The Notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Her Feminist Legacy of Dissent

I woke up to the news of the passing on of United States’ Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the age of 87 after waging a long battle with pancreatic cancer. She was surrounded by family. One of the last questions weighing on her mind was the vacancy she would leave behind and expressed the wish that the vacancy should be filled only after the new President is elected. From today onwards all news publications, op-eds and all other forms of will refer to her in the past.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg or RBG, as most knew her, may be dead but she will always be present. I am more interested in the life she led, examples she set, the movements she continues to inspire and even in the umpteen jackets and cell phone covers that have been created in her popular culture avatar Notorious RBG.  She continues to be is in every dissent that is written when opposing a conservative judgement, in every woman who aspires to fight for equality and for their right to be on the decision making table. At 87,  RBG was the rare figure who was able to cut across the generational divide, inspiring millions of young people through her commitment to equality and her sheer persistence.

I first stumbled upon RBG when I was spending sleepless nights over whether to pursue law. Reading about her life was electrifying because her achievements are monumental and it shines light on what is possible. As a young lawyer eager to make her mark in the profession, RBG’s life gives the courage to aspire for doors to open that have stayed shut for women. Currently as we have two female judges in Supreme Court of India, RBG tells you it is possible to break into male dominated spaces and promptly leave your mark. Today, as a law student one of the primary aspects that weighs on my mind is how can we make law and legal practices more feminist? In what ways has the law failed us or maybe even pushed back feminist movements? While there may be many examples, I would like to shine some light upon the Me Too Movement.

The Dissent Collar and her Legacy

Justice Ginsburg was famous for her dissent collars that she wore on her robe to state that she did not support the majority opinion. See the white one in the post below.


In a world and judicial systems where dissent has grave consequences, she took stances and took them without fearing consequences. Because let’s face there are always consequences for dissenting against power especially when the nature of power continues to be patriarchal and masculine. Some prices are worth paying and battles worth waging because they are important to fight even without the guarantee of a win. Law students continue to be inspired by her feminist legacy. “She fought for women’s rights at a time when women were never thought to be in the field of law. Her statement “I ask no favour for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks,” shows she truly believed in women’s right as well as in their capabilities to be anything” says Simi Zackariah, law student at Karnataka State Law University.

Also Read: Father Must Maintain Unmarried Hindu Daughter says Supreme Court

The legacy of Justice Ginsburg continues to echo through the feminist movements. “I saw her movie, On the Basis of Sex and it inspired me to stay on the path of making a change and build an equal world where women hold power. She published her book My Own Words in 2016 and it is kept on my table while I am writing this and mourning” says Anchal Goswami who identifies as a radical feminist and will pursue a PhD in Woman’s studies.

Goswami  further adds, “I have her quote pasted on my wall that inspires me every day- “Fight for the things that you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” She gave me reasons to fight for equality and women’s rights. She was awarded the Liberty Medal on 17th September 2020 and left us with hope and courage the next day”.

As we continue to remember and celebrate Justice Ginsburg her legal legacy is a valuable tool in the feminist movements quest for justice. Constitutional law professor and feminist Moses Raj says, “Apart from her many opinions, her social activism for women’s rights has been no less of a truth and reconciliation movement. Her judicial memory will linger on for times to come and inspire scores of law students and practitioners”.

Also Read: Letter Seeks NHRC’s Intervention In Detention Of Women Activists

Are We in a Post #MeToo World Yet?

If the hashtag MeToo was trending when Justice Ginsburg went to law school she would have broken Twitter. However, Justice Ginsburg fought for a seat at the table when women were not even allowed in the room. Namita Bhandare in her essay The Beast on our Midst in the anthology titled Sex and Supreme Court writes, “The Constitution grants to women the right to work and the right to privacy and autonomy as a citizen. But on the ground there is a struggle for just a seat on the table”. The movement caused a storm in power centres because it named men who held and continue to hold powerful positions.

Why It Matters?

I am personally impacted by her death. As an aspiring lawyer and feminist I am not alone in my mourning. But along with mourning this icon I feel hope at her legacy. She asks of every generation of women to wear their metaphorical and literal dissent collars. She has inspired generations of women all across the world to break open doors, aspire and ask for more and, to sit on tables where decisions are being made. While the world mourns her let us remember that Ruth is as she always will be.