On the Basis of Sex: How Ruth Bader Ginsburg Changed History
Feb 5, 2019
By Samara Caplan, CARE Canada's Content Marketing Officer
I hadn't heard much about the film On the Basis of Sex before seeing it. I actually had only seen the trailer for the first time a few weeks before it hit theaters, which is when I knew I had to see it. If you haven't heard about On the Basis of Sex, it is based on the true story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG), her struggles for equal rights and the early cases of her career that helped propel her to become a U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice.
Of course I knew who RBG was before this film (as many of us do), especially over the last few years as I continued to learn more and more about her as an inspiring female role model and trailblazer. We even put her on our list of empowered Halloween costume ideas this past October. But I didn't realize how much I didn't know about all she had done for equality until I saw On the Basis of Sex a few nights ago.
The movie starts in 1956 with RBG's time at Harvard Law. Right off the bat we see the struggles of inequality at the time between men and women. Women are treated differently from their male counterparts, with only a small number of women even allowed in the program (I'm talking single digits here). It is even stated later on in the film that they didn't have women's bathrooms but none of the female students complained because they were just happy to have the opportunity to be at the school in the first place. Enter RBG.
Whether it's in classes with professors who avoid calling on female students, or at a Dean's dinner where the women are asked why they deserve their spots at Harvard Law over men, RBG fearlessly questions the norms of the time. I don't know if I have ever seen someone work as hard as she did, not only during her time at Harvard (and later Columbia), but throughout her career.
The movie then fast forwards to the 1970s covering RBG's struggles to get a job (because law firms didn't want to hire women), her family life with her husband and two kids, and her passion and dedication to changing the law. You get to see more of what her relationship was like with her kids and her husband who always stands behind her, supports her, balances tasks with her (he did most of the cooking, a rarity in that time period) and pushes her to keep going. RBG starts to focus her time on trying to change a law around elderly care-giving (so it is equal for both sexes) and is hoping to therefore open the floodgates (and set a precedent) for all other laws that are limited by sex.
RBG is not just amazing for what she has achieved but for how she achieved it. This was something that really made me think. There are times when we face a challenge and think that we are not powerful enough, well-known enough, smart enough or whatever it may be to overcome something and make change. We think "someone else will do it." Whether big or small this film made me realize that there are no guarantees. If RBG hadn't fought for the equality of women in the law, we really don't know if someone else would have come along and done it. We cannot sit on the sidelines and wait for someone else to change things. Because if not us, who? And if not now, when?
My biggest takeaway after seeing this film was how grateful I am that a woman like RBG exists. I hadn't truly realized before how different my life as a woman in 2019 could be without her—and many other exceptional women—leading the way.