What Ruth Bader Ginsburg means to me

Photo Public Domain on Wikimedia Commons

After five days of grieving for the Notorious RBG herself, there doesn’t seem to be much to add to the discourse surrounding the incredible body of her life’s work, and the even more astounding person behind it.

It is amazing to me the amount of lives she quietly touched, and continues to touch, even in death.

Even in death she will manage to break yet another barrier when she becomes the first woman to lie in state at the Capitol.

But despite a universal outpouring of grief for a larger-than-life person, it is hard to put precisely into words why I, like so many others, took her death so personally.

There is definitely the sense of loss for the passing of a feminist icon and role model in career and in life.

I think the reason her passing resonated so strongly with me is because of how much she embodied the spirit of my maternal grandmother, and her mother before her.

I am reminded so potently of the women who came before me and paved the way for all that I am able to be today.

When a friend showed me a video of RBG’s famed workout routine alongside a panting Stephen Colbert, I instantly thought of the persistence of my great-grandmother, who I am told did her daily stretches and lunges up until she died of a broken hip at 102.

In her time, just three generations ago, it was still fashionable for women to have their feet bound.

The bones in their feet were broken one by one, again and again, until the natural arch of the foot was contorted into an unrecognizable shape suited to the whims of men.

My great-grandmother resisted this practice, managed to receive an education that was unheard of at the time, and became a music teacher instead.

She instilled in my maternal grandmother the same drive to uplift women, to aspire to achieve something greater than the self. My nai-nai, born ten years before Justice Ginsburg, was one of the first women on the other side of the Pacific Ocean to graduate from medical school.

Like Ginsburg, she faced intense discrimination in both her professional and personal life, and built a career as an OB-GYN combating deeply held stigmas against female reproductive medicine and treatment.

She was a modern woman in every sense. She was Chief of Surgery at a time when women did not go to college and she acted as both a father and a mother to my Mom.

She was also incredibly petite, but dared to take up space in a world and time that did not welcome her.

In Justice Ginsburg’s biography I see the same ambition and sheer will I profoundly admired in my nai-nai — a willingness to take up causes for others, and a commitment to veracity about the issue of women’s rights.
She served jail time, torture, and public humiliation for her beliefs about a woman’s place. She was a woman ahead of her time, ahead of our time even.

My own mother grew up being told that she should have been a boy.

Sexism and gender discrimination practices are still prevalent in our time.
Yet alternatively I think about where we would be without women like RBG and my nai-nai. We are all indebted to the women that we know and do not know for moving the needle forward, one legal fight and one less dying mother at a time.

When I hit search for ‘RBG’, even almost a week after her passing, the Wikipedia entry that appears at the top right still tells me: “Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States … and has served since August 10, 1993.”

It seems fitting that her bio not be updated to reflect her existence in the past tense, because she remains very much alive, at least in my mind.

I like to imagine that, for now, there is a Wiki user out there that continues to moderate the page to change the language back, as a repeated reminder of RBG’s desire for justice and choice that lives on concurrently in you and in me.