After more than 60 years in the male-dominant field of law, it (unfortunately) makes sense that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would have accumulated a few #MeToo stories of her own. During a discussion with NPR’s Nina Totenberg at the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, the “Notorious RBG” opened up about the sexual harassment she encountered as a young undergraduate student at Cornell University in the 1950s.
“Every woman of my vintage knows what sexual harassment is, though we didn’t have a name for it then,” she said, according to Deadline. “The attitude towards sexual harassment was, ‘get past it, boys will be boys.’ This was not considered anything you could do anything about, that the law could do anything about.” She went on to described how, while at Cornell, she asked her chemistry professor for a little extra help. “So he gave me a practice exam. The next day, the test is the practice exam, and I knew exactly what he wanted in return,” Ginsburg said, adding that not only did she purposely answer two questions incorrectly in protest, but she also marched straight to the professor’s office to demand, “How dare you? How dare you?”
RBG also proclaimed her support for the #MeToo movement. “I think it’s about time,” she said. “For so long women were silent, thinking there was nothing you could do about it. But now the law is on the side of women or men who encounter harassment, and that’s a big thing.” When Totenberg asked whether she’s nervous about a potential backlash to the reckoning that has knocked countless powerful men off their pedestals, Ginsburg remained hopeful. “Let’s see where it goes,” she said. “So far, it’s been great. When I see women appearing everywhere in numbers, I am less worried about that.”
Ginsburg has previously spoken about the sexism she’s had to deal with as a female lawyer. For one, shortly after starting at Harvard Law School, she and the other eight female students (of a class of 500) were invited to the dean’s house for dinner, where they were each asked, “How do you justify taking a spot from a qualified man?” “I was so embarrassed,” RBG told Gloria Steinem in a conversation for The New York Times in 2015. “I gave him the answer he expected: ‘My husband is a second-year law student, and it’s important for a woman to understand her husband’s work.'” (But “of course” that wasn’t the real reason she had enrolled.)
The accomplished justice was at the film festival to attend the opening of RBG, Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s new documentary about the SCOTUS justice’s life and career. According to Deadline, the film addresses Ginsburg’s relationship with Marty, her husband of nearly 60 years who died in 2010, as well as her relationship with the Constitution. Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard Law at the age of 23, after marrying Marty and giving birth to her first child, then transferred to Columbia Law when Marty took a job in New York City. In the following decades, she taught at Columbia Law, cofounded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, served as the ACLU’s General Counsel, successfully argued several women-centered cases in front of the Supreme Court, and, in 1993, became the second female justice (of four total) to serve in the Supreme Court’s 230-year history.