Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away last week and, in a recent discovery, the internet has no patience for human grief.
Do political figures deserve peace in death?
They gave up a lot to acquire the power they wielded in life. Many sacrifice their families, their retirements, their privacy. After their death, the consequences of their actions live on — in legislature, public opinion and history books. Do public figures, especially those in politics, get to rest in peace?
This conversation, most recently stoked by the passing of United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is a heavy dispute shaping the landscape of our collective values and standards.
Does Ginsburg deserve a quiet, private passing, despite the public and political consequences of her death? Since her passing last Friday, with her public and personal life on display, the progressive-leaning corners of the internet have taken to criticizing Ginsburg’s policies and values, and her impact on society and law. That must be nice for her family in mourning.
It is important to critically assess the decisions made by those in power. It is important to celebrate successes and openly discuss failures. In life and in death, our policymakers weave the fabric of our society, and it is our duty to use our right to think and speak freely.
With this in mind, our society also has customs, and our customs guide our collective moral compass, behavioural norms and cultural taboos. We have undressed a lot of customs over the last century and determined that some no longer serve us, and we have fortified others that remain relevant today.
In death, people of the Jewish faith have a custom called “sitting shiva,” shiva meaning seven in Hebrew. Sitting shiva is when the intimate family of the deceased mourn their loss over seven days by inviting loved ones and mourners to their home to fortify community and support throughout their grieving process. It is a time to come together. It is a time to lay loved ones to rest.
It’s barely been a week since Ginsburg’s passing. Those closest to Ginsburg, who was Jewish herself, have not yet concluded the tradition of shiva. Meanwhile, Ginsburg’s work and legacy are in violent dispute. Can people have a moment to grieve?
Ginsburg was not perfect, and should not be deified — nobody should be. I find it distressing that we have two options for celebrities in our society: hero or villain, us or them, perfect or disgraceful. Neither life nor people have to be absolute and binary.
Beyond that, singular thinking like this hinders connection, productivity, and mobilization, which are major factors in democracy’s inefficiency. Why is Ginsburg, after a career championing women’s rights, in death labeled the image of “white feminism?” Can’t those who support gender equality bridge the gaps between our differing visions, and celebrate the victories when we do reach them?
We spend so much time arguing amongst ourselves how to accomplish gender equality that we create more obstacles for the movement. Ginsburg made many mistakes, such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline crossing the Appalachian Trail, located in Virginia, that she voted to pass. She also made a lot of progress. Can’t we talk about, during this week of mourning, all of the beautiful ways she contributed to the gender equality movement?
This idea is not about censorship. It is the custom of North American society, and the custom of Jewish society, and I believe it serves our society today. It is a question of dignity to allow Ginsburg’s grieving family to celebrate and love her in peace.
I want to hold hands. In her long career as a lawyer, and member of the Supreme Court Justice of the United States, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was instrumental in passing laws that support abortion rights, same sex marriage rights, prevent gender and reproductive discrimination in the workplace, include women in jury duty, ensure equality with social security and tax exemptions, enable those assigned female at birth (afab) to own credit cards and take out mortgages — the list goes on.
While notorious for her guts, her grind, and her relentlessness, RBG does not deserve to be deified. Her family deserves a week of mourning. Her critics deserve a chance to reflect on her complicated legacy. Her supporters deserve a chance to learn more about her shortcomings. Ruth Bader Ginsburg deserves to rest in peace.
Graphic by Taylor Reddam