Feminism is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes, and it was easy to call Ruth Bader Ginsberg a feminist. From her made-for-movie origin story as one of only nine women at Harvard law school, to being nicknamed “Notorious RBG” in the wake of Trump’s election, she became a “girl boss” icon and a pop culture sensation all at once. In the midst of the cultural phenomenon surrounding her though, it seemed to have been forgotten that she only reached such relevancy by being a “rule-abiding, institutionalist, cautious lawyer and then judge.”
Now, with President Trump’s nomination of conservative, Catholic, Amy Coney Barrett to fill the seat Ginsberg held, women’s rights activists and ordinary citizens alike around the country have lamented the fact that the seat previously held by such a staunch feminist will most likely be given to a women that Kamala Harris has said will “undo Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s legacy.” The two judges could not seem more ideologically different, and many say that Amy Coney Barrett, despite being a woman, is the antithesis of a feminist, with articles titled “Amy Coney Barrett is Bad for Women,” and asking “Will Amy Coney Barret Take Women Backwards?” being published.
While I agree that Coney Barrett should not be labeled a feminist just by virtue of her being a woman, she also should not be labeled as decidedly unfeminist just because she does not fit the cultural definition of the word we bestowed upon icons such as Ruth Bader Ginsberg. In the theory of social equality of the sexes, we should laud a conservative woman being appointed to the Supreme Court as a feminist victory in most senses of the word. While I personally am not religious and am very much pro-choice, social and political equality for women should not be limited to having women with whom you personally agree with holding positions of power. For the 38% of women who believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, Amy Coney Barrett is contributing to political equality of the sexes by representing their views.
While we can assume that Amy Coney Barrett will never be the women’s rights icon that Ruth Bader Ginsberg was, she is a qualified, educated woman, who claims to ground her judicial practice in the Constitution, not her personal beliefs, saying “judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold.” This view is not so different from early Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who said her approach to being a judge was “neither ‘liberal’ nor ‘conservative.” Although she may not carry on Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s legacy as a liberal justice, Coney Barrett can carry on the legacy of cautious and researched rulings made by a female justice sitting on the most powerful bench in the nation.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg famously said, “When I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court] and I say, ‘When there are nine.” Maybe I am just naive, but we all knew that Trump was going to appoint a conservative justice, and, all things being equal, I would rather have a qualified woman making decisions I disagree with than yet another man. I believe Ruth Bader Ginsberg would have agreed with this evaluation too. So, do not paint Amy Coney Barrett as a traitor to her sex, but rather as an academic opponent and political rival, who despite their ideological differences, is carrying out Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s legacy as a woman on the Supreme Court, and that in it of itself is a feminist action.