Guest columnist Laurie Frankl: A letter to Ruthie, age 9.5. From Mom.

  • In this 2013 photo, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg poses for a photo in her chambers at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., before an interview with the Associated Press.  AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Friday, November 13, 2020

Dear Ruthie,

Last night I joined a panel of women discussing Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life, work and what her death means to many of us. Toward the end, a student asked the good question of what she can do to support RBG’s legacy. A smart Smith professor spoke of getting involved in state legislation to protect abortion rights. I talked about working for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and also about the importance of self care. After the panel ended — when all the clear ideas always come — I thought of what I wished I had said to that student and what I want to say to you now.

Here is how to support RBG’s legacy:

Recognize that it isn’t enough to seek to protect what she helped to build. That would not have been enough for her, and it is not enough for justice. Think bigger.

RBG believed that it wasn’t the role of the law to get out ahead of culture. Culture is the driver; the law responds. Our job is to build the culture that fosters gender justice.

Inequality lurks in dark shadows. Speak openly about what is unfair. Be brave and speak about money and pay. If you choose motherhood, do so openly. Talk about your children at work. Be open about having to leave that meeting early to get your kid to basketball or gymnastics or whatever is their passion.

Remind yourself that there is no such thing as work/life balance. Because it is only when two things are wholly separate that we can balance them. Instead, be true to yourself and openly express to others the mess of work and life combined. How it oozes through your fingers no matter your method to hold it all. Your hands alone will never be big enough to contain that mess. None of ours are. Speaking openly about it makes you real and makes the challenge real. Speaking openly is part of the work of the revolution.

Seek friendship and cultivate connection across difference. Allow intellect and humor to be the bridge, rather than letting politics or theory or religion keep us apart.

Push yourself to think beyond you. Speak when you can about and work where you can for those who do not look like you, think like you and who have a different life experience. Think about how you are similar and different. Where you see others being treated unfairly, speak up about it, bring it into the light. Then fight against it. Both she and you are Jews. TikkunOlam, repairing the world, is our call.

Be you.

Find a loving supportive partner — or don’t. You will stand on your own as much as you can. Where you can’t — because culture, the workplace, our values, our systems or institutions are not enough to support you where and when you need it (and you will need it) — speak out against it. Do not believe ever that the problem, when you cannot do it “all,” is you. You are not the problem. Your voice is the solution.

Recognize your power no matter your path. Yes, you are her namesake, and, yes, feminism and the law is my passion. But it does not have to be yours. The work of justice is in our every day. No particular vocation is necessary. You can, and will — I just know it — effect change and affect lives no matter what you choose.

And you can choose. That is part of RBG’s legacy. And she built that legacy on the work of those who came before her, as you will. She helped open the map of twisting, turning roads and off-ramps and intersections and pathways to you. Choose one. Choose another. Turn around. Yield, speed up, merge, stop. You decide, my love. Your freely made decision is her legacy.

May she rest in peace. May you grow in power.



P.S. Also, even if it isn’t your jam as much as it is mine, study the Constitution. It matters.

Laurie Frankl is a Florence resident and mom to twins, Elliott and Ruthie. A civil rights attorney, Laurie has been the Title IX coordinator at Amherst College since 2013.