As someone who grew up in a fairly conservative Christian household—e.g., a mother who regularly followed figures like Glenn Reynolds and voted red—Ruth Bader Ginsburg was largely a persona non grata, a name that was rarely brought up and, if so, only in context of the liberal left vs. the conservative right. I also distinctly remember my parents mourning the passing of Antonin Scalia and then promptly insisting that there was no way that Obama could make a SCOTUS appointment in his last year as our nation’s president. I can’t help but wonder and worry about whether or not they stand by that same assertion now—something very, very few GOP members seem to have accomplished in the short hours after RBG’s death. 

I’m writing about Ruth Bader Ginsburg with eyes wide open to the rippling implications that her death has in such a polarising and troubling election year, but I don’t really want to write about that because, well, so many have already talked about it and politicized it for their own motives and agendas. Instead, I’d like to write about the kind of figure she represented to women, even to a young woman like me who didn’t know much about her until this week and who was raised on the opposite of the political aisle. 

It wasn’t until I left my parents and my hometown that I began to realize that the liberal vs. conservative dichotomy was not nearly as black and white as it had been seemingly presented to me when I was younger. Gun control had been proven in other countries to drastically reduce mass shootings; Chick-fil-a was not all sunshine and roses; LGBTQA+ lives were no less precious than the lives of heteronormative people… In short, I shared in the disillusionment that seems rather stereotypical of young adults, particularly religious young adults, as so excellently chronicled in Josh Parks’s post from July

But now to strike into the heart of the matter: the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has made me confront my own perception of misogyny and the modern woman. Frankly, due to my lack of general political knowledge, I had no idea that RBG fought her way through years of misogyny in her field and that it was an astounding feat when she became the second woman ever to be appointed to the Supreme Court. I’m not sure if that makes me a “bad feminist” in the same way that wanting a perfect body made Fleabag a “bad feminist,” but I wish I had known more about RBG when I was younger because her story and her legacy are inspiring to my aged 21-year-old self—inspiration that I wish I had experienced sooner. 

I didn’t grow up with any outstanding female role models or inspirations in my life—it was neither on my parents’ radar nor mine. I’ve always been a very independent and strongly-willed woman who doesn’t take shit from anyone, but most of that was developed on my own without the grace and wisdom and understanding of different women who were older. And, looking back now, that’s a damn shame. I’ve always fervently advocated for women in STEM—and I nearly booted my husband out of our car last week when he made an errant remark about how LEGOs were easy gifts for boys but not for girls—but I’ve never really taken the time to understand the history of feminism; I never knew how important RBG was to so many women and why. 

I didn’t have Emmy Noether or RBG or Billie Eilish or Ursula K. Le Guin; I had myself. I had the vague, “out there” knowledge that misogyny was a thing and that women have historically been paid less than their male counterparts, but I didn’t think that I needed to worry about that—I didn’t think that it applied to me. I’ve always had a high regard for my intelligence and charisma, and I’ve always been satisfied that those qualities were all that mattered. If given the chance, I can prove myself to anyone and everyone. But reading about RBG’s life and, indirectly, the lives of many other women, I know that that’s not the status quo. The more I reflect upon my experiences and read about other women’s experiences, I’ve begun to wonder how my experiences would have differed, for better or for worse, if I were male. Sure, we’re improving with our modern sensibilities, but there’s still the gendered wage gap and the experiments where people have had much more success with male names than female names and the POTUS who says terrible things about women without consequence.

I’m not a warm and fuzzy bandwagon and camaraderie person, but I’m sorry to all of the women I’ve disregarded or misunderstood because I had the privilege and the arrogance—the naiveté—to think that I didn’t need to. I’m sorry that I thought that entering STEM as a female could be as simple as demonstrating one’s intelligence. I’m learning to know better. 

I’ve been trying to actively learn about figures like RBG and what they’ve done for gender equality and women’s rights as I reflect on my own experiences and my own womanhood. I can’t help but think of Maggie Stiefvater—one of the few people I’ve held up as a role model and inspiration through the years—and how she’s written and tweeted about her own fight with misogyny as a bagpiper-artist-gearhead-author. The politics of RBG’s death are an exhausting subject for a different conversation on a different day, but I am grateful for her legacy and for the dignity and decorum that she represented. I’m grateful for, in the possibly crude but still delightfully hilarious words of Maggie Stiefvater, the “small boob energy” of women like RBG who have used their lives as a tireless example of women’s resilience and splendor in the face of misogyny and sexism.

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I am very much not a woman, but I resonate with the desire to know more about female figures. Perhaps it was coincidence, but, a few days before RBG’s death, I listened to a podcast on the life of Frances Perkins, another impressive, RBG-esque figure I really had known nothing about.

    Reply
  2. Avatar

    As a fellow woman-in-STEM from a conservative background, I echo many of the sentiments you share. It’s daunting to realize how different things were before RBG (and women like her), and a reminder that we could all use a little more ‘small boob energy’ in our lives.

    Reply
  3. Kyric Koning

    Some good energy here.

    The moment when our self awareness becomes conscious of others is a beautiful thing. A lot of times we drift towards complacency and don’t consider our place in the world and how everything is connected.

    Reply

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