A TRIBUTE TO JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG: Article: Jumpstarting the Stalled Gender Revolution: Justice Ginsburg and Reconstructive Feminism Skip over navigation
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Copyright (c) 2012 U.C. Hastings College of the Law
Hastings Law Journal

A TRIBUTE TO JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG: Article: Jumpstarting the Stalled Gender Revolution: Justice Ginsburg and Reconstructive Feminism

June, 2012

Hastings Law Journal

63 Hastings L.J. 1267


Joan C. Williams*


For someone who has been called the Thurgood Marshall of women, who some say has had a greater impact on American law than any living judge, 1 Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has received remarkably little attention among legal feminists. 2 For decades, she was consigned to the dustbin of formal equality, as someone obsessed with treating men and women the same under the law, to women's detriment, even when the two groups were clearly different. 3 More recently, Neil Siegel and Reva Siegel have contested that characterization, arguing that Justice Ginsburg should be seen through an antisubordination lens. 4 Siegel and Siegel make an important point. As we shall see in Part I, Ginsburg consistently used antisubordination language not just in the Struck v. Secretary of Defense 5 brief analyzed by Siegel and Siegel, but in many briefs dating from that period. In retrospect, it is a bit shocking that scholars, for so long, looked at the judicial opinions that bleach out Ginsburg's antisubordination language almost completely as evidence of what early legal feminists thought. 6

But while it is more accurate to see Ginsburg as focused on antisubordination than as focused on empty formal equality, that characterization, too, ultimately proves confusing. If you compare Ginsburg's approach with that of Catharine MacKinnon, legal feminism's foremost antisubordination theorist, the limitations of lumping the two under a single name become readily apparent. The most obvious divergence concerns their attitudes towards men. Men, in MacKinnon's vision, are subordinators. 7 Ginsburg sees ...
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