What a Viewing of RBG Reinforced About Writing

RBG, the documentary on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, debuted in American theaters early last month, and I finally saw it this week. With a new friend. A new writer friend who is also a woman.

movie poster for RBGThere are some unspoken rules for new friends. You generally don’t let them know how crazy your family is. You definitely don’t let them know if you’re a bit crazy yourself. It’s like dating. You may not want to cry in front of them. You bring your A-game, just as you would on the first few dates of a romantic relationship. I broke that seal a bit early when this friend messaged to confirm that we would be seeing the film that afternoon. “YESSSS. This is my first day having childcare after 10 days of not having the help. I am so ready.” New friends on our best behavior or not, she knew me a bit better after that.

Due to all the tears that ensued while watching RBG, it may have been a dubious choice for a date with a new friend, but still, I have zero regrets.

Here are four things a viewing of RBG reinforced for me as a woman writer.

1. Life will try to break you. Do the work anyway.
Ginsburg was a new mother in her first year of Harvard Law School (and also one of nine women in a class of 500) when her husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer. She organized his classmates to get notes for him, typed his notes, took care of him, mothered their daughter, and did her own work as a law student. She knew she was meant to enter the field and make an impact (as many of us know we are meant to write), so the short-term challenges didn’t deter her.

2. Know you belong, even when everything is telling you that you don’t.
That group of nine women in the class of 500: Yeah, at an event, they were told to each stand and explain why they were taking a place in Harvard Law School that would be better occupied by a man. “I became a lawyer when women were not wanted by the legal profession,” Ginsburg says in the film. That was the 1950s. It is 2018 and women are still not as welcome in most literary publications as their male counterparts. Don’t believe me? Check the VIDA Count and then close that tab and keep writing and submitting your work.

3. Keep a truly open mind.
Writers can be snobs sometimes. I know I’m one. We’ll skip certain podcasts because they’re too over-the-top inspirational or pass on a book about craft by a writer we’ve decided—often given little info or outdated info—that we can’t stand. RBG doesn’t play that game. Case in point: Justice Antonin Scalia is one of her actual friends. I’m not talking BFF status, but they put aside their differences, focus on what they have in common (outer-borough NYC roots and a love of opera) and hang. This seems to enrich both of their lives and the work they do. Get into it if you can.

4. Don’t settle for anything less than a supportive partner.
Last year I attended a writing workshop and a participant asked what she should do if her partner was unsupportive of her writing. My unspoken response: Dump him. That may sound extreme, but we don’t do this writing thing by ourselves, y’all. And RBG did not become the Notorious RBG on her own. In fact, much of the film focuses on her husband Martin (“Marty”) Ginsburg and his ahead-of-his-time support of his brilliant spouse. As he was dying in 2010, Marty wrote a letter to Ruth (which she reads in the film), and the part that almost put me in full-on sob mode was this: “What a treat it has been to watch you progress to the very top of the legal world!!” Marty had Ruth’s back all along and wanted to make sure he didn’t die without letting her know he was proud of the way her career unfolded. Get you a partner like that.

Grab a friend, old or new, and go watch RBG. Then, get back to your desk where you belong and write for us. We’re waiting, girl.

photo of the author, Jen Hamilton, wearing sunglasses and her Ruth Bader Ginsburg t-shirt
Jen fangirling in sunglasses because she’s not crying—you’re crying.

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