The Atlantic

The Mysterious RBG

A new biography squares the decorous legal figure with the feminist gladiator.
Source: Bijou Karman

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is not just having a “moment” in American feminist culture. She has rapidly become—in a time that craves heroines—the American ideal of power and authority for millions of women and girls. Beyond the movies (RBG, released in May, and On the Basis of Sex, out in December) and the biographies, not to mention the memes and T-shirts and mugs that proliferate like lace-collared mushrooms, Ginsburg at 85 is also the closest thing America has to the consummate anti–Donald Trump. Today, more than ever, women starved for models of female influence, authenticity, dignity, and voice hold up an octogenarian justice as the embodiment of hope for an empowered future.

The fandom can border on condescension—Twitter can be instantly short-circuited by news of her or a tart line in a dissenting opinion. Sometimes the combination of the genteel geriatric and the quasi-violent rap iconography affixed to the “Notorious RBG” persona seems an unholy marriage, as if we couldn’t quite love a feminist trailblazer without turning the 90-pound into a gangster. Squaring the careful public Ginsburg with the media creation of the present time can be challenging. Rap music deals in anger. The women of the Trump resistance are livid. Books about women and fury fill the tables in every bookstore. And yet, above all, Ginsburg models the fine arts of civility and diligent case citation. She is less a radical feminist ninja than a meticulous law tactician—and she has become what

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