggle. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. embodied the civil rights movement; and with her recent passing, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg solidified her place as a fearless icon who spent her life fighting to help women and girls live equally.
In the days since RBG’s death, heartfelt tributes have poured in from across the country—from young and old, liberal and conservative, people of every race and ethnicity. It’s rare to see a figure so universally embraced and rarer yet to see so many girls and young women take up the mantle with such raw emotion.
Of all the coverage of this monumental woman, one of the most touching came from The Huffington Post, which featured teen and tween girls speaking about the impact RBG had on their young lives, sentiments like those from 12-year old Michele Threefoot, who said:
“I think that Sept. 18 we should have Ruth Bader Ginsberg Day, just like Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Presidents Day and other people who have their own day,” said Threefoot, who went viral several years ago after dressing up as Ginsburg for her school’s Superhero Day and even received a letter of support from the justice.
Like all truly great leaders, RBG inspired young people to continue fighting the good fight. We need those role models in our lives, now more than ever.
Though we were born decades apart and come from vastly different backgrounds, I identify a lot with the Notorious RBG. During my early days in business, I was often the only woman—and almost always the only Black woman—in rooms of older white executives.
RBG often recalled being one of only nine women in the Harvard Law freshman class and how, in 1956, the dean asked her: “How do you justify taking the place of a man?” (She went on to become No. 1 in her class and even attended classes for her husband as he recovered from cancer treatment while simultaneously caring for their infant—talk about superwoman!)
Throughout my career, I’ve had bosses and colleagues say eerily similar things. But, like RBG, I’ve never let that stop me, and I hope her example will continue to inspire young people to persevere.
Even after Justice Ginsburg became a cultural icon, she remained laser focused. I was fortunate to hear RBG speak at an event hosted by Justice Sonya Sotomayor and was amazed by both her brilliance and humility—it was never about her, only the work.
She was an equal opportunity advocate and spent the early years of her career, as director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, representing men in gender discrimination lawsuits because she fervently believed that lifting one group brings greater freedom to all.
Women and men owe so much to RBG’s lifelong work. This includes:
- Women being able to open credit cards in their own names.
- For men—like women—to receive social security benefits after the death of their spouse.
- For pregnant women to be able to work without fear of employer discrimination.
- For female students to have the same access to educational programs that receive federal funding.
The list goes on and on. But what’s most remarkable is that RBG didn’t just advocate for equality, she lived it every day through her long and happy “Marriage of Equals” to Martin Ginsburg. Not only did he step back from his career to take on more domestic responsibilities, Martin happily embraced the role, becoming her chef and biggest cheerleader (she credits her husband for campaigning to get her named to the Supreme Court).
RBG was a fighter but she was never disagreeable. Her decades-long friendship with her philosophical opposite, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, provides a glimmer of hope that we, too, can one day find greater common ground.
Even in death, RBG is still shattering glass ceilings as the first woman—and Jewish person—to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol. While we mourn her passing, I take solace in knowing that she continues to inspire generations, which will one day include my new grandbaby Brielle, who will grow up knowing all about the “Great Dissenter.”
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