In these days when comic book heroes are all the rage, it is refreshing to watch a film about a real life shero who fights for "truth, justice, and the American way."
“On the Basis of Sex” stars Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Sam Waterston, Kathy Bates, Cailee Spaeny. The movie is directed by Mimi Leder, from a screenplay by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's nephew Daniel Stiepleman about her life and career. “On the Basis of Sex” highlights the obstacles and blatant discrimination aspiring female professionals faced 60 years ago and how Ginsburg's persistence broke barriers. In doing so, she shattered glass ceilings for other women to also do the work that makes progress for our community. Sixty years later we may be near the beginning of Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), where equal pay for equal work is ratified by the Virginia General Assembly. There is so much more work to be done.
The movie begins after Ruth and her husband Marty are both enrolled in Harvard Law School when Marty suffers a medical emergency. During his recovery, Ruth attends his classes for him, in addition to her own. Later, despite graduating at the top of her class, Ruth finds herself being turned away from a dozen law firms because she's a woman.
There were aspects throughout the movie that I could relate to because I have experienced discrimination on the basis of my race and my gender. One scene showed a professor look right at Ruth, who had the correct answer, and then call on a male student who didn't have the right answer, mimicking my experiences with discrimination. I'm sure many women, especially Black women, in the audience related to all the instances of not having their work acknowledged.
I have experienced many of the same instances of discrimination as Ginsburg, as early as elementary school. On my first robotics team, I would receive negative attention or no attention at all from my coaches unlike my White counterparts. Another robotics team even attempted to prevent me from being a programmer because of the intersection of my race and my gender. I have been isolated, called lazy, a communist, and asked if I had a learning disability when I would get confused. When I asked out of frustration why my White counterparts had been receiving credit for my work, my coaches accused me of being ungracious and acting out. Like Ginsburg, I decided to shatter glass ceilings for Black girls by helping to launch a coding program in a predominantly Black neighborhood.
“Womanist is to feminist, as purple is to lavender.” - Alice Walker
We need to regard what ratifying the ERA means for the Black girls, Black women and other women and girls of color. When we discuss the gender pay gap, we are often told that for every dollar a man makes, women make seventy-seven cents. In reality, it's White women who make seventy-seven cents for every dollar a White man makes. According to the American Association of University Women, Black women make sixty-four cents, Native American women make fifty-nine cents, and Latinx women make fifty-four cents, for every seventy-seven cents a White woman makes.
Being intersectional starts with acknowledging how the way a White woman experiences misogyny is different from how Black women and other women of color experience misogyny. There is also a need to acknowledge how Black women and other women of color, and the LGBTQ+ community have been excluded from the fight for gender equality, the women’s suffrage movement in particular. Alice Walker describes a womanist as a Black feminist, or a feminist of color, and includes women who love other women, sexually or non-sexually. She coined the term womanist in response to anti-Black racism in the feminist movement and misogyny within the fight for Black empowerment. Acknowledging the identities of Black folks, other folks of color, especially LGBTQ+ and gender non-conforming people is an important step to take in the fight for equality.
Stephanie Younger is a 16-year-old Black student activist, organizer and writer who advocates for womanism, diversity in STEAM, the abolition of youth prisons and community nonviolence.