RBG: A Movie About Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

After Seeing The Movie RBG: Do We Need New Role Models?

Nancy Myrland All Posts, Business of Law Leave a Comment

This post isn’t about politics as I rarely do that in public spaces, but rather about our choices of role models, and who I wish adults and children would point to more often as heroes.

I swelled with pride for the legal profession I choose to serve, as well as all kinds of other emotions last night as I watched RBG, a movie about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and one of the legal giants of our time.

While watching this 1 hour and 37-minute movie, I laughed, I cried, I was irritated, I was happy, I was sad, and I was proud.

As written in the New York Times,

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the second woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court, but she’s probably the first justice to become a full-fledged pop-cultural phenomenon.”

That became evident as the movie unfolded, as well as when I left the theater (more about that in a moment).

A Little Background

For those who are too busy to have studied her life before now, let me help you a little bit.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born Joan Ruth Bader in Brooklyn in 1933. Her family and close friends knew her as “Kiki,” which I researched and discovered this morning was given to her by her older sister, Marylin, who died from meningitis at the age of six. Marylin said that she was “a kicky baby,” which helps explain her nickname.

When starting school, her mother asked her teacher to call her “Ruth” to help avoid confusion as there were several other girls named Joan in her class.

She earned her bachelor’s degree at Cornell, which she told us during the movie was the dream of every parent who had a daughter at that time as the ratio of males to females was 4 to 1. She told us she never had a second date at Cornell until she met Martin Ginsburg, who would later become her husband and one of the most noted tax lawyers of the time.

When talking about Martin, she said:

“He was the first boy I ever knew who cared that I had a brain.”

After graduating as the highest-ranking female in her graduating class, she and Martin married soon after in 1954. Their daughter, Jane, was born in 1955, followed by James in 1965. The movie depicted their 63-year marriage as strong and wonderful, with each complementing the other’s opposite personality and disposition.

Law School: How Dare You?

In 1956, Ruth Bader Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard Law School. As one of only 9 women in a class of approximately 500 men, the Dean of Harvard Law asked Ruth and the other 8 women:

“How do you justify taking a spot from a qualified man?”

As Justice Ginsberg said during the movie:

“I became a lawyer when women were not wanted by the legal profession.”

If those comments surprise or irritate you, remember that this was not a rare approach or opinion at that time. Women and men today stand on the shoulders of giants of those who endured this antiquated and unreasonable notion.

I Remembered My Mom At This Moment In The Movie

The producers of this documentary, Betsy West and Julie Cohen, told us that, as Ruth Bader Ginsburg studied at Harvard Law School, she also had the honor of being on the Harvard Law Review. While her husband battled testicular cancer and related therapies, she helped him continue his studies as she typed notes and papers for him, all while continuing her studies and taking care of their daughter, Ruth.

I suddenly remembered my mom typing my dad’s handwritten notes from classes he was taking to earn advanced certifications in his profession. He was working full-time, and so was she as she was the amazing mother of 5 children. To this day, I wonder how she did all of that.

Her Mother’s Influence

I watched as Justice Ginsburg, thinking back on losing her mother at the age of 17, said she wished she had her longer. After learning how strict her mother was, and how she insisted that she spend a great deal of time on her studies, I think Justice Ginsburg’s career is partially what it is today because of the influence of a mother she didn’t have long enough but who was known to be her strongest advocate.

During her remarks during the hearings upon her nomination to the Supreme Court, she talked about her mother and referred to her as:

“…the bravest and strongest person I have known, who was taken from me much too soon. I pray that I may be all that she would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve and daughters are cherished as much as sons.”

You’re A Woman? We Don’t Hire Women In Our Law Firm.

I ached as I listened to the stories Justice Ginsburg’s friends and colleagues told us about her not being able to find a job at a New York law firm because there weren’t many managing partners at that time who would hire a woman.

We sat by as we listened to the story about her closest male classmates going to the managing partner of their new firm to talk about someone they thought should be hired. The moment the word “she” was used, they were shut down immediately by a managing partner who made it very clear women weren’t hired by that firm.

As written in Bloomberg Law’s Big Law Business:

“…the fact that she was smart as a whip did not guarantee her success. Upon graduation from Columbia Law School with top honors in 1959, she received no job offer from any law firm in New York City, presumably because white shoe law firms were aghast that a woman, a mother and a Jew would dare think she was qualified for the job.”

A Modern Day Cultural Icon

She is affectionately known in some circles as “Notorious RBG,” after the late rapper, Notorious B.I.G., because of her powerful and notorious dissents from the bench.

Notorious RBG began as a Tumblr blog by Shana Knizhnik, then became the title of the book, Notorious RBG, The Life And Times Of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A children’s edition was recently published.

RGB Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Parodied On SNL Saturday Night Live

During the movie, I had a “front row seat” as I watched her watch for the first time a hilarious portrayal of herself on Saturday Night Live with characteristics not necessarily matched to her real-life persona, yet large enough to fit the icon she has become. She was amused as she asked “Is that Saturday Night Live?”

Heroes & Role Models

It isn’t important that we choose to look up to cultural icons as famous as Justice Ginsburg. In the age of reality TV, what IS important is that we expose ourselves and our children to those who have and continue to shape who we are as human beings, what we have the right to do as human beings, how we communicate as human beings, and how we live as human beings. The Supreme Court Justices have that privilege and that power.

That is reality TV worth studying, reading, watching, and listening to on a regular basis. The reality of what the nine Supreme Court Justices do for a living is far more meaningful, and is infinitely more profound, than what can be gained by watching the dysfunctional reality that we so often choose to fill our spare time.

Sure, some like and need to escape by doing that from time-to-time, but why not mix in a magnificent dose of reality to our lives by exposing our eyes, ears, and minds to what happens in the highest court in the United States?

Trust me, this is not boring nor as mundane as you might think. The movie sure wasn’t. My opportunity to meet Chief Justice Roberts definitely was not, as I wrote about in this post.

Is It Time?

Is it time to become a little more familiar with those who are, either individually or collectively, real-life heroes and role models?

Is it time to help our friends, children, and ourselves pay more attention to those who understand and acknowledge that they owe their lives to others who paved the way, just as Justice Ginsburg stated during her nomination hearings:

“I surely would not be in this room today without the determined efforts of men and women who kept dreams alive.”

I think it’s time.

Those I observed standing outside the theater thought so, too.

I saw one woman who came to the movie dressed as Justice Ginsburg, complete with her black robe and characteristic white collar. I saw two other women who were standing together as their friend took a picture of them in their RBG t-shirts.

Justice Ginsburg recently celebrated her 85th birthday and her 25th year on the bench. She fought for and experienced a career that will have a profound impact on the history and the future of this country as she has been a tireless advocate for gender equality, not just for women, but also for men.

Again, no politics here in this discussion. We don’t even have to agree with these people to study and observe them. This is simply a reminder that this beautiful life we have been given is full of people who deserve our attention as we try to figure out how we got to where we are today and to make sense of where we are going tomorrow.

My legal marketing friends have posted about events their firms have hosted where they invited their clients to a special screening of RBG. It is logical to assume that lawyers and those close to the profession would be interested in a movie about a Supreme Court Justice, but you can be, too.

Take the time. Take a friend. Take a child. Set the example.

Be the one.

Nancy Myrland, Myrland Marketing & Social Media and LinkedIn Coach For LawyersNancy Myrland is a Marketing and Business Development Plan Consultant, and a Content, Social & Digital Media Speaker, Trainer & Advisor, helping lawyers and legal marketers grow by integrating all marketing disciplines. She is a frequent LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook for Business trainer, as well as a content marketing specialist. She helps lawyers, law firms, and legal marketers understand how to make their marketing and business development efforts more relevant to their current and potential clients, and helps lead law firms through their online digital strategy when dealing with high-stakes, visible cases. As an early and constant adopter of social and digital media and technology, she also helps firms with blogging, podcasts, video marketing, and livestreaming. If you would like to reserve an hour of Nancy’s time to begin talking strategy or think through an issue you are having, you can do that here. She can be reached via email here.

Photo Credit for Justice Ginsburg’s portrait: By Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States (Ruth Bader Ginsburg – The Oyez Project) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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