No, make that — every man and woman. This new movie about notorious Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg isn’t just entertaining — it’s also an essential reminder that women did not have equal rights under the law, not so very long ago.
How would you feel if you couldn’t get a credit card or a bank loan without your husband co-signing it? And if you don’t have a husband, then tough luck. Or how about, if you could be fired, simply for getting pregnant. Of if you could never refuse to have sex with your husband.
I bet you wouldn’t like any of that one bit. But that was exactly the legal situation for every American woman well into the 1970s. And one of the key reasons that you don’t face all these scenarios today, is because of a determined and brilliant woman — Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Now, Ginsburg’s early life as a young Jewish student from Brooklyn, who became one of just nine women among 500 men in Harvard Law School’s class of 1956, is documented in the new big screen film, On The Basis Of Sex.
Ginsburg, convincingly played by Felicity Jones, is excited and unintimidated as she enters the hallowed halls of Harvard Law , and as we see in the film directed by Mimi Leder, she is nevertheless assailed by sexism. The then — dean of Harvard Law, Erwin N. Griswald, asked her and other female students to justify why they had taken a man’s place in the school, and professors virtually refused to call upon them in class. But we learn that Ginsburg has a powerful ally in her unusual quest for the times — to become a top notch attorney — her loving and admiring husband, Martin Ginsburg ( played hunkily by Armie Hammer), who is also a student at Harvard Law. Marty Ginsburg, is like Ruth, a rarity for his time. He’s a man who loves his wife for her brain as well as her beauty (and yes, like Felicity Jones, Ginsburg was and is still, a very stylish beauty). As Ginsburg fights the sexism of the law school and then the even — worse sexism of New York City law firms which refuse to hire a woman, Marty is her biggest cheerleader.
For many filmgoers, the blatant restrictions on what women could and couldn’t do in the America of 1959, the 1960s and 70s, will be a shock. After all, this is not that long ago. But ambitious Ruth runs into all of them because she refuses to take the typical back seat role for women of the times, as the little homemaker behind the male breadwinner. Nevertheless, you see that every roadblock that is placed in her path, inspires her to change the law. Barred from practicing as an attorney at a law firm, she teaches law at Rutgers University to increasingly feminist students, who have been inspired by the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s. And as she teaches, she learns about cases that she is desperate to take on, that could potentially overturn rulings that deny equality rights to women.
Finally, Marty, by then a top NYC tax attorney finds a case of gender equality that he is convinced his wife can take and win. The film follows Ginsburg as she cleverly uses this case of gender discrimination against a man, Charles E. Moritz, who is taking care of his invalid mother, to convince the judges on the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, to break with long tradition and rule for gender equality. The judges realize that in accepting Ginsburg’s logical argument, they are ruling against what they and most men of their day believed, that men working and women staying home was, ‘the natural state of things.’
‘On The Basis Of Sex‘ makes this first successful case for Ginsburg, it’s center, because it is truly the beginning of her long and relentless career as a champion for equal rights for women. I use the word relentless, in an admiring way, because only a person as unrelenting as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, could have continually chipped away at the multitude of laws denying equal rights to women. And today at 85, on the Supreme Court, the notorious RBG is still at it, though today, she and her liberal colleagues are just trying to hold onto rights for women, blacks, transgenders and other minorities, which had been earned and now are under assault again.
That’s one more reason to see, ‘One The Basis Of Sex.’ Not only do we all need to be reminded of how new and hard fought for our rights are, but also, how easily they can still be taken away. We still need Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and every equal rights activist that she inspires! Make sure to see, ‘On The Basis Of Sex,’ opening Christmas Day.