The state controlling a woman would mean denying her full autonomy and full equality.
When I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court] and I say, ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.
My mother was very strong about my doing well in school and living up to my potential. Two things were important to her and she repeated them endlessly. One was to ‘be a lady,’ and that meant conduct yourself civilly, don’t let emotions like anger or envy get in your way. And the other was to be independent, which was an unusual message for mothers of that time to be giving their daughters.
You can disagree without being disagreeable.
~Ruth Bader Ginsburg
I, like many, am grieving the death of a role model; the death of a woman who inspires and motivates; a woman I wanted to live forever. Who, I believe, many of us wanted to live forever, or at least until mid-November.
And, in our hearts, we knew her days were numbered. I am grateful for her, and others like her, who have helped to clear the path for so many of us, so that we can do our work in the world. She fought for as long as could, both oppression and cancer. So many of us have been holding our breath with every report of her health for the last couple of years, and perhaps many are still holding their breath even with her death. I for one, feel like I have been able to take in a huge inhale, finally.
She was only one woman; the fate of our individual lives, our country, of the world, should not, did not, and does not, rest solely on her shoulders. Yes, she was an amazing woman, who accomplished so much in her life and for our lives. She is a giant, there is no denying that.
And, she was only one person.
We, you and I, our mothers and grandmothers, our daughters and nieces; our fathers, grandfathers, sons, nephews, have always needed to a part of the fight; of the revolution; of the resistance. We all have needed to, and many of us have, stated “I dissent” to the inequalities and atrocities of the world we live in.
Revolution does not rely on the life of one singular person. And revolution does rely on all us, as individuals and as a collective. We need to continue RBG’s work, which to me means we each need to continue our own work in the world – both our own inner work and our outer work.
Yes, we need to mourn. Yes, we need to grieve. Yes, we need to take a moment and fully comprehend what the loss of this freedom fighter means to us each individually and as a collective. Her life, and her death, has had and will continue to have deep impacts on us all. Taking the time to grieve, to stop and consider these impacts, is vital as we move forward.
Taking time to grieve is a vital part of our work.
As we grieve, we can also acknowledge her path is not the only path. Nor is it even the best. There are many ways to freedom. Many ways to liberation. Many ways out of authoritarianism, oppression, abuse. Her way was what was possible for her, at the time she forged her path.
We now have many other paths we can forge.
This doesn’t negate the importance of her work or her role in history. Or her role in our individual and collective lives. It is true that we needed her, many hers, to get us where we are today. Without her, and those who worked along side her both literally and figuratively, woman would not have the right to have our own bank accounts or own our own homes. She lead the way to helping us obtain many of the resources we have, and take for granted, today.
It does mean we need to continue the evolution and revolution she was a part of continuing leading (because racial and women’s rights did not start with her) . It means we need to continue to work towards change, and perhaps the ways we do that are different now than they could have been 60+ years ago when she started clearing her path.
RBG’s life and death gives us all much to aspire to. But none of us can, nor should be, her. And her way, while thank the goddesses and gods she did it her way, is not our way now.
She did not rest, until death. I am personally, selfishly, grateful for this. And I know, that rest MUST also be part of our work. She worked towards affording us the ability to see how no one person can, or should, do it all. She did much, this is true. It is also true she had resources. She had aides, assistants. She had financial resources. She had a husband who supported her and her work, and took on some of the more traditional “woman’s work” in their home so she could focus on her career and work in the world.
Yes, she burned the candle at both ends for most of her life. It is also true that she had much support that allowed her to do this for as many decades as she did.
The idea of “burning the candle at both ends,” with or without resources, is a staple of capitalism. It is a staple of white supremacy. It is a staple of misogyny. It is the idea of meritocracy. It is the idea that we must “earn” our value, our worth. That we must sacrifice much in order to be respected, in order to be deserving of respect. She worked more hours than any single human should ever need to work in their life time.
Am I thankful she did? Fuck yes, I am. And part of why I am thankful, is that her doing this has helped bring us to the place socially to see the harm in this way of being.
She did her work the only way her generation was allowed to. She had to prove her worth and value so that she could bring about the change she did. She had to work harder than her (white) male colleagues to gain respect. She had to dance the line of being a “good girl” and a rebel rouser (without looking or acting like a rebel rouser).
Now the new generations get to do it differently. We get to do it Our way. And this is all thanks to her, and those like her.
“Our way” will look different for each of us. This doesn’t mean we can’t do this work together, in community, in collaboration with each other. It means the way I do my work will look different from the ways you do. It means we must do our work in the ways that are true to each of us individually. We can, and must, do this in tandem, in collaboration, and in support of each other.
There is no One Way to bring about change. No one way to bring about social justice. There is no singular cause that is more vital than another in our work towards liberation.
ALL of our work is vital and it ALL intersects. We need people whose main focus, like mine, is trauma work. We need people whose main focus is racial justice. We need people whose main focus is body liberation. We people whose main focus is reproductive rights, gay rights, disabled persons rights, trans rights, indigenous rights, sex workers rights… anti-capitalism work, anti-oppression work, anti-rape culture work… (list non-exhaustive). We need everyone doing their work, both inner and outer. Because all our work feeds and supports each others’ and not a one of us can do All the work alone, by ourselves.
Let us take the time to mourn the loss of an amazing human. And let us not allow her death to have us spiral into despair and hopelessness. This work was always resting on all our shoulders. The work has always been All our responsibility. RBG was amazing and some could argue super-human, and even so, she alone was not going to save us from a continued downfall of humanity.
That has always been up to each of us. We each have always, and continue to have, a responsibility to ourselves and to the collective, to do our work. To work towards change, towards doing different, towards moving away from trauma reactions that cause harm and towards taking the pause and considering our responses so that we can break cycles and patterns of harm.
All is not lost. As long as we continue our work. Within and out in the world.
This essay originated as an Instagram post, which I expanded for my weekly(ish) newsletter on September 19, 2020. It has been further edited for publication here. To receive my most recent essays you can subscribe here.