Felicity Jones sets out to change hearts and minds in ON THE BASIS OF SEX. The film, which opens on December 25, follows an ambitious young woman determined to overcome gender discrimination using the law as her primary tool.
But what makes this story even more intriguing is that it is true. The biopic is inspired by the early life and career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, played by Felicity Jones. The film shows how she constantly fought to change laws around discrimination, before her role in a case brought before the U.S. court of appeals ultimately gave her the opportunity.
Overcoming The Odds
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s battle with discrimination started long before she challenged it in the courtroom. In fact, she often faced prejudice throughout her youth — one major confrontation with bias came when she was demoted from her job at Oklahoma’s Social Security Administration office during her pregnancy.
Ginsburg enrolled in Harvard Law School a year after giving birth to her daughter. This in itself was a big deal, as she was one of only nine women in a class of over 500 men. This only led to more discrimination. As the trailer for ON THE BASIS OF SEX shows, the Dean of Harvard Law asked her (and the other women at the school) “How do you justify taking a spot from a qualified man?”
None of this stopped Ginsburg from working her way to the top. She transferred to Columbia Law School, where she earned her Juris Doctor degree. (As joint top of her class, no less!) Yet she still struggled to find employment in the male-dominated world of law, receiving rejections due to her gender. She fought on, and got a job she used to pave the way for more opportunities.
Fighting For Equality
Ginsburg’s appointment as a professor at Rutgers Law School was somewhat revolutionary. Yet again, there were few female law professors in the U.S. at the time. Not that everything changed all at once. Ginsburg dealt with the same problems after that appointment, receiving less pay than her male colleagues.
Still, she persevered. Ginsburg soldiered on to make history once again in 1970, when she and her students co-founded the first ever U.S. law journal to focus solely on women’s rights.
Taking On The Law
After co-founding the Women’s Rights Project, Ginsburg soon began taking gender discrimination cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals. Ironically, perhaps the most significant case she argued involved discrimination against a man. Despite that detail, the case proved to be the perfect vehicle to spread her concept of equality.
The case was Charles E. Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue. The crux was that a man (Moritz), who took care of his aging mother, had been denied a specific income tax deduction on the basis of his gender. (This deduction was only available to women.) Ginsburg didn’t normally do tax cases, but after it was brought to her attention by her husband, Martin Ginsburg, she teamed up with him and took on the case.
Ginsburg spoke about the flawed basis of the law when visiting Stanford Law School. She commented:
“The line the law drew rested on a stereotype: Women are caregivers, so a daughter would take care of her aging mother, but men are out in the world, earning a living, so they don’t take personal care of aging parents.”
We won’t spoil the outcome before you see ON THE BASIS OF SEX. That case plays a significant role in the story. It was, in many ways, the young Ginsburg’s chance to prove herself, and a starting point to attack all the deep-rooted discrimination written into law.
ON THE BASIS OF SEX hits theaters on December 25.