Movie cover: On the Basis of Sex
If you’ve been paying attention, you might have heard of Ruth Bader Ginsburg or RBG. If not known for tying for first in law school, being one in nine women of a class of 500 in Harvard, and of course, the lead counsel for the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, then you must have at least heard of her from the upcoming biopic movie, On the Basis of Sex. Written by her own nephew, Daniel Stiepleman, the movie covers a span of 15 years, following RBG through her journey and struggles that not only she faced but half of the population during that time. In the movie, she fights the legal system that discriminates on the basis of sex.
Left: Felicity Jones
Right: Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Using the seemingly perfect court case that prevents an individual tax reductions because he is a man instead of the usual discrimination against a women, Ginsburg draws attention to the lack of equality between the sexes. She realizes that as long as she uses examples of women based discrimination, she will get no where in the misogynistic lead legal system, but by drawing attention to the unequal rights that men have too, might get her a foot in the door. It’s important to note that this movie is about the fight for equal rights, not just women empowerment and RBG tries to explain this to the judges.
The trailers for this movie end with a scene where the judge states “The word ‘women’ does not appear even once in the U.S. Constitution,” and RBG (played by Felicity Jones) retaliates “Nor does the word ‘freedom,’ your honor.” Mike drop and the movie fades to the title card.
However, there has been a glaring issue. The word ‘freedom’ does appear in The U.S. Constitution, in the first amendment in fact. This can’t be a clumsy made error on the part of Stiepleman, can it? Spoiler: it’s not a mistake and is intentionally written in the script, though the line requires the whole scene to be played out to give more context.
According to Steipleman from the article (which can be found here) “Ruth is citing the text of the Constitution, as ratified without the Bill of Rights.” It follows the logic that un-amended, the Constitution does not mention ‘freedom’ but once the flaw was realized and rectified then it did include the word. The same reasoning is used in the court by RBG to the judge, explaining that women must be included “in order to form a more perfect union.”
Aside from the success story of RBG, though at some moments, it might not seem so, the movie also beautifully weaves in the love story between Mr. and Mrs. Ginsburg. Both lawyers, originally from Harvard have a surprisingly equal dynamic marriage given the times, however, maybe it shouldn’t come to a surprise given he is married to Ruth.
The first part of the movie introduces the young love between “Kiki” (Ruth Ginsburg) and “Marty” (Martin Ginsburg) where Ruth followed Martin to Harvard, a year behind him in law school. Ruth took the disbelief a woman could excel at law school and proved her professors and dean wrong. Not only being a mother and a wife did she succeed in her class, but she was able to go to Martin’s classes when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
After recovering, she followed him to New York and finished up her final year at Columbia. However, despite being an esteemed lawyer, she was unable to find a single job, where as Marty was already concentrating on making partner at one of the city’s top tax law firms. In the majority of the movie, it shows Ruth doing most of the work at home, taking care of the family and home.
Flash forward with her eldest Jane now fifteen and another baby, James, born, the women’s movement is in full swing. Ruth begins to take charge, and Marty seeing the importance of this, they switch roles easily.
At the premiere, co-director Cohen spoke of the marriage and partnership of the Ginsburgs. “You know, Marty Ginsburg and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s marriage would be extraordinary by today’s standards,” Cohen said. “It’s almost hard to imagine a relationship like that starting in the 1950s.”
The movie touches upon one of the most well-known women not only in the 70’s who helped shape history, but continues to spread her influence today. It also reveals hidden dynamics of the Ginsburg marriage, family and personal struggles. This is truly the movie to see later this December whether you come in to see the shaping of a living legend, a sweet love story or a historical movement that affects the lives of half the population today.