In honour of International Women’s Day 2021 (IWD2021) it seems fitting to honour the iconic former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (a.k.a RBG), who passed away on September 18, 2020. She was a trailblazer in fighting for gender equality in the legal arena and a force to reckon with as a jurist. IWD2021 brings an opportunity to recognize this incredible woman, advocate, judge and gender and equality champion. RBG’s work and decisions changed the lives of women in the United States in particular. However her impact certainly flowed into Canada and around the world. Over the course of her life RBG’s brand power sky rocketed. Although a Supreme Court Justice makes for an unlikely pop icon, such was the case for RBG. This blog takes a brief look at some of the brands that became associated with Madam Justice Ginsburg.
RBG is known for her trademark collar that she wore with her judicial robes. A unique and differentiating symbol that clearly became associated with Madam Justice Ginsburg. This trademark collar was not only associated with RBG among those in the legal profession, but among women and girls of many generations across the world. Although Madam Justice Ginsburg often wore a white collar, as is sometimes portrayed on figurines in her likeness, she actually had many collars of different colours and styles. I have read and understand that RBG often selected her collar with intention, choosing a collar for particular purposes and meaning, including having a favourite collar to express her dissenting opinion.
Indeed ‘I Dissent’ is another trademark of RBG, that has acquired distinctiveness. A children’s picture book published by Simon & Schuster with that title is a popular read among the younger generation and their parents. The book is about the life of RBG and helps teach children, and adults alike, the lesson from one of RBG’s often quoted sayings: disagreeing doesn’t make you disagreeable. A board game entitled “I Dissent”, with the tag line – a game of Supreme opinions, also exists whereby players present arguments and other players cast votes in support or against the player’s argument. Points are gained by getting the majority vote. However if you dare to dissent you may score even more points! Further pins, mugs, clothing and other merchandise are branded “I Dissent”, making an association with RBG. Never before has a judge’s expression of dissent taken on such wide recognition and brand power.
According to statements made by Madam Justice Ginsburg, dissents speak to a future age. Her dissents are not simply about others being wrong. She stated that the greatest dissents become court opinions and gradually over time the dissenting views become the dominant view. The dissenter’s hope is that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow. With “I Dissent” we are reminded of the importance of speaking up and speaking out and how that helps move the dial in bringing about change. A lesson well suited for IWD2021.
‘When there are nine’ is another example of a statement by Madam Justice Ginsburg that has acquired distinctiveness. This derives from her answer to the question: when will there be enough women on the Supreme Court? In various interviews RBG expressed that people are shocked by her answer. But then adds, there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that. This RBG saying has taken on a brand recognition in a somewhat unexpected space. The Boston beer company Samuel Adams released “When There Are Nine,” a Belgian brut IPA brewed on International Women’s Day March 8, 2019 and dedicated to the Supreme Court Justice.
Madam Justice Ginsburg unexpectedly leaped into pop culture with ‘Notorious RBG’ – which was actually a play on the rapper Biggie Smalls nickname Notorious B.I.G. In 2013 a New York University law student, Shana Knizhnik created a social media account using the Notorious RBG moniker. The brand recognition grew even more from the 2015 book entitled “the Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik. The Notorious RBG brand is likely the most well known and it seems to have taken on somewhat of a life of its own. This is not a brand that actually flows directly from RBG herself in that unlike her trademark collars or well-known statements, this brand came to be associated with her. Although it is often said that she did not seek the limelight, many interviews with her note that she learned to enjoy the notoriety. All kinds of paraphernalia use the Notorious RBG brand or the associated image and meme of RBG and a crown, including pins, bags, clothing, and pillows, and can be found with the logo and branding.
I would not be surprised if this International Women’s Day we see people honouring one of the great women of our times by sporting one or more RBG brands or quoting one of her noteworthy statements.
The above helps illustrate the supreme brand recognition associated with this late Supreme Court Justice. An influencer. A leader. An equal rights advocate. A role model. A change-maker. A branded all star.