Section: Opinion

How young women are navigating a post-RBG America

How young women are navigating a post-RBG America

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a hero for many young women. | LEICA D-LUX VIA FLICKR

It’s normal to grieve your heroes, but, for many, the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is uniquely difficult to process. The resounding “What do we do now?” that dominated the news cycle following Ginsburg’s death complicated a national tragedy that, for a lot of young women, is also distinctly personal.

We are a generation of girls who grew up idolizing RBG. To us, she was more than a role model — she embodied what women are capable of. In her remarkable career, Ginsburg defended a woman’s right to a safe abortion in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, and her right to attend any public university in United States v. Virginia. She fought to end sex-based wage discrimination in Ledbetter v. Goodyear.

Ginsburg’s career directly impacted many of our lives, as did her presence as the second woman to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) and her bold, dissenting rhetoric, which have empowered countless women to advocate for themselves. 

Mourning RBG as a young woman is multidimensional. There’s a sense of being stranded, left with no anchor and no control over what happens to our country. There’s the understanding of our political misfortune. A president who represents everything RBG fought against has nominated a conservative judge to fill her SCOTUS seat. Her dying wish was to not be replaced until after the upcoming election. And, of course, there’s the task of sifting through emotions and hopes, and wondering what to do with “Notorious RBG” stickers and T-shirts. 

At the same time, it’s crucial to acknowledge that RBG was flawed, not only in her own missteps but in the errors of white feminists who idolized her. In Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation, for instance, Ginsberg wrote the majority opinion that refused to grant the indigenous tribe sovereignty over their land. Even if she were perfect, ascribing all of feminism’s accomplishments to her wouldn’t be right or honest. She was one leader among many. We follow her example, but we should also learn from her mistakes. And we should direct our attention toward other women, especially BIPOC women, who propelled the women’s movement forward with equal brilliance and dedication, and continue to do so. 

A collective moment of mourning has the potential to bring people together. Women are generally discouraged from standing up for themselves and asserting their authority. Ruth Bader Ginsburg never accepted this norm: She spent her life and career advocating for herself and women in general. It’s what made her a great Justice, and what made her such an icon. In this overwhelming historical moment, all voices are needed. Women’s voices — especially those of BIPOC women — are needed. We can’t give in to hopelessness. Instead, we can let the shock of losing Ginsburg, and the security she represented, motivate us to follow her example like never before. 

Many of us will probably remember where we were when we heard the news for the rest of our lives. Later that evening, my friends and I shared stories. Sitting in their suite, I scrolled through Instagram, and held up every picture of Ginsburg I saw for them to see. Most were the confident Supreme Court justice we’re all familiar with. Some showed a serious, pensive college student, not much older than we are now.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg reminded me that women’s rights are not a secondary issue. Women are still patronized and discriminated against constantly: in our homes, workplaces and in politics. We always have been. However, those pictures of a 20-something-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg, fighting her way through an elite college and law school that did not welcome her, remind me how far we’ve come. They replace the frustration and sadness with something else: a deep instinct not to let anyone undo her work or undermine her legacy.

May her memory be a blessing, like her life was. What happens next is on us.

Grace Goldstein ’24 is an undeclared major from New York, N.Y. You can contact her at goldstein4@kenyon.edu.

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