By Diana Diamond
What I will remember about Ruth Bader GinsburgUploaded: Sep 21, 2020
During my junior year in college, I decided to take a course on the Supreme Court, knowing too little about this branch of government. The very first question the professor asked each of: "Write down the names of the court justices." I put down two names, much to my personal embarrassment.
It was a marvelous course, the concepts of which have stayed with me ever since. When President Clinton appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the court in 1993, I was absorbed in her background, her advocacy for women's rights, her push for equality for both men and women -- and our unknowing virtually shared experiences.
When the first female justice, Sandra Day O'Connor, a Stanford magna cum laude and Stanford Law School graduate, wrote about the difficulties she had finding a paying job as an attorney because of her gender, I knew what she was talking about. She finally found one as deputy county attorney in San Mateo, after she agreed to work for no salary and without an office, sharing space with a secretary. Would that have happened to a male Stanford Law School grad?
Ginsburg had a similar story. As an undergraduate at Harvard Law, she encountered a very male-dominated, hostile environment with only eight females in a class of 500. The women were accused by the dean himself of taking the places of qualified males. Nevertheless, she made it through easily, and became the first female member of the prestigious Harvard Law Review.
After graduation, Ginsburg continued to encounter gender discrimination while seeking employment. She said he had three things against her: she was a woman, she was a mother, and she was Jewish.
When I was looking for my first job in Washington, D.C., shortly after my graduation and marriage, the inevitable third question I was asked in any interview was, "Do you plan on having any children and when?" My honest response was, "We're just married, and we hadn't thought about it, but I am Catholic so I don't know what the "when" answer is." Only one job offer came through after many, many interviews.
Ginsburg's (I will call her Ruth) quest for the same treatment for both men and women (like don't ask just women if they plan to have children) has helped women since my early days at work, assisting me to feel entitled enough to have significant place in the workplace. (Maybe that was why in high school I refused to take typing, shorthand or home ec courses most girls were told to take.)
One of the times this notion that women can/should work became apparent was when Astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to land and walk on the moon, was coming back home. His wife was being interviewed with the usual trivial wifely questions by a reporter: "What will you serve him for dinner?' "How are you preparing for his homecoming?"
"I’m putting flowers all around the house for him to enjoy," she responded.
Great, I thought. Her husband had just been the first man to land on the moon, as part of his job, and his wife was arranging flowers. There's got to be more to a woman's life than placing daisies and roses in vases.
I started working when my youngest of four entered kindergarten -- part-time that first year, and then full-time for the next 40 or so years. I had no choice intellectually -- I had to do it -- as so many women had to and still want and need to. And then when I was divorced, the impetus to work also became a financial imperative. Back then in 1975, if a woman was "working," then the courts said she could only get 40 percent of her husband's income, despite the fact his income was two-and-one-half the size of mine. So the money the six of us were living on became was reduced by 60 percent for the five of us to live on, plus my meager income. (I had custody).
That case never came to court, but I am sure Ruth would have understood and righted the male judicial thinking.
So all went well. I did what I had to do. Any my four sons turned out to be well-balanced, industrious, kind, successful adults.
She did what she had to do, and was successful. She persuaded her eight male colleagues to allow women to enter the Virginia Military Institute. She fought for women's rights, for equal pay, she was instrumental in passing Roe v. Wade, etc. etc.
But I like her words best. As she once declared, "Inherent difference between men and women, we have come to appreciate, remain cause for celebration, but not for denigration of the members of either sex or for artificial constraints on an individual's opportunity."
Thank you, Ruth. I hope your words and messages are long remembered.