I needed a few days to process my grief first, but I definitely wanted to paint a portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Today the idea came to me that I needed to include her in my Equality – In Progress piece I painted for the University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work back in March. I did a teeny tiny study first (and I will do more of these), then painted the portrait during my Facebook Live show this afternoon.
When I was in college, my absolute favorite class was Constitutional Law. The professor who taught that class suggested a field trip to Washington DC to visit the Supreme Court and see it in session. Much as I loved the class, I considered not going, because the Metroliner from Philly to DC was very expensive and because we were supposed to leave so early in the morning it was painful. In the end, I decided to go because I knew there were two women on the Supreme Court – Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor – and I wanted to see them in person. Their very existence in that male-dominated sphere fascinated me. I wasn’t surprised by them being there. I was simply more interested in them than in any of the other justices. Women’s voices have always felt more relevant to me, and from an early age I felt like I never got to hear them enough.
When RBG herself was asked when there would be enough women on the court she said: “When there are nine.” Then she explained that for a long time there were only men, and nobody had found that odd. She had a great talent for explaining gender inequality so that everyone would get it and women such as myself owe her so much. At twenty, when I was lucky enough to get to see RBG, I was already fiercely independent, living across the ocean from my family, and had several lines of credit in my own name, blissfully unaware that without her contribution women would not be able to have such basic financial freedoms. Throughout my life I went on to buy vehicles and real estate in my own name, to sign more leases than I care to remember, and to start my own business as a single woman. At some point, probably in my late twenties, after having earned a Ph.D. in a male-dominated field, while teaching my own students about the Constitution, I finally did enough research to understand how the things I considered normal were hard-earned rights for women, rights earned not that long ago, rights going back to cases such as Reed v. Reed (1971) in which RBG working for the ACLU had a tremendous impact.
Tomorrow I will add Justice Ginsburg’s portrait to Equality – In Progress. And I’m hoping that for all the progress women have enjoyed, things don’t stop here. I’m hoping that within our lifetime we see more, and that not long from now, young women coming of age in a more equitable society will marvel over the gender pay gap, or the fact that anyone would want to legally restrict our autonomy over our own bodies.
A few other good things that happened today:
I got to deliver a favorite painting to a favorite person. And George, the carousel horse, is on his way to meeting the little girl he’s supposed to cheer up.