Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is notorious for speaking her mind. In an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow at Columbia University’s “She Opened the Door” women’s conference, she said that she thinks the #MeToo movement is here to stay — and that it needs to go farther.
Among other subjects, from why we need an Equal Rights Amendment to how sexism affected the 2016 presidential election, Ginsburg spoke with Harlow about potential backlash to the series of sexual harassment allegations over the past several months.
Ginsburg said, as she has in previous interviews, that she’s not concerned with backlash, given the movement’s momentum and significance. “It’s too widespread,” she told Harlow. But, she said, so far most of the focus has been on those who are in the spotlight.
“My concern is that it shouldn’t stop with prominent people…that this new attitude should protect the maid who works at a hotel,” she said.
The media has only begun to scratch the surface of sexual harassment allegations by and against non-famous people. Hollywood has been routinely criticized for fixating on pins and black dresses to call attention to #MeToo at the expense of substance, although celebrities have also launched the Time’s Up initiative, a legal defense fund that has raised almost $20 million toward the goal of helping survivors of sexual harassment in all industries come forward and fight. And in its Person of the Year pick back in December, Time magazine made a point of highlighting women in different industries who have refused to stay quiet about sexual harassment, featuring not only Taylor Swift and Ashley Judd but a strawberry picker, a corporate lobbyist, and an engineer.
The 84-year-old Ginsburg developed her career during a time when “sexual harassment” wasn’t even a term, and has herself lived through it. When the self-dubbed “flaming feminist litigator” was a student at Cornell University in the 1950s, her chemistry professor offered her a practice exam before an upcoming test — except the “practice test” had exactly the same questions as the exam itself. “And I knew just what he expected in return,” she told Harlow. “There were many incidents like that, but in those days the attitude was, what can we do about it? Nothing. Boys will be boys.”
The future Justice didn’t keep quiet to her professor, though: “I said, ‘How dare you?'”
Since her younger days, Ginsburg said there has been significant progress in terms of how women are treated. “There will always be adjustments when there is a transition, but on the whole it’s amazing to me that for the first time, women are really listened to, because sexual harassment had often been dismissed as, ‘Well, she made it up,’ or, ‘She’s too thin-skinned.’ So I think it’s a very healthy development.”
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