When Ruth Bader Ginsberg ’54 first studied at Cornell, she could not know that her experiences would set her on a legendary career path.
This was the focus of a lecture by Irin Carmon, journalist, feminist and co-author of Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, held on Monday night.
“I am so happy to be speaking at Cornell in particular, because this is such a Cornell story,” Carmon said. “Justice Ginsburg’s commitment to equality was shaped here.”
Ginsburg’s collegiate influence is not limited to Cornell; according to Carmon, she was influenced by the sexism she witnessed during her time at Cornell and Harvard Law School, specifically by the housing policies for women at the two universities.
“To her it was an illustration as to how arbitrary sexism could be,” Carmon said. “That one campus could have exactly the opposite policy, but justify it as being as for a woman’s own good.”
Ginsburg was also profoundly inspired by a professor, according to Carmon. Prof. Robert Cushman, government, along with her distaste for McCarthyism, influenced Ginsburg’s desire to become a lawyer.
“Cushman showed her that even as the federal government was going after individuals in violation of their first amendment rights, the people who were defending them were the lawyers,” Carmon said.
Carmon, whose Ginsburg biography had a three month tenure on The New York Times bestseller list, expressed admiration for Ginsburg’s principled way of life, saying that she “maintained her identity” at Cornell and “stayed true to herself.”
“She is a voice of dissent at a time where so many important civil rights, including women’s rights, including remedies to racial injustice, are on the chopping block,” Carmon said.
In an interview with The Sun, Carmon — also a visiting fellow at the Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice at Yale Law School — elaborated on the purpose of Ginsburg-esque feminism in the current political climate, noting that the United States is the only “wealthy country that does not require paid parental leave by employers.”
“We have a lot of rights on paper, but actually vindicating those rights, such as being able to push back on employment discrimination, is actually harder than it was 10 to 20 years ago,” she said. “I am really inspired by this generation of feminists. I am happy that the first act of resistance of the Trump presidency was women taking to the streets and protesting.”
When asked about infringements involving protesting political speakers on campus, Carmon argued that there should be no question as to the rights of protesters.
“Just because somebody has the right to speak, does not mean that they have a right not to be peacefully protested,” she said. “I am really worried about encroachments on free speech that policy makers who really have power to limit people’s speech. I am not worried about campus speakers being protested peacefully.”
According to Cornell Hillel Speakers Series Chair Molly Pushner ’19, Carmon herself is a model for success. Citing her numerous accolades — including her 2011 appointment to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Media — Pushner called her an “incredible and accomplished person.”
“She has definitely inspired me with the work she does,” Pushner said. “Much of her work covers topics such as reproductive health and gender which are two things that I am very passionate about. I find it inspiring that she has committed herself to work around such powerful thing.”
Carmon did not hesitate to emphasize the importance of the Supreme Court in the modern era.
“So much is at stake, and as we are clearly seeing, the Supreme Court is more important than ever in safeguarding these basic rights and liberties,” she said.