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Words of Women - Essay Contest
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Essay of the Year


Na Kyoung Diana Lee


2016 Words of Women Essay of the Year


Na Kyoung Diana Lee, Seoul, South Korea

The Most Influential Woman in My Life: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg

The New York Times calls her a “feminist trailblazer;” National Public Radio and Time say she is the “octogenarian justice” showered by “cultish appreciation” from young women. In her thirteen years of service, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has earned enough notoriety to rival that of “Notorious B.I.G,” a 90s Brooklyn rap icon. Indeed, the title of a bestselling biography dubs her “The Notorious R.B.G.”

In a world where women are often besieged by social constructs of docility and fragility, female notoriety is open to take shape in a wide array of forms. Joan of Arc, for example, was notorious for her boldness. Hatshepsut was notorious for her power. Justice Ginsburg, admittedly, has no swords, shields, crowns, or headdresses; instead, she swings a gavel and dons a jabot. Nevertheless, her battle against gender inequality proves her notorious, indeed.

As a kid, I would sit on the sidelines of playgrounds and watch as Korean boys were taught the courage and pride of warriors, and mimicked the growls of tiger cubs. Little Korean girls sat inside, learning the virtues composure and serenity. We were taught to appreciate pale skin and doe eyes like those of delicate porcelain dolls. And, like dolls, we were taught to be obedient. South Korea was still not free from stereotypes reminiscent of its ancient Confucian fairytales.

In ninth grade, still trapped in porcelain princess prison, I found Justice Ginsburg. At Harvard Law School, she was one of nine women in a class of 500. Those odds were thrust against her when the dean greeted the female first year students during a dinner at his home. But rather than guffaws and gin, the only thing he offered the nine women was a cursory glance and a cutting question: why should a woman deserve a seat at Harvard Law—a seat that should have been taken by a man? Even then, I had encountered this type of interrogation all too frequently.

Justice Ginsburg didn’t give in.

She ranked first in her class, and went on to become the second ever female Supreme Court Justice in 1993. In 1996, she fought against the Virginia Military Institute when they refused to admit women. In 2011, she shredded Walmart over its grossly imbalanced number of male managers juxtaposed with an overwhelming majority of female hourly workers. Then, in 2014, she stood against Hobby Lobby when it denied women contraceptive coverage.

Porcelain dolls are beautiful, but notorious women are inspiring. Today, Justice Ginsburg still employs her experiences fighting gender inequality to champion new legal standards. When she joined the Supreme Court bench, the Notorious R.B.G had defied all expectations of her as a woman. She is no doll; she is an icon of justice. Her voice managed to do what neither the sword of Joan of Arc nor the crown of Hatshepsut could. She shattered my porcelain walls. In her notoriety, I found my voice.

Browse our past winning essays by year. Enjoy!

2015 Linda Biehl - San Marcos, California
2014 Massoma Jafari and Supriya Ganesh - Kabul, Afghanistan and Noida, India
2013 Talia Weisberg - New York, NY
2012 Nikki Gastineau Johnson - Bloomington, Indiana
2011 Audrey Miranda - Dallas, Texas
2010 Cindy Morris - Boulder, Colorado
2009 Maggie Holman - Plano, Texas
2008 Judith-ann Anderson - Dallas, Texas
2007 Mary Franklin - Dallas, Texas
2006 Tiffany Nilson - New York City
2006 Saffia Meek - Lewisvile, Texas
2005 Amy Green - Garland, Texas
2004 M Mehtap Aldogan - Istanbul, Turkey
2003 Annastina Wikell - Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
2002 Christine Jarosz - Dallas, Texas
2001 Johanna Baldwin - London, England