the Basis of Sex
1956. Ruth Bader
Ginsburg marches into Harvard Law School, along with bunches of guys in
suits. Oh, there were a
handful of other women. And
the school considered itself on the vanguard of open-mindedness by
admitting them. But it was
Ruth (Felicity Jones) was married, to an upper classman, Marty (Armie
Hammer), and they have a baby daughter.
Not exactly the circumstances conducive to study.
But they supported one another, always.
When he graduated and was offered a job at a New York City firm,
she asked the Dean if she could complete her third year in absentia.
He refused. He
suggested she transfer to Columbia. So
Harvard misses out on claiming one of the sharpest, and most tenacious,
legal minds of our generation.
After a health scare of Marty's which could have changed
everything, eventually he recovers, and she graduates, but she cannot find
a job with a Big Apple law firm. They
won't hire her, telling her that women are too emotional, or that she's
going to get pregnant again and leave anyway, or that the wives of the
male lawyers in the firm will get jealous.
And, of course, she has no experience actually practicing law.
Yes, the old Catch-22. How
is she supposed to gain that experience?
Finally, she “settles” on accepting a professorship at Rutgers.
It's not what she thought she wanted.
But over the years you can see her confidence growing in her
knowledge of the law, as she leads her students through their discussions
of legal precedents. It sounds
dry, but remember that by now we're in the Vietnam War Protest Era.
The social fabric is shuddering with civil rights activists, both
for racial equality and, almost simultaneously, gender equality.
And even the staid old judicial system was beginning to pay
Through Ruth's previous contact with the head of the ACLU, Mel Wulf
(Justin Theroux)---they went to summer camp together as kids!---she gets
her foot in the door of a potentially precedent-setting case.
A man in Colorado tried to claim his own caretaking services as a
tax deduction, because he was caring for his aged mother, rather than
putting her in a nursing home. The
IRS wouldn't allow it. He
appealed. The tax court upheld
the IRS. But now he's appealed
to the federal circuit court, and both Ruth and her husband Marty, in his
role as a prominent tax attorney, argue the case.
It's about righting a wrong: the
law makes the assumption that only a woman could be a caretaker, which is
(reverse) discrimination “on the basis of sex.”
The movie stops there, and tells us only in postscript about Ruth
Bader Ginsburg successfully arguing gender discrimination cases before the
Supreme Court, and then, eventually, becoming a Supreme Court Justice
herself. It's a stirring story
of personal triumph in the face of persistent opposition.
But it's also a love story, not only between Ruth and Marty, but
their now-teenage daughter, Jane (Cailee Spaeny), and their bonds not only
of familial affection but also deep conviction.
Felicity Jones' performance is terrific, even if she's spotty with
the Brooklyn accent. Armie
Hammer shines as the supportive working husband who's not afraid to put on
an apron and cook. Kathy Bates
enjoys a nice cameo. But this
is one you want your daughters and granddaughters to watch, because this
is important. This is about
equality under the law. And
the determined lady who helped our society recognize its importance.