What RBG’s real legacy will be

What we need are more Ruths—more women breaking into all the places where decisions are being made

Hi, I’m Wing Sze Tang and you’re reading The Knowhow, a weekly newsletter featuring stories and strategies from women sparking change. (New around here? Head this way for the archives.) As a longtime journalist, I wanted to create a space for highlighting high achievers, boundary breakers and up-and-comers across industries, from arts and culture to science, politics and sports. I hope you find each edition interesting, informative and/or illuminating in some way. If you do, tell a friend! —@wingszetang

IN THIS ISSUE

  • Wisdom from the life and legacy of RBG

  • What’s changed about work, and what (sadly) hasn’t changed much

  • A podcast about climate change that isn’t all doom and gloom

  • A career resource for creative “slashies” (i.e. multi-hyphenates)

“MAY HER MEMORY BE A REVOLUTION”

As I send out this newsletter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is lying in repose at the Supreme Court, where she served for more than 27 years. The loss feels heavy for anyone who cares about gender equality. And processing the sadness is made harder by the looming horror of what very well could happen next: losing the rights and progress she so devotedly fought for. But I’m not here to focus on that right now.

Instead, as a small counterbalance to the grim news, I wanted to gather a few bits of wisdom RBG has dispensed over the years. Because despite being lionized as a superhero and meme-worthy, pop-cultural icon (and let’s also acknowlege, critiqued for being insufficiently intersectional or radical), she was also just one human. What we need in the world are more Ruths—by which I mean more women breaking into all the places where decisions are being made. RBG’s legacy shows us it can be done. To echo a sentiment circulating on social media: May her memory be a revolution.

photos: Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her apartment circa 1977, by Lynn Gilbert, licenced under CC-BY-SA-4.0; official portrait of RBG, by Simmie Knox, public domain

On feeling the fear but doing it anyway:

“I was terribly nervous. In fact, I didn’t eat lunch for fear that I might throw up. Two minutes into my argument, the fear dissolved. Suddenly, I realized that here before me were the nine leading jurists of America, a captive audience. I felt a surge of power that carried me through.” —RBG, recalling the first case she argued before the Supreme Court, Frontiero v. Richardson

On waking up to gender discrimination:

“I was teaching law at Rutgers University in the late sixties when sex discrimination complaints began trickling into the New Jersey affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union. Those complaints were referred to me because, well, sex discrimination was regarded as a woman’s job. […] I repaired to the library and spent the better part of a month reading every article written and every published federal case in the area since the nation’s start. That was not an awesome task by any means. There was so little, it was amazing how little. In all that time there wasn’t as much as is produced in one year nowadays. In the process, my own consciousness was awakened. I began to wonder, How have people been putting up with such arbitrary distinctions? How have I been putting up with them?” —RBG, Particular Passions

On the upside of selective listening:

“Another often-asked question when I speak in public: ‘Do you have some good advice you might share with us?’ Yes, I do. It comes from my savvy mother-in-law, advice she gave me on my wedding day. ‘In every good marriage,’ she counseled, ‘it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.’ I have followed that advice assiduously, and not only at home through 56 years of a marital partnership nonpareil. I have employed it as well in every workplace, including the Supreme Court. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.” —RBG, The New York Times (she repeated the same marriage advice to J.Lo)

On defining a meaningful life:

“I tell the law students I address now and then, ‘If you’re going to be a lawyer and just practice your profession, well, you have a skill, so you’re very much like a plumber. But if you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself, something to repair tears in your community, something to make life a little better for people less fortunate than you.’ That’s what I think a meaningful life is, one lives not just for oneself, but for one’s community.” —RBG, 2017 Stanford Rathbun Lecture

On taking the long view:

“It’s very hard to do anything as a loner. But if you get together with like-minded people, you can be a force for change. And if you look at things over the long haul, we have come a long way from how it once was. There was a woman who was in a prominent Supreme Court case called Loving [v.] Virginia. This was a challenge to Virginia’s miscegenation law. Mildred Loving said, ‘In my long life, I have seen great changes.’ I feel that way, too. And although we haven’t reached nirvana, we have come a considerable distance from the days when women couldn’t do that or this simply because they were female.” —RBG, Big Brains podcast

READ THIS, TOO

  • The Class of RBG,” in Slate. Published in July, this longread focuses on what became of the nine other women (amid 500-plus men) in Ginsburg’s Harvard Law School class of 1959.

  • It Shouldn’t Have Come Down to Her,” in The Cut. Rebecca Traister makes the case that the “fate of American democracy and the planet should never have rested on this one woman’s small, old shoulders.”

  • A 5-Decade-Long Friendship That Began With A Phone Call,” in NPR. Ginsburg, famous for her relentless work ethic, treated friendship with equal dedication; just read Nina Totenberg’s touching obit.

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NEWS FLASH

What I learned this week:

Breonna Taylor on the September 2020 cover of Vanity Fair
  • More than six months after police fatally shot Breonna Taylor in her own home, one officer has been charged—not with murder, but with “wanton endangerment.” The grand jury reasoned (and I use “reasoned” extremely loosely) that his reckless gunfire endangered Taylor’s neighbours. No officers have been charged with killing Taylor; protests continue across the U.S.

  • Remember Anne Helen Petersen’s viral Buzzfeed longread on how millennials became the burnout generation? She’s spun the story into a book, Can’t Even, out this week. In Wired’s excerpt, “How Work Became an Inescapable Hellhole,” I recognize many of my own illogical yet irrepressible tech habits. My brain at bedtime: Why sleep or read a nice book when you can doomscroll???

  • I’m not about to start taking ice-cold showers to deal with stress, but if you’re stuck in a fight-or-flight state—feeling anxious, panicky or overwhelmed—it might be worth a try.

  • Sociology profs wondered: With more people working from home, would the “invisible labour” (parenting, housework) predominantly shouldered by women become more visible to men, spurring an equal split? Spoiler: nope.

  • Who has a seat in the boardrooms of the 3,000 largest publicly traded U.S. companies? Despite all the talk about diversity, underrepresented ethnic and racial groups make up just 12.5 percent of board directors, a modest uptick from 10 percent in 2015. Women make up 21 percent of directors, up from 13 percent.

  • Leggings-as-a-lifestyle brand Lululemon is answering the call for more inclusive fits. As of this month, you can find six core styles in sizes 0 to 20 (up from 14). Most of the women’s line will be similarly extended by the end of 2021. Also in the works: bras in up to 40G.

TIME WELL SPENT

A shortlist of things to do right now:

  • LISTEN: Talking about the climate crisis doesn’t have to be a downer, as How to Save a Planet proves. The podcast, hosted by marine biologist Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Gimlet Media’s Alex Blumberg, strikes a hopeful, unexpectedly entertaining tone. Start with this episode on how MrBeast, a YouTuber best known for stunt videos, raised $20 million for tree-planting in 55 days. (Dr. Johnson also co-edited All We Can Save, a new anthology of essays from women leaders in the climate movement; read more about the book—and why we don’t need to waste energy on climate-science deniers—in this Rolling Stone interview.)

  • READ: The Social Dilemma, Netflix’s docudrama on the damage done by social media platforms, has been criticized for prioritizing the voices of tech bros while omitting the women and POC leaders who’ve been sounding the alarm. Maybe these platforms could’ve better handled hate speech, for example, if their workforces were truly diverse, Pranav Malhotra writes in Slate. It’s worth reading this 2019 story on how Black women understood the threat of misogynist harassment while others were shrugging it off as tongue-in-cheek trolling.

  • TRY: One winter almost a decade ago, I had the whimsical idea to get into running, despite my total lack of athleticism. I hated it at first (okay, for a bunch of years), but I’m stubborn. Now, 10 marathons in, I guess it’s fun? In all seriousness, running has been one of the few things giving these quarantimes a sense of normalcy. As we head into a probably-bleaker-than-usual winter, I’d encourage you to give it a go if you’ve never dabbled before. Here’s a roundup of beginner running how-tos.

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LAST BUT NOT LEAST

If you’re wondering who’s writing this:

My name is Wing Sze Tang, and I’m a freelance journalist. I’ve spent much of my career telling stories for some of Canada’s biggest magazines, like ELLE Canada, FASHION and FLARE. (Find some of my articles here.)

You can support this free newsletter (thank you) by forwarding it to your friends, sharing it on social media or sending me your thoughts. I check my email (wing@theknowhow.news) far too much.

Thanks for reading, and see you next week!