Let me start by saying I have been proudly (and loudly) calling myself a feminist since 1995 – long before it was trendy to do so. Sod the men (and women) who thought that made me whatever it was they thought feminists were. I attended a small women’s college in the US, where women’s studies classes were the order of the day, Hillary Clinton was god, and in my not-so-spare time I even started a petition against the (still alive, I might add) Versace ads for their portrayal of women as dumb, vacant and oversexualised. Those were the days!
I didn’t, however, know all that much about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had only just taken the oath of office of the US Supreme Court (the second of four women ever to do so) less than two years previously. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really know all that much about the women’s movement as a whole… by the time I was born in 1975, Ginsburg was already blazing a trail for women’s rights in the courts, changing laws that discriminated on the basis of sex, so while we still had a long way to go, I never personally experienced some of those discriminations she fought to eradicate. Lucky me.
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Also on my side was a mother who encouraged her daughters to seek careers that would give them financial independence and a lifetime of joy and satisfaction. So stories from friends whose old-fashioned fathers didn’t want to “waste” their money on expensive college educations for their daughters, or who couldn’t wait ’til engagement announcements were made, baffled me.
It must be acknowledged that, while we still don’t have equal rights (or pay), the women’s movement has achieved a great deal in the last century, and while the right to vote has been celebrated with the centenary, there are countless other rights we take for granted every day that most of us don’t even realise weren’t enjoyed by our mothers and grandmothers, like taking out a credit card in our own names (not our husbands’); the right to work overtime to earn some extra cash; the right to work in certain male-dominated industries… Many of these we have Ruth Bader Ginsburg to thank for (her battles may have been fought in America, but the ripple effects eventually made their way across the globe). How wonderful, then, that her biopic has finally been made while she’s still on this earth to see it herself (in fact, she makes a wee cameo appearance).
On the Basis of Sex sees Felicity Jones star as the young Ginsburg, following her entrance into Harvard Law School, married and with a very small daughter in tow, her early career as a law professor, and right through to the landmark case that proved Ginsburg’s unmatched expertise in gender discrimination laws and started her on the path to her Supreme Court position. Her husband’s support throughout their lives together has been the stuff of legend, and Armie Hammer is the perfect Marty Ginsburg (even if they look nothing alike – this is Hollywood, after all… just go with it).
I won’t lie – there are a few “Hollywood moments” in this film, where you might wonder “did that really happen?”, but these don’t detract from the fact that this is very much an important story, and a film that will make every woman roar with delight and sit back in awe at just how amazing a human being RBG is. If 2018 was the year of the woman, 2019 might just be the year we begin to re-balance women’s representation in leading roles onscreen, and this movie is a good place to start your viewing list. Bring your friend, your partner – anyone you want to share this celebration of women with.
On the Basis of Sex, cert 12A, hits Irish cinemas February 22.
For a wider look at Ginsburg’s story, also catch RBG, an intimate documentary directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, which is still playing at the Light House Cinema, Dublin.