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On the Basis of Sex
Women Are Using the New RBG Movie As a Reminder of All the Progress Yet to Be Made
Mary Pharris, director of Business Development and Partnerships at Fairygodboss (l.), and Melissa Murray, professor of Law, NYU School of Law. Photo:Sari Goodfriend
Fairygodboss

Whether or not 2018 was the year you adopted Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s workout routine or wore a Notorious RBG sweatshirt to your office holiday party, one thing’s for sure: the Justice’s decades-long career has never felt more relevant. And “On the Basis of Sex,” a new film directed by Mimi Leder and starring Felicity Jones (as RBG) and Armie Hammer (as her husband, Marty), pays homage to Ginsburg’s work and its enduring significance. 

The movie hones in on the 1972 case in which Ginsburg represented Charles Moritz, who was denied a dependent-care tax deduction because of his gender. After winning the case, Ginsburg went on to devote her career to arguing against similarly outdated laws that discriminate on the basis of sex.

At a panel discussion held in Manhattan on Dec. 6 before a screening of “On the Basis of Sex,” Mary Pharris, director of Business Development and Partnerships at Fairygodboss, joined Lauren Leader, co-founder and CEO, All In Together; Gina Biondo, tax partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC); Sherry Leiwant, co-founder & co-president, A Better Balance; and Melissa Murray, professor of Law, NYU School of Law, to discuss RBG’s legacy and the most pressing gender gaps still facing women today. 

Leader pointed out that while 2018 has “undoubtedly been the year of the woman,” we still have a long way to go, and in some areas, we’re actually regressing. In 2014, for example, the U.S. ranked 54th among all countries in the world for political participation and equity of women. In 2015, that ranking dropped to 72, and then to 73 in 2016, and then to 96 in 2017, according to the World Economic Forum.

The panelists discussed some of the structural and cultural norms that need to change in order to achieve true gender parity. Biondo offered her expertise from a workplace perspective: “I feel it’s extremely important that we have more highly visible role models at the top,” she said. “I was the first woman partner on the tax side [at PwC],” she added. “I feel an overwhelming personal responsibility to really pave the way for the next generation of women at my firm. To me it’s about role models; we need to be more visible.” 

Biondo also spoke about some of PwC’s advocacy of women’s advancement, including CEO Tim Ryan’s commitment to diversity and the firm’s blindspot/unconscious bias training

“We’re trying to make people more aware of the assumptions they carry. Diversity never sleeps; we’re never done. We’re getting people to think differently; when it comes to decision-making, people are taking a step back and they’re really evaluating [the situation] before making that decision.”

Murray spoke about how our perceptions of families need to change: “One thing that you’ll see in the movie is that RGB was really instrumental in trying to dismantle stereotypes of who was a caregiver and who was a breadwinner,” she said. “These stereotypes also had a negative a effect on men who might want to be a caregiver or more involved with family.” Murray urged that we must stop framing these issues as “women’s issues.” As she put it, “discrimination against women affects everyone.” 

 Leiwant added that within workplaces and the way in which we look at families, “we really need to go in to deeply change the culture around who’s in power and who should be in power. What we have to do is look at what RBG has achieved and go deeper than that so that women are at the forefront.”

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