The Gustavian Weekly

Respecting a Lost Leader - The Gustavian Weekly

By Emily Seppelt - Opinion Columnist | September 25, 2020 | Opinion

We should all be thanking Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) right now. And we definitely should have been thanking her before her death. The way that American women move through the world is radically different than the way they did over fifty years ago. While five decades may seem like quite a long time ago, consider the fact that you are only one generation away from an America where, according to National Public Radio (NPR), a woman couldn’t open her own credit account or serve on a jury. Birth control had only relatively recently been available to the public, and it was not only an unreliable method, but was often harmful to a woman’s health. This is the world that our grandmothers inhabited.
Both as a lawyer and later as a federal judge, RBG put in huge amounts of work to make independence acceptable for women across the nation. As a Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies Major and long-time feminist, it is astonishing to me that more women, no matter their political leanings, aren’t aware of just how much American women have gained in the last half-century. This is why it is so important that we teach young women and girls the history of their gender, and present them with female role models who show just how far a woman can get if she pursues her goals.
Although thousands of obituaries and outpourings of grief and love have come out in the days since RBG’s death, people have also used her death as an opportunity to point out what she didn’t do, what she voted against and certain controversial opinions that she shared over her lifetime of working in the judicial field. I, of course, encourage this dialogue. It is false that every hero or leader from a social movement did everything right or held all the beliefs that are essential to us today.
What I disagree with, however, is the use of this period of mourning as an opportunity to lash out against the person that RBG was or what she stood for. There is a time and a place to criticize and think analytically about the mistakes of our leaders. Was RBG perfect? No. Did she stand for ideals and share opinions that we now consider problematic? Of course. But does that mean that she doesn’t deserve the reverence and respect that someone who worked so hard for women’s rights deserves? I would say no.
The sudden appearance of these critics of RBG immediately after her passing is interesting to me. I wonder why these concerns weren’t shared when she was still alive. It would have been a much more interesting and productive conversation if RBG had been allowed to participate.
Out of respect for all the women who worked alongside RBG to forward women’s issues, the millions of women whose lives were changed by RBG and her peers, and RBG herself, there should’ve been a grace period to allow the nation as a whole to grieve the loss of a historic leader.
To come back to my argument about the need for more female role models, doing things like this (“discrediting” a leader soon after their death) may send a message to young girls or women who aren’t familiar with RBG’s work or women’s issues that RBG is not someone to revere or study. In my opinion, this is a dangerous possibility that could prevent some women from engaging with or truly understanding feminism and women’s history in America.
I would encourage you as a reader to go out and attempt to understand the entirety of a person’s character‒instead of the one part that is presented to you without context. We become better citizens when we do the research to understand important figures ourselves, rather than allowing others to do the research for us and hand us ready-made conclusions about others. RBG’s body of work is an impressive, complex and interesting one, and learning about her successes and failures is something we all should do. But first, we should let ourselves and the people around us mourn our loss. May her memory be a blessing.

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