By Kris Gallagher
“She puts so much of her own personal history in her decisions. There will never be anyone quite like her again.”
No, that isn’t a quote from Notorious RBG, the Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which was the March selection for the DePauL Women’s Network (DWN) Book Club. Voiced by Elly Kafritsas-Wessles from the College of Computing and Digital Media, it summed up participants’ reactions to Judge Ginsburg’s remarkable story.
Ginsburg did not set out to become an activist for women’s rights, a Supreme Court justice known for her scathing dissents, or even the adored subject of fan clubs, artists and a Tumblr. She simply wanted to be a good lawyer. Whenever culture and tradition got in her way, she went about eliminating the obstacles.
“The pedestal upon which women have been placed has all too often, upon closer inspection, been revealed as a cage.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg
At the Loop book club discussion, about a dozen DWN members talked about Ginsburg’s strategic approach to challenging legal and societal barriers. Most were surprised by her personal opposition to the landmark Roe V. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Ginsburg supports the legality of the procedure, but believes incremental changes in the law tend to stick, while dramatic decisions tend to be undermined—an accurate description of the cases surrounding the issue today.
Book club participants credited Ginsburg’s strong, egalitarian marriage to fellow lawyer Marty Ginsburg as a source of both her feminism and her success. The two shared childrearing and household duties and supported each other’s careers in an era where this was unthinkable. Ginsburg turned their shared experience of gender stereotyping into a crafty strategy. She took the cases of men whose rights were infringed by their gender to achieve equivalent women’s rights. She also used her position to advocate for everything from more female legal clerks to the addition of women’s bathrooms in traditionally all-male chambers.
“I think that men and women, shoulder to shoulder, will work together to make this a better world. Just as I don’t think that men are the superior sex, neither do I think women are. I think that it is great that we are beginning to use the talents of all of the people, in all walks of life, and that we no longer have the closed doors that we once had.” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Members admired the cheeky and cheerfully illustrated book, which used lyrics from the rapper Notorious B.I.G. as chapter titles. Red “handwritten” annotations filled the borders of excerpts from her briefs and dissertations. Photos of Ginsburg from throughout her life pepper the pages. The cartoons and fan art are particularly wonderful, including a needlepoint submitted by Shannon Downey of the School for New Learning.
They enjoyed the unexpected aspects of the justices’ lives: fantasy baseball leagues, opera, prank gifts, and Ginsburg’s impressive work-out routine. They also talked about Ginsburg’s close friendship with recently deceased Justice Antonin Scalia, the current Supreme Court vacancy, and Ginsburg’s decision to remain as a justice until she believes she can’t do the job properly anymore.
“For some reason, people repeatedly have asked RBG when she thought there would be enough women on the court. The question is asinine, her answer effective: “When there are nine.” — Irin Carmon, Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
The next selection for the DWN Book Club is Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Cline. Watch for your invitation to register!
Kris Gallagher is a member of DWN’s Marketing and Communication team and a part-time staff member in University Marketing Communications.