Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: a Life by Jane Sherron De Hart

My Aunt Diane and I have a tradition of exchanging books as holiday gifts. This year I was delighted to receive the new biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Jane Sherron De Hart. When RBG joined the Supreme Court as the second female justice, I was one of few women studying Political Science at M.I.T. In the new Millenium, M.I.T. has worked to correct its gender bias and the Supreme Court has increased female representation, however Roe v. Wade is under direct attack. Why now? The answer can be found in De Hart's biography of the person who has devoted her life to gender equality.

Ruth was born to impoverished Jewish immigrants and needed a scholarship to get to college. Even though Ruth graduated first at Columbia Law School (tying with a man), she faced double discrimination as a Jew and as a working mother. No corporate law firm would offer her a job. A judge only agreed to hire her as his clerk when a Columbia Law professor promised that a male classmate would take Ruth's place if she failed.

Ruth found a more welcoming work environment in academia and at the ACLU. To promote equality as a gender-neutral concept, Ruth often argued cases representing men in traditional female roles such as dependent widowed caregivers in Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld. In winning this Supreme Court case unanimously in 1975, she created legal precedent to protect women from discrimination as well. The goal of feminism is gender equality, which is no more radical than civil rights. Although Ruth was a successful lawyer, she realized that she would be more effective on the other side of the bench. Having a like-minded husband, who was willing to help with childcare and do all the cooking, allowed her to pursue her dream.

Photo via Wikipedia
In 1993 Ruth Bader Ginsburg was considered a moderate judge when President Bill Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court, but now she is considered a liberal. De Hart makes a convincing argument that RBG's legal views have remained consistent while the Court has shifted conservative, contrary to the more liberal population. Her biography was published before the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh and the avalanche of state laws banning abortion, but the author predicted this attack on women's rights. As the Court swings, RBG remains the steady voice of reason. Her genius was in building consensus and reframing legal questions to get more progressive rulings. May she keep ruling!

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: a Life is not a fast read, unless you are my mother, who devoured my gift in under a week while recovering from back surgery. At 723 pages (150 of those are endnotes) it was too heavy to hold for long or to carry in a handbag. For months, I read a section every night before bed. Although written for the general reader, the style is more academic than commercial, but RBG's personal story humanized the text. I related to her struggles as a working mom and as a Jew, but sometimes De Hart's prose became a bit too flowery when recounting personal details as if the author was more comfortable with summarizing legal briefs. RBG is a few years older than my mother, and reading this biography brought home how much the world has changed in their lifetime and how grateful I am for their generation (my mom was at Smith College with Gloria Steinem) who fought for the rights that are now under threat once again. Read this New York Times bestseller book and be inspired to keep fighting for gender equality.

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@Barrie Summy


Barrie said...

Love the last line of the first paragraph of your review! I was hooked! It's amazing to think how much life has changed for women even just since our mothers' generation. Which makes it all the more crazy and scary to see things moving backwards. RBG has accomplished a lot in her lifetime. Wouldn't you love to sit down for a coffee and a chat with her? Thank you for reviewing.

Lucy said...

Like you said, may she keep ruling! Great review. Thanks!

Jenn Jilks said...

She is an amazing woman. A great review.
We have so much to learn from biographies. My mom worked from the time I was 5. It's quite the journey.

troutbirder said...

Definitely going on my TBR list. An amazing woman in many respect. Witty and charming beyond all thee acomplishments and a true love story as well. I can't wait to delve in.... Thanks Sarah.

Phyllis Wheeler said...

I have a lot of respect for Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Glad to learn more about her. Thanks for sharing!

Powell River Books said...

I will check this book out based on your review. It takes me a long time to finish a book, but my dad was the exact opposite. He read a book a night before bed. There was always a stack of four or five books waiting. He was a high school assistant principal and read every new book that came into the library before it went on the shelf. He did enjoy detective stories and his last book was "The Plains of Passage" by Jean Auel. We often shared book and it was a poignant experience to read this one after his passing. - Margy

cynthia said...

Didn't even know this book was out there. I've read some good biographies over the years--Geraldine Ferraro and Madeline Albright. This sounds like another good one. A section a night definitely the way to go. Thanks for the review.

Linda McLaughlin said...

I so admire Ruth Bader Ginsburg. May she live forever!

I have a 92-year-old friend, another feminist, and oh, the changes she's seen in her lifetime. How sad that we're forced to fight old battles over and over again!

thecuecard said...

Yeah I'm an RBG fan and have liked a couple of the movies about her life. Is this an authorized biography of her? ... meaning did RBG give her time & blessing to the author? I heard this one was a bit dense or academic in style .... congrats making your way thru it.

Sarah Laurence said...

Cue, yes I believe it was the first authorized biography of RBG. The author conducted several interviews with her and family. It was dense and academic but still quite accessible.

All, thanks for your enthusiastic comments.

Barrie, a belated thanks for hosting. I would love to meet RBG in person. She's my hero.

Margy, I'm sorry for your loss. I'm share you enjoyed sharing books with your dad as much as I enjoy sharing books with my mother. I'm sure that's a big part of the reason you and I are both avid readers.