Why Some Women Are Getting Tattoos Of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Face

Photo: Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post/Getty Images.
The documentary film RBG, in theaters May 4, portrays Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a hard-nosed workaholic with more than a few wins for women's rights under her jabot. But it also highlights, rather pointedly, her influence on The Youths. In several scenes, fawning would-be attorneys run up to her to ask for her autograph or take a selfie.
The adoration has extended to pop culture, and the film makes a mountain out of things the sober Supreme Court Justice hasn't historically paid a whole lot of attention to: memes (obviously, Notorious RBG), SNL, and most certainly not tattoos.
While flattered by superfans who get tattoos of her face, the 85-year-old has also said she was "a little distressed that people are really doing that." It's permanent. She's more traditional than that. But this hasn't stopped people from commemorating her with ink.
Amy Wallace, a 34-year-old attorney in Minneapolis, got a Rosie the Riveter-inspired RBG sleeve last year, which had a blink-or-you'll-miss-it cameo in the new film. "Justice Ginsburg is my only personal hero, and as an atheist, my adoration of her is the closest thing I get to personal worship," she told Refinery29. "The secular iconography of Rosie the Riveter mashed up with Justice Ginsburg seemed like a perfect articulation of the way I feel about her." The idea for it came after seeing someone else's tattoo of Our Lady of Guadalupe with a modern, feminist twist (A.K.A. standing inside a vulva instead of surrounded by a religious halo).
Wallace met Justice Ginsburg when she visited the University of Minnesota for a talk in October 2014. "The other clerk in the office I was working in at the time was salty about being required to go to the event — he said he wasn't interested because it wasn't Justice [Antonin] Scalia, and gave me his ticket."
"I couldn't believe his bad taste or my good fortune," she added. "When I met her, I was so overawed by her presence that I burst into tears before I could even get a word out."
Photo: Courtesy of Amy Wallace.
As a woman who was putting herself through law school at night and working full-time, Wallace said she could relate to Justice Ginsburg. The new documentary details how RBG excelled in law school while taking care of both her young daughter and her husband Marty, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer. She would stay up almost all night, helping him with his own law-school coursework, and get about two hours of sleep. "I felt a kinship with her as a fellow second-shift sister," Wallace said.
But the biggest reason she idolizes the justice is her fearless, groundbreaking work. "I love her not only for her feminist jurisprudence, but also for the quiet influence she's had privately with all those straight, white, rich dudes who’ve rotated through the court over the years," she said. "Heaven help us if she’d never been on the bench."
Wallace is not the only fan of the justice to depict her in permanent ink. Jasmine Wardle, a 24-year-old working on her Master's in public health in Salt Lake City, sports a sleeve of a younger RBG, perhaps during her attorney days with the ACLU, with soft brown curls and big blue eyes.
Underneath the tattoo, it says, "I dissent," referring to the justice's increasing number of dissenting opinions in her later years on the Supreme Court. Wardle said she chose the young RBG because she wanted to "honor the woman who worked her ass off to get to the Supreme Court and everything she had to do to get there."
"RBG is an idol of mine," Wardle, a Planned Parenthood volunteer and sex educator, told Refinery29. "Her dedication to equal rights inspires me. Fighting for reproductive justice and sex education in a state as conservative as Utah is tough, but she reminds me to keep fighting for what I believe in."
Wallace and Wardle's tattoos have a serious, defiant tone, but Lexi Parkhurst, a 20-year-old college student in Melbourne, FL, decided to go the more humorous route for hers. (For the record, Wardle and Parkhurst's tattoos weren't featured in the film.)
"I wanted to dedicate something to someone who has done so much for the good of the people, and women especially," Parkhurst told Refinery29. "So the crown? Biggie Smalls! [Ed. note: She's referring to the iconic 1997 photo of the Notorious B.I.G.] It had to make an appearance in the piece, and who else would rock that crown other than the Notorious RBG?" The glass of red wine? That's an homage to the justice admitting "I wasn't 100% sober" after catching some ZZZs at the 2015 State of the Union. (Respect.)
Undoubtedly part of the reason to tattoo RBG is is the desire to keep her alive longer, because even though she has said she's not retiring anytime soon, the "flaming feminist litigator" is in her 80s. As someone who has helped create the ACLU Women's Rights Project and pushed for women's equality her entire career, she's someone whom feminists need as a thorn in Trump's side for as long as she is up to the task. Coupled with her unexpected zeitgeisty coolness, it's not hard to see why people are letting her get under their skin.
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