On Friday, September 18, 2020, we lost the one, the only, Notorious RBG.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It's taken me a little time to wrap my head, and mostly my heart, around this devasting loss.
And if I'm being honest, I feel a bit silly for how hard I'm taking her passing. However, we all grieve in our own ways, so I'm owning that.
As I was given the opportunity to talk about what this woman meant to me, I said "she was a beacon of hope for women." This shouldn't be a surprise as she argued over 300 cases on gender discrimination as general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), co-founded the ACLU's Women's Rights Project, continued her legacy for another 13 years as U.S. Court of Appeals judge, and spent her final 27 years as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, issuing over 200 opinions fighting for gender equality, simultaneously creating forward progress for LBGTQ rights as well.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg may have found herself as a pop culture icon in the later years of her life, but make no mistake, this woman was a pioneer for gender equality and spent upwards of 60 years pushing the envelope in pursuit of justice. And while I could repeat the long list of accomplishments this woman achieved due to her tenacity, resilience, and self-appointed ongoing role as protector of equality, I'm going to make this more personal. I'm going to take a moment to share how her life has forever changed mine. And I'm sure you'll find a number of similarities in yours as well.
I am a white, straight, woman in my 30s. I have undergraduate and graduate degrees from reputable higher education institutions. I have been employed by numerous companies. I have access to birth control and can make decisions to determine when I will have children. I own a car, a house, and a small business.
I have these privileges largely due to the lifetime of work by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And you do too.
While women began attending higher education institutions in the 1800s, Ivy-League schools such as Princeton and Yale didn't allow women to attend until 1969. And it wasn't until 1996 in a Supreme Court case, in which Justic Ginsburg's majority opinion finally ended gender discrimination in higher education. In United States v. Virgina, the Supreme Court struck down the long-standing male-only admission policy. That was 1996. Three years after she was appointed to the Supreme Court. I was 10 years old. So while I was trying to save the Siberian Tigers and Manatees by hanging self-made posters in the halls of my elementary school, Ruth ensured that when the time came, I would rightfully have a fair chance at attending any higher education institution I'd like. For that, I thank you, Ruth.
I graduated with my undergraduate degree in the middle of The Great Recession. However, I was lucky to be hired a week after I made the move to San Diego, California. And while the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Equal Pay Act were established to protect discrimination of employment and pay, in 2007, Justice Ginsburg dissented that the 180-day limit shouldn't apply in the case of discriminatory pay since gender-based discrimination can happen gradually. In 2009, President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to further protect equal pay with every paycheck. 2009 was the first full year I was employed after graduation. Because Ruth fought to ensure women would receive equal pay, I was free to dedicate my time and energy doing my best work and advancing my career, not fighting gender inequality in the workplace. To my knowledge, I have never known gender-based discrimination in my adult working life, due to many who contributed to this cause, Justice Ginsburg included. This has allowed me to build, what I would consider, a relatively successful career of which generations of women before me were deprived. For that, I thank you, Ruth.
I have always had access to birth control and the choice of how to manage my body, largely due to the many women who pioneered women's health and reproductive rights. Justice Ginsburg time and time again has stood for a woman's right to act in autonomy, stating in her 2007 Gonzales v. Carhart dissent, "The court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety." She also wrote that "The decision whether to bear a child is central not only to a woman's dignity and autonomy, but also her place in society and women have the right to participate as equal citizens. And in order to be able to do that, in order to be able to realize their full potential, they must be able to control their reproductive lives." And even as recently as 2016, in Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt she continued the fight for autonomy. Having autonomy of my body has allowed me the opportunity to take control of my health, career, societal status, financial future, and my life. For that, I thank you, Ruth.
I started my company in 2016. While entrepreneurship is difficult, it would be significantly more difficult if I had to run every financial decision by a man for his approval first. Which was the case until not too long ago. In 1974, largely thanks to the groundwork Justice Ginsburg laid in her early work with the ACLU, the Senate passed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. This act allowed women the opportunity to open bank accounts, take out credit cards in their names, and commit to a mortgage without a male cosigner. The act made it illegal to discriminate against someone based on gender, race, religion, marital status, age, color, or national origin. But it wasn't until 1988 Congress passed The Women's Business Ownership Act, ending discrimination in lending and eliminating state laws requiring a woman to have a male cosigner for business loans. It was only then that the world realized that women could significantly contribute to the economy. 1988. It's insane to me to think that we live in the 21st century, yet, in my lifetime, a woman was legally denied the opportunity to run her business in a similar fashion to that of a man's. My entire livelihood wouldn't have been possible the year I was born. Over her career, Justice Ginsburg fought many battles to allow women the same opportunities for financial strength and independence. She has played a significant role in the fact that I am able to own a car, a house, and a business. For that, once again, I thank you, Ruth.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg created the opportunity for me to live the life I live today. And that statement goes far and deep to many audiences throughout this country. Throughout her quest for equality, she illuminated paths for all. In her fight gender equality, she also affected laws discriminating based on sexual identity, religion, and race. While we continue to live in an imperfect world with many fights ahead of us to truly build an equal nation, this woman single-handedly has arguably made the largest difference in the lives of women to date.
And honestly, that's just the tip of the iceberg. But I know you have other social channels to browse, so I'll wrap it up.
While this year sucks on pretty much every level, I've been really trying to focus on gratitude. Not settling, but finding grace and gratitude amongst the absolute chaos that is 2020. Because, when it comes down to it, we really have many things to be grateful for. And I would be remiss and downright disrespectful to not acknowledge the strength, opportunities, liberties, and legacy this incredible beacon of hope has created in my life.
Ruth, I will probably never be able to truly articulate why there feels like there's a hole in my chest that will never be filled living in a world without you. However, in your name and in your honor, I will do my best to continue where you left off. I will fight for the things I care about in ways that lead others to join me. I will use the talents I have to the best of my ability and do as much good as I can.
I will forever be in your debt.
I will forever carry your strength in my heart.
I will forever be your warrior.
And I will forever allow the following question to dictate my actions, "What would RBG do?"
(Me as RBG for Halloween in 2018. I'm pretty sure I'm just going to be RBG for Halloween for the rest of time...)
Kiley Executive Coach & Consultant
Kiley Peters is a serial entrepreneur, national speaker, executive coach, and small business consultant. Having personally counseled over 100 small and medium-sized businesses on operations, business development, digital marketing, and consumer behavior analysis over the last 17 years Kiley is incredibly passionate about serving small business owners. She is the Founder and CEO of Brainchild Studios, a research and business strategy partner for small businesses and mid-market executives, and also created the Work From Home Playbook, a series of online courses guiding aspiring entrepreneurs through the steps of starting a virtual business. With these experiences in her back pocket, she understands the challenges and struggles small business owners encounter.more posts by Kiley →