With the controversial confirmation of the GOP-elected Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court, the far right is in a position to not just halt but reverse progress for women’s bodily autonomy, along with every gain we’ve made for civil, LGBTIQ, and women’s rights since the 1960s.
This makes Ruth Bader Ginsburg—the legendary justice of the Supreme Court who has fought for these rights decade after decade—even more vital for all women and minorities.
It also sharpens her role in popular culture. Already, a celebrated Tumblr account has dubbed her “The Notorious RBG,” with tag lines like “you can’t spell truth without Ruth.” The Brooklyn native has been the star of a popular documentary RBG, hilariously (and lovingly) spoofed by Kate McKinnon on Saturday Night Live, and is the subject of the recently released film On The Basis of Sex starring Felicity Jones as the iconic Supreme Court justice.
In fact, the 85-year-old RBG has become so popular that it’s difficult for her to even go out in public without having her photo snapped. Her explosion of fandom is a welcome one—the more people that know RBG’s name the more we can all learn from her example as being a tireless advocate for justice.
“Bader Ginsburg is indeed the closest thing that we have to a modern-day superhero. But do we have to commodify her life’s work?”
But RBG’s popularity has also spawned hawkers using her face and name to sell goods that vary from cheap-looking necklaces modeled after her infamous dissent collar, garish t-shirts with the tagline “Ruth Bader Ginsburg Is My Spirit Animal,” and even a Notorious RBG-edition bra with the phrase, “When there are nine” embroidered on the side as a nod to Justice Ginsburg’s statement about when there will be enough women judges on the Supreme Court bench.
We love RBG—and that should be celebrated. As Gloria Steinem rightly noted in the RBG documentary, Bader Ginsburg is the closest thing that we have to a modern-day superhero. But do we have to commodify her life’s work? This eye-rolling t-shirt and jewelry merch smacks of the annoying pseudo-activism that runs so rampant on the internet.
As Cady Drell writes in Marie Claire, ““Nevertheless, she persisted” has basically become the “Live, Laugh, Love” of performative feminism, the problematic nature of pussy hats has probably outlived any usefulness they ever had, and do not even get me started on the word “feminism” as a fashion statement.” Add RBG merch to that list, please.
“At its worst, wearing RBG ‘swag’ is performative activism but it also actually takes away from doing the work that Justice Ginsburg needs us to do.”
At its worst, wearing RBG “swag” is performative activism but it also actually takes away from doing the work that Justice Ginsburg needs us to do. The rolling-up-our-sleeves act of organizing, making phone calls, connecting with senators and local legislators, and calling them out for change. Instead of buying that super cute RBG mug or button why not get together with other women and start a reading and discussion group to keep yourselves informed with current events? Dame Magazine, Ann Friedman Weekly’s newsletter, and tuning into the New York Times podcast The Daily, are all good places to start.
You can also check and see if there’s local activist groups in your area: Solidarity Sundays, for example, is a grassroots nationwide network of more than 100 feminist groups that as its website states is “focused is on resisting the current (un)American administration,” and other human inequities. If you don’t have a chapter near you, they have tools for you to start your own. Other worthy groups that you can join, volunteer, or donate to include UltraViolet, the National Organization for Women, The Resurgent Left, and Campaign Zero.
Now is an urgent time as ever to channel RBG’s message. Which—as the Los Angeles Skirball Cultural Center that currently has a museum show devoted to the legal star states—is “work hard, stay the course, things will be difficult, but that doesn’t mean they’re hopeless.”