Ruth Bader Ginsburg is everywhere nowadays. Her face is plastered across shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with the words “Notorious R.B.G.” and permanently etched into the arm of one college student. In the last ten years Ruth Bader Ginsburg, affectionately referred to as RBG, has become a feminist icon, and a piece of American pop culture. So what is it about the one-and-only RBG that launched so many memes?
First and foremost, RBG is a badass.
While it cannot be denied that the internet’s meme culture has made her a household name, it is RBG’s legacy as a working class girl turned women’s rights advocate that cemented her as an American icon. Born in 1933 to a blue-collar Brooklyn family, Ginsburg’s mother sacrificed her own chance at a college education to work in a garment factory so Ginsburg’s uncle could attend college. Inspired by a strong mother who fostered her independent spirit, Ginsburg attended Cornell University for undergrad during a time when most women were attending college to get an M.R.S.
Ginsburg then burst through the glass ceiling at Harvard Law where she became the first female member of the Harvard Law Review. She did this while caring for her young daughter, and supporting her husband as he battled testicular cancer. RBG didn’t stop there; after transferring to Columbia Law, not only was she elected to the school’s law review, she also graduated first in her class.
Proving that she had just as much chutzpah as her male counterparts, RBG began applying for jobs. But the future icon was turned down for a clerkship by Justice Frankfurter and 12 law firms before receiving a clerkship with District Court Judge Edmund Palmieri. Two years later RBG was molding young minds at Rutgers Law for less pay than her male colleagues. Refusing to live by the status quo, Ginsburg worked with the few female faculty to lobby for equal wages. We may still be fighting the wage equality fight, but RBG’s work at Rutgers, as well as the thousands of hours spent by her contemporaries, made the wage gap smaller.
Shy and unassuming, RBG made a name for herself with powerful arguments during her time with the ACLU and her unwavering support of equal rights. For Ginsburg, “women’s rights are an essential part of the overall human rights agenda, trained on the equal dignity and ability to live in freedom all people should enjoy.” Even before Ginsberg was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Clinton she was known as a ball-buster. Memos from her 1993 confirmation process note that Ginsburg “has an instinct for defending some rather liberal views” on questions of prostitution, marijuana decriminalization, and the death penalty. The final recommendation of the memo warns the Clinton Administration to be wary of RBG because, “she sees her interests as ‘being herself,’ preserving her ‘dignity,’ and promoting her ‘independence.'” These “issues” did not stop RBG’s appointment to the Supreme Court; and the confirmation process definitely foreshadowed the stance she would take on issues like birth control and marriage equality.
Known as the leader among the Supreme Court’s moderate-liberal bloc, Ginsburg is also a well known supporter of worker’s rights. Not only does Ginsburg lead the liberals, she often writes the dissenting opinions. From leaving out the traditional “respectfully” from the closing sentence of the Hobby Lobby dissent, to this strong defense of women’s health; “any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s or Conestoga’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults,” RBG has proven that sass and women’s rights go hand in hand. Her support of these causes, and her defiant refusal to step down from the bench amidst claims that she is too old are an example not only of the rampant sexism and agism that exists, but also highlights her powerful spirit.
RBG has become America’s lovable, sage, and always down-to-earth grandmother. When America learned that her little cat nap during the State of the Union was a side effect of too much wine, women everywhere erupted in cheers and scoured the internet to find pictures of her asleep. Since then, Ginsburg has become the subject of rap videos, SNL skits, and was named the Justice most lawyers would like to have lunch with. This champion of women’s rights plans to keep writing biting opinions for as long as she can, so we all might as well buy our Notorious R.B.G. bro-tanks now, because she shows no signs of slowing down, or resigning anytime soon.