By Allison Zhang
When the story about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death broke, the conversation at the dinner table stiffened. My friend, whose mother works in the justice system, started to cry. The raw emotion that eclipsed her shoulders, paralyzed her hands, and coerced her into silence forced everyone else to stop talking. Unlike other celebrity deaths, RBG’s passing carried a sense of dignity that required a moment of silence.
The awkwardness that followed was ended by a series of jokes completely unrelated to Justice Ginsburg. As quickly as the moment came, it went. But as we climbed the stairs from the Rathskeller, the basement dining area, to the Hickey, the main campus dining hall, my mind began to travel. I vaguely remembered reading her book two years ago in which she explained the delicate balance of attending Harvard and raising her daughter, and how inspired I had been. At the time, I associated RBG’s immense accomplishments to her profession. My reasoning was: because she was studying to be a judge, she was accomplished.
I quickly learned that Justice Ginsburg was accomplished for reasons completely unrelated to her involvement in the justice system. Her most prominent advantage was not her affiliation with Harvard or her level of sophistication, rather, it was her. She had historically occupied spaces designed for men as a woman, proceeded to bypass the expectations of her superiors, and performed better than her peers. She knew that she didn’t have anything in common with her classmates and allowed it to benefit her. RBG wasn’t just satisfactory, she was excellent.
Occasionally, when I’m with my friends at the Rathskeller, I think about the briskness of the acknowledgement of her death. Like a spark from an unlightable match, an entire lifetime of pioneership was dismissed. But it is a bonfire, a collection of firsts for women, a testament to our independence and ability to take up spaces that are built for men.
The space that Justice Ginsburg has carved out for women lives on in me and my classmates. This year, St. Bonaventure’s incoming class of Franciscan Healthcare Program students is molded by a prominence of females. Initially a field composed of rich privileged men, young women have begun to inhabit positions in medicine. Justice Ginsburg was an example of the unexpected: the occupation of a seat. This year, 22 females occupy seats that would have been saved for men 30 years ago. This year, 22 females.
Allison Zhang is a student in an honors “Campaigns, Candidates and Current Elections” course at St. Bonaventure University.