Film Review On The Basis of Sex (2018), Biography of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg Against Gender Discrimination


Gender discrimination is not a trivial matter, especially if the discrimination is legalized through state law. For centuries, gender discrimination has confined women to social roles in the domestic sphere, even eliminating them from history. Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020), one of the top justices in America who just passed the age of last year, is one of the women who really felt the bitterness of gender discrimination, especially during her studies at Harvard and the early journey of her career as a female lawyer. . Because of this, Ruth Bader Ginsburg continues to speak out against sexist laws in America, which actually harm not only women—but also men. Film On The Basis of Sex(2018) frames part of Ruth’s journey against gender discrimination.

Movie Review On The Basis of Sex (2018)

The film On The Basis of Sex (2018) opens with the figure of a woman in the ‘ocean’ of men at Harvard University law studies, in 1956. The female figure is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is familiarly called Kiki. She is one of the few students there who can be counted on the fingers—a reality that is still ‘weird’ and difficult for many students to accept, even the lecturers who are all male. The idea that ‘Harvard is a place for men’ is still the basis of their thinking, even though it is the sixth year Harvard University has opened up opportunities for women to take up law studies. Of course, this is a very clear start that this film does highlight gender discrimination.

However, it’s not just about Ruth’s lecture period. The film On The Basis of Sex (2018) invites us to continue to look at various other forms of gender discrimination, specifically what Ruth experienced at the beginning of her career as a lawyer. How can Ruth get a very limited space, just because she is a woman (let alone married, has children, is also a Jew).

In addition, On The Basis Sex (2018) also focuses on highlighting one of the cases that Ruth defended. Moritz vs. Commissioner is one case in which Charles Moritz, a client of Ruth, has claimed a tax deduction that he used to pay for the care of his elderly and disabled mother — but was denied by the state. There are laws that specifically allow such withholding of taxes, unfortunately only for women, widows, and men who were once married but whose wife was sick ( incapacitated or institutionalized).)—which excludes Moritz who is still single with no marital status. The law is sexist, because it only gives men the option to work for a living in the public sphere and does not give men the option to take on the role of ‘caregiver’ because it is considered a woman’s job. There is one more case related to gender discrimination handled by Ruth but only briefly raised, Reed vs Reed. These two cases are the first cases in an American state to declare discrimination based on sex unconstitutional.

Film On The Basis of Sex (2018) is a biographical film about the early journey of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2018) against gender discrimination through his profession as a lawyer. At the end of the film, Ruth’s figure also appears briefly in her old age, replacing the young Ruth, played by Felicity Jones—a symbol of decades of continuous struggle, firmly and confidently climbing the stairs to enter the justice building. This film is a way of remembering the person who has passed away, after leaving a great contribution to a more equal law in America.

Closer to the Figure of Ruth in On The Basis of Sex (2018)

We get acquainted with the figure of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the film On The Basis of Sex (2018) when she was a woman in her 20s, a new student at Harvard University. She is married to Martin Ginsburg, a sophomore at Harvard University. They had a baby, their first child—who was named Jane. Ruth-Martin’s marriage was an egalitarian marriage: they helped each other to balance taking care of the house, taking care of the children, and making room for each other’s studies. However, there are also difficult times that they must face together—when suddenly, Martin is diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Mr. Brown : How’s little Jane?

Ruth : Not so little. And we have another. James.

Mr. Brown : Mm, I’m sure they keep you busy.

Ruth : Yes. Both of us.

—Dialogue in the film On The Basis of Sex (2018)
The context in which Ruth is a woman, married and a mother (as well as her identity as a Jew)—becomes a ‘layered’ identity that should not be forgotten in view of the various gender-based and gender-based discriminations she experiences, as told in the film On The Basis of Sex (2018). At that time, around the 1950s, American patriarchal society still believed that ‘women should take care of children and families at home’, not pursue higher education and work for a living. There is no wide space for women to work in the legal world, including as lawyers in law firms. Even though she was one of the best students, Ruth had a hard time getting a job because she was a woman.

“One sent me to interview for the secretarial pool. Another told me I’d be too busy at bake sales to be effective. One partner closes his clients in the locker room at his club, so he said I’d be out of the loop. Last week, I was told women are too emotional to be lawyers. Then that same afternoon, that a… a woman graduating top of her class must be a real ballbuster and wouldn’t make a good colleague. I was asked when I’d have my next baby. And whether I keep Shabbat. One interviewer told me I had a sterling résumé, but they hired a woman last year, and what in the world would they want with two of us?”

—Ruth Gader Grinsburg, in the film On The Basis of Sex (2018)
Her own experiences of gender-based discrimination and gender-based discrimination made her anxious, wanted to fight, and until the end of her life, she was known as one of the most vocal female figures for women’s issues and equality in America. In the film On The Basis of Sex (2018), we can hear that the career journey of a woman named Ruth Gader Ginsburg is really far from easy—until she can become a Supreme Court Justice who is recognized throughout America. Of course, Ruth wasn’t always a strong woman. He was disheartened after experiencing gender discrimination—which of course is human, let alone experienced repeatedly—until he builds his resilience again.

“65 years ago, it would have been unimaginable that my daughter would aspire to a career. And a hundred years ago… I would not have the right to stand before you. There are 178 laws that differentiate on the basis of sex. Count them. The government did the favor of compiling them for you. And while you’re at it… I urge you to read them. They’re obstacles to our children’s aspirations.”

—Ruth Gader Grinsburg, in the film On The Basis of Sex (2018)
It hurts to see how the impact of gender and gender based discrimination on women in this film. How discriminatory laws even prevent women from being empowered. How gender roles that should be fluid are actually confirmed in sexist laws. Of course, it is not only detrimental to women, but also to men who are a marginal group in a conformist society.

Belief in the ‘natural order of things’ (as James H. Bozarth called it against Ruth’s Moritz case ) is clearly debatable. It’s not that women have been taking care of the domestic sphere for centuries, so domestic work must be the nature of a woman. In fact, this is only about the division of roles, which are very fluid in nature and are influenced by socio-cultural constructions. Just as the notion that rigid divide jobs ‘taking care’ ( nurturing ) such as teachers and nurses ( caregivers) as women’s jobs, and ‘masculine’ jobs such as soldiers, pilots or miners as men’s jobs—the notion that leaves no room for men to become nurses or ‘caregivers’ (like Charles Moritz) or women to become pilots or workers. soldiers who go to war.

Martin : (After the court for Moritz’ case) “You did it.”

Ruth: “We did it.” (Smiles)

—Ruth & Martin’s dialogue in On The Basis of Sex (2018)
Keep in mind, the film On The Basis of Sex (2018) also tells the unique struggle for gender equality through equal relations between Ruth & Martin: it tells how gender equality is pursued from the harmonious division of roles between Ruth & Martin, from the kitchen to the judiciary. The Moritz vs. Commissioner case, in fact, they defended together before the court, complemented each other—while Ruth specialized in gender and gender discriminatory laws, Martin did specialize in tax law. This film not only voices that gender and gender discrimination is detrimental to women—more so, the film On The Basis of Sex(2018) also emphasize clearly, over and over again, that gender discrimination is detrimental for both women and men.