Today, I want to share the story of a feminist who fought for the rights of men, when men were the victims of patriarchy.


Today, with a heavy heart, I want to tell y'all about the Notorious RBG - Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020) - a champion of gender equality.
Let's start with the story of a happy couple - Stephen Wiesenfeld & Paula Polatschek got married in 1970.

Paula was a public school teacher. Her salary was the main source of the couple’s income & social security contributions were regularly deducted from her salary.
Paula despite a very healthy pregnancy died in childbirth in 1972. Stephen vowed to work only part-time until his baby was in school full-time.

And in order to support himself & his infant baby he needed the money that had been deduced as Social Security from his wife's salary.
But when he applied for social security benefits for himself and his son, he was told that his son could receive them but that he could not.

Because according to the Social Security Act, benefits based on earnings of a deceased person were available only to widows, not widowers.
If women died, their husbands could not avail the benefits - men are supposed to be bread-earners - why would men need money from their wives' deductions - only helpless females could need that kind of financial support!

That's what patriarchy is - and a man was the victim.
At the Social Security office, he was told - "These are mothers' benefits. Fathers don't qualify."

Stephen then wrote a letter to a local paper in New Jersey - "I've been hearing a lot about women's lib. Let me tell you my story." The letter ended, "Tell that to Gloria Steinem."
Instead of reaching Gloria Steinem, this letter reached another feminist - Ruth Bader Ginsberg - who had that very year co-founded the Women's Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union(ACLU).

RBG asked Stephen to contact the ACLU and they took his case to court.
Let that sink in - a feminist who fought for women's rights - fought for Wiesenfeld in court.

In 1973, he sued claiming that the relevant section of Social Security Act unfairly discriminated on the basis of sex & they won the case with a unanimous decision in the Supreme Court.
As RBG explained later in a 2009 interview, she found the case perfect for litigation as it involved three-fold discrimination:

- against a man as a caregiver
- against a woman as a bread-earner
- against an infant child who deserved full benefits no matter which parent survived
RBG was proved right.

8 of 9 justices voted in favour of Wiesenfeld, with 1 abstaining from voting. They declared Section 402(g) of the Social Security Act to be unconstitutional on the grounds that the gender-based distinctions violated the 5th Amendment.
Wiesenfeld received no monetary benefits from the decision as by then he had shut down his business & obtained a well-paid position at a computer company. His salary exceeded the income cutoff for receiving benefits.

But this case was a big victory for gender equality.
The Wiesenfeld case helped lay the important groundwork - as the court's ruling challenged the traditional male breadwinner/female homemaker model.

RBG recognised that the case while challenging a discriminatory law was, more importantly, challenging a patriarchal stereotype.
Now let me tell you another story about the very first client that RBG actually carried into the federal court of appeals - another man by the name of Charles E. Moritz.

A book salesman, who lived with his ailing mother, he hired a nurse for his mother's care while he was away.
When he tried to claim tax returns, as per babysitter deduction, which covered disabled dependents of any age, IRS challenged it.

Moritz made a simple argument - "If I had been a dutiful daughter instead of a dutiful son, I would have gotten the deduction. That makes no sense?"
The tax law sought to give a benefit to people who had to care for dependents but could not imagine a man doing so.

A single woman in the same situation would be entitled to the caregiver deduction but not a single man like Moritz - it's just good old patriarchy in play again.
This case was noticed by Martin Ginsburg, a tax lawyer, who brought it to RBG in 1971.

RBG had been focussed on women's rights for a decade now & told her husband that she didn't "read tax cases."

But she did she read it & understood immediately that she had to take the case.
As RBG revealed later this was because the argument made against Moritz was that he wouldn't be entitled to the deduction in any event because he hadn't proved that he was able to care personally for his mother, that the nurse was a substitute for himself.
So the court could make the assumption that a daughter would be able to care for an elderly parent, but it wasn't apparent in the case of a son - patriarchy 101.

A man would have to prove in court that he had that ability - which they did. It took 18 months but they finally won.
The court's decision was that the distinction between dutiful daughters & dutiful sons was unconstitutional.

With her very first case, RBG secured a decision that cast a cloud of unconstitutionality on dozens of federal statutes - that differentiated on the basis of gender.
At the same time that RBG was fighting the Moritz case, she was also working on a case for a woman called Sally Reed.

Sally was a victim of gender discrimination just like Moritz, but allow me to tell her story to show you the magnitude of difference between their suffering.
Sally Reed was divorced from her husband & had custody of their son, Richard.

However, when Richard reached teenage, his father applied for custody & court granted it saying: "he's growing up & has to be prepared for a man's world, we think father should have part-time custody."
Sally fought hard against any shared custody because she thought the father was not a good influence on Richard.

Sally turned out to be right.

One day, Richard took out one of his father's rifles and killed himself.
Sally wanted to be appointed administrator of his estate. Cecil Reed, her ex-husband, perhaps out of spite, put in a rival application.

The probate judge ruled, "The law says between persons equally entitled to administer a decedent's estate, males must be preferred to females."
She not only lost her son because of a sexist judgement but even lost control of the estate when the courts appointed her husband as administrator of the estate valued at less than $1,000.

Charles Moritz lost some tax deductions.

Sally Reed lost everything.

That's patriarchy.
So, Sally Reed, using her own money, pursued the case and it reached the ACLU and RBG, who helped her fight and win - her case became the first case in which the US Supreme Court used the Equal Protection Clause to strike down a statute as discriminatory on the basis of gender.
They will tell you when RBG went to Harvard law school in the 1950s she was one of 9 women in a class of over 500.

They will tell you how when she graduated she was turned down for the position of a law clerk because she was a woman.

But those are not the stories to remember.
The stories to remember are of the cases that reached RGB through ACLU.

Like school teachers who were required to leave the classroom the minute their pregnancy began to show because, after all, the children shouldn't be led to think their teachers swallowed a watermelon.
The stories of working women with blue-collar jobs who wanted the same health insurance package for their family that a man would get.

The stories of middle-school girls who wanted to attend the engineering summer program at Princeton but couldn't because it was only for boys.
The story of Abbe Seldin, the best tennis player in her Teaneck, New Jersey high school, who couldn't be on the varsity team.

There was no team for girls & even though she beat all the boys she couldn't be on the team.

These are all cases that came to the ACLU where RBG worked.
We need to remember what RBG said:

Women's status is going to improve only when women's equal citizenship stature was on the human rights agenda.

You need to persuade men that this was right for society, that it was right for their daughters & granddaughters.
And the notorious RBG knew that the only way to persuade men that patriarchy was a problem was to show them that they were victims of patriarchy too.

The only way men would open their eyes to inequality was when they were the victims. So, she fought for men in the courts.
In a 2013 interview, RBG said:

"As an advocate in gender discrimination cases in the 1970s, I thought of myself as akin to a grade school teacher. I was talking to people who really didn't understand, they didn't understand that there was discrimination against women."
People think that women are on a pedestal. But look closer and you can see that the pedestal is actually a cage. Even closer scrutiny reveals that men are inside this cage too.

That's what patriarchy is - a cage and all of us are prisoners.
The notorious RBG understood it then. How are we still struggling? Why are we still calling patriarchy positive?

Remember her for everything she fought for. But more than that, remember her for what she taught us through her work.

RIP Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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