My little girl has always been defiant, yet respectful. She’s opinionated, witty, and undeterred from any goal, plan, or scheme she sets out to pursue. She can wear down even the most hardened of resolves, with well-formed arguments and logical persuasions. She’s a lawyer in the making.
Rather than dampen that argumentative and determined spirit to fit within the bounds of responsible parenting, we hope to shape it using strong role models. So, we fill her bookshelf and Netflix queue with as many “Sheroes” as we can — including icons like Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart, and the Notorious RBG.
Two years ago, she chose to portray Justice Ginsburg in her school’s third grade Living Wax Museum. In a room full of Betsy Rosses and Babe Ruths, Hannah stood off to the far side as the sole, small, defiant RBG. She refused to break role even for a hug after her speech — completely dedicated to her assignment.
When I told her of Ruth’s passing the morning after we lost her, she still had most of her speech memorized. The importance of her death was not lost to my 10-year-old. Over the following days and weeks, we’ve had many conversations and reflections about the legacy of RBG, and the work left for us to pick up. I often pair these conversations with an embarrassing serenade of Hamilton’s “Dear Theodosia”; specifically, this refrain of hope:
If we lay a strong enough foundation
We’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you
And you’ll blow us all away
The foundation is laid, now we must make sure to pass it on. Here are eight lessons I hope to pass along to my daughter from the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Representation is vital and always worth fighting for.
“Women should be in all places where decisions are being made.” Yes, Ruth, yes. It is imperative to make sure that every perspective is heard and respected, and that is impossible to do without diversity of thought and experiences. I want my daughter to not only recognize imbalances of opinions but to seek out and welcome those on the margins — on the playground, a boardroom, elected office, or even Supreme Court bench.
Even if you’re the only one standing for what’s right, know that you can pave the way for others.
Have unrealistic expectations.
Justice Ginsburg herself recognized early in her life that becoming a judge as a woman was an “unrealistic expectation” but that didn’t deter her pursuit of advancing her career to its apex. Instead of being dismayed by cultural standards of the day, she set her sights on fairness and equality and never let the fact that she was the first, or only, limit her ambition.
Dream big, baby girl — don’t ever let the world dictate to you what’s possible.
Dissent respectfully and befriend the other.
Ginsburg is famously quoted as stating, “you can disagree without being disagreeable.” She’s also known for being friends with Justice Antonin Scalia, whose opinions and interpretations of the law often wildly opposed her own. I want my daughter to learn how to hold space for disagreement, discourse, and acceptance of “the other” in all aspects of her life — without losing sight of what she believes in and speaking up with respect and dignity.
Always remember that everyone is going through something.
Don’t ever be afraid to be yourself.
RBG’s small stature, demure presence, and unapologetically feminine attire was her own personal statement on inclusion. She didn’t attempt to earn admission to the “boys club” by becoming more masculine or conforming to a “safer” version of herself. She changed nothing, and steadily let her work speak to her deservedness. “My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.”
Occupy all spaces with power and authenticity, sweetheart.
Be steadfast in your efforts and mindful of balance.
RBG set such a stellar example of resiliency. Decades of fighting cases centered around equality brought forth some huge wins, but also many defeats. This didn’t deter her efforts or weaken her resolve. With each dissent on cases she lost, or opinions on those she won, she was able to push the narrative ever forward. To find the stamina for a career that spanned her lifetime, she set aside time for things that made her happy, found balance, and took care of her body. She once said, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”
The world will tell you that failure and setbacks aren’t ok. They’re lying. Always keep fighting for what you care about and learn when you fall short.
Choose your battles, and your words, wisely.
“Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.” We’re living in an age of noise and outrage, and are slowly losing the ability to debate respectfully and “argue” a point with impact. Some battles are worth fighting, but others won’t conclude in agreement or progress–no matter how right one is. I want my daughter to know when to speak, when to yell, and when to seek out better words.
But remember, always “speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.”
Have both brazen confidence and humility.
When asked why she chose to pursue law, RBG replied, “I became a lawyer for selfish reasons. I thought I could do a lawyer’s job better than any other.” And she was correct. There’s no shame in knowing who you are, what you’re good at, and that you deserve to pursue your dream. Her confidence didn’t grant her a free pass to success though, her curiosity and diligence did that.
Your confidence will be intimidating to some people. Don’t ever let their insecurities tempt you to become smaller.
Know that you are worthy of respect and admiration.
I want my daughter to know that she deserves nothing less than a partner that emphatically and sacrificially supports her. Ruth credits her late spouse, Marty, with unwavering support for her career, and adoration of her mind. “Whatever we do, we do it together.” I want my daughter to likewise only accept equality in a partner.
Find you a Marty, girl. Or, better yet, find someone like daddy.
What my daughter ultimately takes with her from my attempts to bestow some RBG wisdom to her, is yet to be seen. But when I asked her what she admired most about Justice Ginsburg, she wrote this:
Ruth Bader Ginsberg inspires me because she never gave up, and stood up for what she believes in. She famously said, “Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” I think this means that you should fight for things you believe in, but don’t hurt others in the process. – Hannah Artis, 10
And you’ll blow us all away.
Ruth, parents of daughters — and sons — everywhere are thankful for the legacy that you leave behind.
Rest in Power.