News & Resources

Publications & Media

How to Be a Lady in 2018

Joy Johns

“My mother told me to be a lady, and for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.”

This is one of my favorite quotes from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. March is Women’s History Month, so it’s fitting that the first trailer for a documentary centered around the life of RBG debuted on March 7th. Just watching the 30 second trailer, you are instantly reminded of why this woman is a trailblazer and a forever icon.

In 1872, the very court on which Justice Ginsburg sits—the United States Supreme Court— affirmed a decision from the Supreme Court of Illinois that denied Myra Bradwell admission to the state bar. The Court decided that “the paramount destiny and mission of women are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator. And the rules of civil society must be adapted to the general constitution of things, and cannot be based upon exceptional cases.” Bradwell v. Illinois, 83 U.S. 130, 141-42 (1873). “Notorious RBG,” as she is affectionately called, became an attorney when there were still laws in existence in the United States that discriminated against women. While Justice Ginsburg was at Harvard Law School, she was one of nine women in a class of five hundred. She was constantly questioned and discriminated against for her gender and Jewish heritage. Nevertheless, she persisted.

Though our country has a dark past of discrimination, it is encouraging to see the strength and diversity of the American spirit in the unlikely heroes who emerge throughout history. The same spark that ignited the fire in RBG can be found in the women of the #MeToo movement; in Emma Gonzales, the high school senior from Parkland, FL who spoke out about gun violence; in the hundreds of thousands of women who marched in the recent women’s marches all over the world; and in each of us continuing the fight for justice in our own way.

There are many widely differing perceptions of what a “lady” or “femininity” should be in today’s world, but we have to remember that those who came before us did not follow the mold. They were pioneers and innovators who created their own paths and rewrote history. Our voices are louder now than ever before. More women are running for office, starting grassroots movements, and simply just being heard.

We have a long road ahead. The gender pay gap still exists in 2018, women of color are still marginalized, but we are moving in the right direction, and swiftly. I encourage you to keep forging new paths for others to follow. Be one of those unlikely heroes that re-writes history. Ask yourself every day, “WWRBGD?: What would Ruth Bader Ginsburg do?”