The digital world does not discriminate in where it finds humor and hope, so it’s no surprise Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a feminist icon turned pop culture phenomenon. Deconstructing a judicial figure for the social media age lets us see our optimism as something tangible.
Dolls, pins, digital illustrations, “Parks and Recreation” references, “Saturday Night Live” sketches, baby Halloween costumes — all for a member of the Supreme Court of the United States. It’s almost as if millennials were parodying themselves by popularizing the “Notorious RBG” iconography, in reference to the late, infamous New York rapper the Notorious B.I.G.
Despite the oversaturation of memes and commodification of an honorable government official, I smile remembering the time I saw a RBG doll at a Paper Source. It was hard not to feel inspired by photos of an 80-something woman who beat cancer multiple times, doing planks. In a period overwrought by capitalistic gloom and white supremacy evil, RBG was our lighthouse. Due pessimism could not overshadow the fact that an aging woman was willing to commit her final years to work so that my generation might retain their freedoms.
It wasn’t until my senior year in college that I really became familiar with Ginsburg. I attended Arizona State University’s journalism school, and took a class that focused on the First Amendment. One day my professor mentioned Ginsburg and how she was known for her dissents. I started to clue more into Ginsburg. It turns out I owed her a lot for the ability to exist as an ambitious young woman. Without Ginsburg, I may not have the bodily autonomy or legal jurisdiction that allows a person to build a career.
Ginsburg’s career highlights include writing the opinion that allowed women to attend the Virginia Military Institute, voting to strike down laws banning same-sex marriage and helping save the Affordable Care Act. She is likely most known for her work on Reed v. Reed. The language she introduced in the case’s brief was used in the court’s opinion: “To give a mandatory preference to members of either sex over members of the other… is to make the very kind of arbitrary legislative choice forbidden by the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment … the choice in this context may not lawfully be mandated solely on the basis of sex.”
The gratitude I felt for Ginsburg shattered quickly as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed hours after her death that the Senate would not delay in voting for her replacement. The loss of Ginsburg is to mourn more than just one of the greats in our justice system. Many of us know that the future our parents promised us is not going to happen. Unfortunately, Ginsburg’s death endangers our access to basic needs and rights even further. Reproductive rights, voting rights, healthcare, discrimination protections and more are at stake. With the loss of an icon like RBG, young people, a traditionally unreliable demographic, might make waves at the polls.
In moving forward, I choose to embody Ginsburg. “Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s possibility to persuade,” she once wrote in the New York Times. That, coupled with rigorous civic engagement and a whole lot of optimism, might just save us all.