On the Basis of Sex: How Ruth Bader Ginsberg overcame years of gender inequality


Jonathan Wenk / Focus Features

(l to r.) Armie Hammer as Marty Ginsburg and Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg star in Mimi Leder’s ON THE BASIS OF SEX, a Focus Features release.

Zoie Chan, staff writer

On the Basis of Sex is a movie that covers Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s journey through her career as an attorney to overturn a century’s worth of gender inequality. It follows her through her time at Harvard Law School to her first case regarding sex-based discrimination, showcasing her hardships throughout her education to her struggling to find jobs as an attorney.


The movie starts with a scene showing a crowd of men donning briefcases and suits on their way to entering Harvard Law School. The song “10,000 Men of Harvard” blares before zooming in on Felicity Jones’ face, her dress in stark contrast with the dark suits surrounding her. The film instantly points out the lack of women within the incoming class through Erwin Griswold’s opening speech’s lack of gender-inclusive pronouns and his scathing comments towards the female students attending the banquet dinner.


It also points out quite quickly the dismissive attitude men had towards women through the first classroom scene where Ginsburg’s professor refused to call on her to answer his question until she interjects, proving her place within the school as she answers the question perfectly. While a tad bit cliche, this scene conveys her character to the audience as a woman who will not back down from a challenge. This is further reinforced by later scenes depicting her various trials and tribulations with taking care of her husband with testicular cancer, caring for her newborn baby, and finding a job in New York City.


The audience is shown a very vulnerable side of her when she settles for a job at Rutgers University. Despite her dreams of being an attorney, she is forced to accept a teaching job out of defeat. This series of events in particular showcases the hardships of finding a position in a “man’s” profession, even with her qualifications. Her inner turmoil is further displayed through arguments with her daughter and husband, showing viewers the emotional price she pays for settling to be a professor.


Although emotionally charged to cliche at some points, the movie covers Ginsburg’s rise to fame relatively well through her taking of Charles Moritz’s case. Moritz was denied a tax benefit given to female caregivers because of his gender. His peculiar situation opened the door for Ginsburg to tackle sex-based discrimination in court, her victory not only opening Moritz up to the benefit of the caregiver tax but counting towards a win for the women’s movement overall.


Though the movie has problems with over dramatization of certain scenes, and includes an awkward dancing sing-along with Mel Wulf of A.C.L.U. that viewers are stuck watching in utter confusion, it does a great job wrapping up Ginsburg’s early career and achievements. Her character’s growth is visible throughout her time at Harvard to the end of the Moritz case, showing not only how she matured, but how her family matured along with her. Most of all, it reminds the viewer of their place of privilege within society today and motivates them to fight the fight not yet won against gender discrimination.


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