Ruth Bader Ginsberg, in Her Own Words

By: Caitlin Panarella

On Thursday, April 27, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg arrived on Georgetown’s campus to discuss her experiences and new book, My Own Words, with the Georgetown community.  Donning an “RBG” bag as she walked out on the stage of Gaston Hall, Justice Ginsberg was met with thunderous applause from the audience.  The two women that accompanied her onstage, Mary Hartnett and Wendy Williams, are her authorized biographers and assisted the Justice in compiling her recent book.  

All members of the audience received a copy of the book, a compilation of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s speeches, editorials, and other writings from her life’s work.  It testifies to her lifelong dedication to serving the public interest; the first work is an editorial from her middle school newspaper, in which eighth-grader Ruth discusses the then-new Charter of the United Nations.  Other chapters include her arguments against gender bias, her Rose Garden acceptance speech upon her appointment as a Justice, and dissents from Supreme Court cases. 

Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, became the second woman appointed to the role after Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.  Appointed by President Bill Clinton, she took the oath of office on August 10, 1993.  Prior to serving on the Supreme Court, she was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Colombia Circuit, worked at the American Civil Liberties Union, and taught as a college professor at Rutgers School of Law-Newark and Colombia Law School.

From the sampling of the interview’s hour and fifteen minutes, the Justice imparted wisdom to every college student, especially women, merely in the way she responded to questions.  After the moderator asked a question, Ginsberg would pause for a few moments, calling the audience to listen to what she was preparing to say.  She spoke seriously and with measure given to every word, not rushing to answer just to fill the empty space.  Her style commands respect and attention, and is worthy of emulation. 

Justice Ginsberg’s late husband, Marty Ginsberg, once said of his wife in an interview, “If you ask her a question that requires a thought-through answer she will stop, think it through and then answer it.  She has done that for the fifty-four years I have known her.  She still does it at dinner.”  

During the conversation, Justice Ginsberg spoke of her early career work as a lawyer fighting against gender bias and discrimination, in which she first had to argue that this bias harmed women rather than favored them.  The pervasive mindset and justification stood that women should not be exposed to the roughness and stress of courtrooms and politics, so it was a kindness to bar them from being jurors or occupying too much space in Congress.  They would soon be mothers, so of course they should not receive a promotion.  Their pay supplemented their husband’s, so it need not be equal to a male colleague’s.

“[They] kept her not on a pedestal, but in a cage,” Justice Ginsberg said of these gendered preconceptions.     

When asked what challenges remain for women today, she spoke of implicit gender bias, a phenomenon that she said might be even more difficult to root out.  Ginsberg’s work and advocacy brought an end to explicit laws and policies barring women from the workplace and other public spaces; the work that remains is to change laws that covertly disadvantage women and biased attitudes that inhibit their advancement.

Perhaps we can take a page out of the Justice’s book and treat certain situations with some humor.  When asked whether it was difficult or intimidating speaking to Congress about these issues, Ginsberg replied slyly, “I felt more like a kindergarten teacher than anything else.”  Armed with the knowledge of our inherent equality, women can continue Ginsberg’s work.

Justice Ginsberg not only served as a trailblazer for women in politics and the justice system, but also made it her prerogative to advance women in every field.  She exemplified what she entreated the audience to do: “see a need, and know you have a talent to respond to that need.”  In her own words, both in her book and onstage in Gaston Hall, she best summed up how far women have come and how far we still have to go.  We must continue to question the implicit mechanisms by which women are placed on pedestals and in cages, rather than accept the hand dealt to us. 



My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Checking My Western Bias

By: Katie Maher

Taking History of Women and Gender in the Middle East is one of the best decisions I’ve made at Georgetown. I used to have a lot of preconceived notions about Islam. Particularly when it came to topics surrounding the treatment of women in the Middle East, I allowed my Western bias to skew my judgment, causing me to form a negative opinion of the Islamic tradition in many ways.

Growing up in a post 9/11 society, my thoughts have been clouded by news reports of Islamic terrorism and hatred toward America. But it’s easy to forget that there are two sides to every story. This semester in my History of Women and Gender in the Middle East, I challenged my Western bias and learned a lot about the Islamic faith and Muslim culture.

Here are some misconceptions I had about Islam and the Middle East, and how reading primary sources written by Muslim women and excerpts directly from the Quran changed my opinion:

Misconception #1: Islam is an inherently violent faith.

Reality: Islam is a religion of peace and submission that stresses the sacredness of human life. A verse of the Quran states, “if anyone kills a person, it is as if he kills all mankind, while if anyone saves a life it is as if he saves the lives of all mankind” (Quran, 5:32). Those who promote violence in the name of Islam are misinterpreting the Quran to satisfy their own hateful agendas.

Misconception #2: The Qu’ran teaches the disrespect of women.

Reality: One of the most common misconceptions surrounding Islam is that women have minimal rights, and that women are innately inferior to men in the eyes of God. It’s important to recognize the difference between cultural influences and religion. Many countries around the world where Islam exists are patriarchal, with social constructs that promote male-dominated gender roles. However, Islam as a religion promotes equality amongst men and women. Islam isn’t responsible for the gender inequality that prevails in many regions dominated by Muslims. Rather, this mistreatment of women is a construct of patriarchal societies.

Misconception #3: Islam forces all Muslim women to wear the hijab.

Reality: For a majority of Muslim women, wearing a hijab is a choice. The Quran teaches women that God is always watching, and so many women cover their heads in reverence to God. Other women do so because it engenders respect and honor for women in their communities.

This is not to say that I agree with everything that I learned or read in this class. In many parts of the world, Muslim women lack education, and face oppression or denial of basic rights. However, this class gave me a better understanding of the motivations and intentions of Islam. It taught me often times the violence and aggression that exists toward women in the Middle East is a product of individuals misinterpreting Islam, which is how these misconceptions get perpetuated in the first place. I don’t claim to fully understand the complex topic of gender in the Middle East, but this class certainly expanded the way I think about gender in relation to Islam.


(I Said I’d Never Write One of These, But) An Open Letter to my All-Girls High School

By: Katie Schluth

With all due respect, my all-girls high school sucks at feminism.

… Okay, let me backtrack a little. I know that this is a widespread issue and that my high school is far from alone in this. I know that I probably should’ve said something about this while I was still a student there instead of ranting about it in a college blog post. And yes, I know that young women in other countries have it much worse than we do. The purpose of this is not to bash my high school or to discredit the education I received and lifelong friends I made there, but to highlight the importance of a girl’s high school experience in the formation of her belief system and the fact that all-girls high schools — ironically — often come up short in their discussion of women’s issues.

First and foremost, we were and are all complicit in this problem, as we failed to say anything about the subtly sexist remarks and practices we encountered and continue to dismiss and normalize them with each passing school year. I love this school and everyone I associate with it dearly, so much that I once served as its president. Perhaps that makes me even more accountable than others, as I was in a position of influence and failed to use it to shed light on the sexism so deeply ingrained in my school’s identity that it went unnoticed by me for the majority of my time there.

This past fall, I was told that my high school held a mock election during which the majority of its student body and faculty members voted for Donald Trump. Given Trump’s blatantly sexist remarks about and general disrespect for women, this was extremely discouraging to hear. How can we expect young women to be the leaders of tomorrow if they and their educators are voting for people and ideals that aim to suppress them today? Additionally, I’ve heard teachers say that sexual assault is a woman’s fault if she’s “asking for it” and witnessed several of my classmates echo this sentiment. The administration once put up a poster in the school lobby with cut-out pictures of girls in prom dresses they deemed “inappropriate” and a derogatory comment next to each one.  Wouldn’t a sheet of paper with some guidelines on it have sufficed? Apparently not.

These practices — along with several others — have been met with little to no push-back from the student body. And to be honest, I don’t blame them. Standing up to the administration is hard, especially when “disrespect” is a crime punishable by 15 demerits and a detention. What concerns me is that students have adopted these beliefs as their own, internalizing the very, very subtle sexism they are exposed to and accepting it as “just the way things are,” not even realizing that they deserve better. What saddens me is seeing so many students from my all-girls high school bash feminism online and share posts titled “I am a Woman and I am Already Equal to Men,” failing to recognize that we have half as many AP classes as the all-boys school just three miles down the street and that some of our own teachers would blame us if we were raped.

In my four years as a student at an all-girls high school, I never heard a faculty member utter the word “feminism” in a positive context. I rarely heard the word “feminism” at all. I often wonder today how things might have been different had my educators instilled the knowledge in all of us that I’ve gained from other sources — the knowledge that despite our abundant privilege and supposed equality, each and every one of us still needs feminism.

Despite what we’ve witnessed and what we’ve been told, feminism does not aim to degrade, diminish, or discredit. Rather, it aims to uplift young women — to show them that they deserve better. And so, to my wonderful yet problematic all-girls high school: please, do better.

Summer Pressure

By: Kendall Silwonuk

Four months ago, if you’d asked me of my plans for the summer, I would tell you:

“Probably staying in DC, hopefully interning at a think tank of some sort, maybe working on the Hill on the side, spending weekends and evenings as a server at a restaurant or in retail for the money.”

Ask me now.

“I’m going home to work at my favorite grilled cheese bar.”

I am so excited about my new answer.

I cannot wait to spend the summer at the pool with my sister, eating with my friends, seeing movies with my parents, saving money before I go abroad for the fall. I cannot wait for my first “real” part-time job working at my very favorite local restaurant. I cannot wait to worry about nothing, to enjoy some free time for most of this summer.

Is that right? I don’t know. Should I be happy that I’m not garnering the impressive titles my friends will, not traveling the world and serving others as they will, not working day in and out for some of the most powerful people in the country as they will? I don’t know. 

As Georgetown students, we have so many options here in DC and around the world over the summer. There’s also a good amount of pressure on us to use our time wisely. To apply for ten jobs. To get that internship. To fill the hole that a summer can leave on a resume.

So maybe a career counselor would tell me I’m crazy to spend the summer after sophomore year serving fried mac and cheese sandwiches. 

But I just typed that sentence and I don’t feel crazy; I’m anxious to start. I am so excited to meet new people and earn some money, to eat grilled cheese sandwiches every day for a week until I can't stand them. To spend time with my dog. To read a couple of new books. To volunteer. I’ve never been camping; maybe I’ll try that. Or I’ll learn to scuba dive in the small ravine in the middle of Columbus, Ohio. Or I’ll go to a music festival—that’d be new and crazy, I’m sure. Maybe I’ll train for a marathon (or not). Maybe I’ll learn to cook (finally). Maybe I’ll go on that road trip to the haunted old hospital I always said I’d go to. 

I promise I’ll have a good summer—that’s all I know for now. Will it help me get a job in three years? I don’t know, but I can worry about that then. There’s so many options, so many incredible things all of our Georgetown peers will be doing this summer, and I will definitely watch and encourage the amazing work they’ll do. 

Still, I can’t help but think that all of my snap stories of grilled cheese sandwiches will make them a little jealous.

‘Tis the Season

By: Olivia Jenkins

It’s that time of year (no not Christmas, sadly) where the moment comes to apply to jobs, internships, and fellowships. I myself have entered into the world of refining résumés and crafting cover letters, spending hours making specific word choices to ensure that I get the job. One thing that I’ve always struggled with is knowing how to present myself in a professional situation where I know that I am the right fit for the job, but I don’t want to come off as vain and arrogant. During my job search, I reached out to people in my life that are more experienced in the professional world (aka my parents). My mother gave me one piece of advice that will stick with me for the rest of my life; it was something along the lines of, “If you’re not selling yourself to them, how can you expect them to know how amazing you are?”

That being said, I thought I’d share three things that have helped me confront my “job shyness.”

1.     Be passionate.

A cliché, I know, but it’s true! Being passionate about a prospective job is one of the key aspects to a successful application. While I realize that it might be challenging to be as enthusiastic about folding (and refolding!) clothes as it is to be pumped about a startup tech company, showing interest in the values of the company is vital.

2.     Tell a story.

I found that when I was putting together my résumé, none of the pieces seemed to flow together. All that was on the page just looked like a list of my education, previous employment, and skills. My dad shared with me that it is important that your résumé is telling your story, even though it is just snippets of what you’ve done. Your prospective employer should feel like they have gotten to know you by being able to read that piece of paper with information that paints a picture of who you are.

3.     Be honest.

This one might seem obvious to most of you, but I think that a lot of us don’t realize that modesty can sometimes be an opponent to honesty. Believe it or not, it’s possible to be too modest, especially in the case of résumé writing. If you are withholding something spectacular you did or an amazing trait that you have, you are selling yourself short. Whoever is reading your résumé has probably gone through piles of other résumés printed on the same white 8.5 x 11 inch paper from Office Depot. They want to be “wowed” by you, so don’t feel embarrassed about sharing all of the things that make you great!

Best of luck on your way to changing the world, one résumé at a time!

The Future is Female: an Origin Story

By: Brooke Claflin

            On April 6th I attended a poetry reading in Healy 208, entitled “A Reading from How Did This Happen?: Poems for the Not So Young Anymore”. The book contains poems compiled by Mary D. Esselman and Elizabeth Ash Velez, both members of the Georgetown community, along with their commentary. In general, the two hoped to shed light on their experiences of aging while female, while also creating a work that others could relate to. One poem that spoke to me especially during the reading was Marie Howe’s “What the Living Do.” This poem along with the others articulated well the various, everyday narratives of life and growing older; however, the event itself was advertised for as “Poetry as Feminist Resistance.” Thus, I began to contemplate the ways in which the readings had reflected this idea of resistance.

            I ultimately decided that there is something about aging as a woman that our society has equated with the loss of power and dignity, whereas men experience the reverse. As women age we see ourselves diminishing in value in the eyes of those around us because so much of our worth in society still rests upon our youth and appearance. We have yet to achieve recognition for our accomplishments alone, there is always this other layer of judgement just beneath the surface.

            In thinking about this idea of female aging and feminine resistance I also began to wonder about the reemergence of the slogan: The Future is Female. Hillary Clinton herself used this phrase in her first address to the public after her loss to Donald Trump. The slogan, which comes from the lesbian separatist movement of the 1970s, originally served to challenge the patriarchy and assert the agency of this marginalized group of women. Thus, the slogan of a small movement transformed into the cry of a much larger group of dissenters.

            However, what exactly does “the Future is Female” mean? After over 40 years the re-adoption of the slogan suggests that there is still work to be done, but I think it would be a mistake to oversimplify the slogan. Yes, it utilizes the gender binary to describe the future, which excludes around half the population (those who do not identify as female). Even so I don’t think it is meant to be taken literally, instead it is meant to point out that there is still progress to be made and to express the hope that many marginalized groups will experience a future in which they finally have a voice. Hopefully this latest trend can bring attention to the need for another movement of people, however they might identify, to seek out equal rights. Overall, although some have argued against the slogan as limiting, it still provides a powerful message to people of all ages that things will change.