Gloria Steinem has called her “the closest thing to a superhero I know.” Her childhood friends called her “kicky.” Lilly Ledbetter, the eponym of 2009’s Fair Pay Act, says, “She may be small, but she’s got a firm backbone.” Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the subject of a new documentary, “RBG,” that looks back over the life of the diminutive, 85-year-old justice.
Here are some of the things we learn about the Brooklyn native.
- She attended Cornell University as an undergraduate at a time when there was a quota: four men for every woman. “My first semester at Cornell,” she says, “I never went on a repeat date.” She met her future husband, Marty, there, and the two married at the end of college.
- At Harvard Law School in the 1950s, she was one of nine women in a class of more than 500 men. The dean had a dinner for first-year women, she says, and “he asked each of us what we thought we were doing, taking a seat that could be occupied by a man.”
- When she argued her first case in front of the Supreme Court, 1973’s Frontiero v. Richardson, she said, “I knew that I was speaking to men who didn’t think there was any such thing as gender-based discrimination, and my job was to tell them it really exists.”
- She is a horrible cook. “My father did the cooking and my mother did the thinking,” her daughter, Jane, jokes. “To this day,” son James says, “I can’t eat swordfish after what she did to it.” Marty confirms this: “Ruth is no longer permitted in the kitchen, by the demand of our children, who have taste.”
- People send her collars to wear with her Supreme Court robes. A lacy white one, from law clerks at the University of Hawaii, includes beads from the beach and is the one she uses to announce majority opinions. Another, with sparkly black beading, is what she wears to announce dissenting opinions.
- She likes the recent nickname “Notorious RBG.” When asked if she was uncomfortable being compared to a rapper, she said, “Why should I feel uncomfortable? We have a lot in common. First and foremost, we were both born and bred in Brooklyn.” She has been known to give “Notorious RBG” shirts as gifts.
- She thinks Kate McKinnon’s portrayal of her on “Saturday Night Live” is “marvelously funny.” Asked if she thought it was anything like her, she says, “Not one bit. Except for the collar.”
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