Women’s rights lawyer and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says #MeToo
January 23, 2018
"Every woman of my vintage knows what sexual harassment is, although we didn't have a name for it," said Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg during a Sundance Film Festival panel Sunday.
While attending Cornell University in the 1950s, Ginsburg said, she sought help from a chemistry instructor before an exam. In turn, he gave her a practice exam. The next day, Ginsburg walked into her chemistry class to find the actual exam was identical to her practice test her professor had given her.
"I knew exactly what he wanted in return," said Ginsburg, who was at Sundance for the premiere of "RGB," a documentary about her life. "I went to his office and said, 'How dare you? How dare you do this?' And that was the end of that.
"The attitude of sexual harassment was simply, 'Get past it. Boys will be boys,'" she added. "This was not considered anything you could do something about — that the law could help you do something about."
She said that changed with the publication in 1979 of Catharine MacKinnon's book "Sexual Harassment of Working Women."
"It was a revelation," she said. Ginsburg says the book describes incidents like what happened to her, but also how an anti-discrimination law (known as Title VII and prevents discrimination based on race, national origin, religion and sex) could be used as a tool to stop sexual harassment.
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"It was eye-opening and it was the beginning of a field that didn't exist until then," Ginsburg said.
Ginsburg's personal experiences and court appearances to argue against blatant sexism didn't end there. She would battle that as a young professional at Rutgers Law School fighting for equal pay. She would advocate for female janitors at Columbia University to be paid the same as their male counterparts, she would struggle with it as a working mother and she would fight for it many other times over her career as a women's rights lawyer.
"Ruth Ginsburg, quite simply, changed the way the world is for American women," said NPR's Nina Totenberg by way of introducing the Supreme Court justice before the panel.
And she did. If you're an American woman, you can thank her, in part, for your ability to become a doctor, lawyer or bartender.
She did that most prevalently over the course of the 1970s, when the not-yet-notorious RBG brought Craig v. Boren to the Supreme Court. In that case, Ginsburg argued allowing females 18 and older to buy beer was discriminatory against men, who had to be at least 21 to buy beer. She used the Constitution's equal protections clause, beer and frat boys to argue that men and women weren't treated equally as they should be under the 14th Amendment.
Overall, the 84-year-old and co-founder of the Women's Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union says she's pleased by the movements supporting equality now that have emerged in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against several powerful men in politics, Hollywood and other halls of power.
"I think it's about time," Ginsburg said to the crowd gathered at Sundance's Cinema Café regarding the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. "For so long many were silent, thinking there was nothing you could do about it. Now, the law is on the side of women, or men, who encounter harassment — and that's a good thing."
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