On the Basis of Sex

women in movies

I am a proud owner of not one, but two, mugs emblazoned with the likeness of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the inspiration for my interest in law, and my obsession with her has defined my persona in college. When the RBG documentary was released over the summer, I made my way to the smallest movie theatre I had ever entered to bask in the glory of my hero’s story. When the trailer for On the Basis of Sex was released, I watched each version too many times to count. I patiently awaited Christmas Day for the release of the full film.

When Christmas rolled around, I checked showtimes. In order to go see the movie that day, I would have needed to drive over an hour from my suburb to a larger suburb. My roommate, who lives in a city, was luckier. Although the film was only playing in one theatre in the Denver metropolitan area, it was still accessible. She gushed about how wonderful the story was, how she felt uplifted and inspired leaving the theatre. She even cried.

I don’t want Hollywood to tell me that, as a woman, I can do anything that a man can do (naturally, without messing up a face of perfect makeup).

I was immensely jealous. I promised myself that I would figure out a way to see the film once it was released more widely in January, trusting that it would be easily accessible somewhere in the city of Philadelphia. When I returned to school in mid-January, a week after the wide release of the film, I was disappointed to find showtimes at only one small theatre on the other side of the city. I had expected as much from the RBG documentary, but this was a feature film. It had a giveaway, big name movie stars, a number of New York Times features.

women in movies

How could people not care about the story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg? Why was this enthralling history reduced to a limited release? Why was it relegated to small theatres?

When Ruth Bader Ginsburg herself was in law school, she was perceived as diverging too much from the idea of what a lawyer should be. Being both Jewish and a woman meant that she would never be taken seriously. This discrimination occurred in the 1950s, but even in 2019, the story of a Jewish woman lifting herself up by her own bootstraps is still too far off mainstream to be widely distributed.

I want a uniquely female narrative. I want true stories, fantasies, action, biographies, superhero films, horror, romance, and comedy.

It seems that this issue is not with Ruth Bader Ginsburg or her story, but with stories centered around women more largely. Take 2016’s Ghostbusters remake. Take 2018’s Ocean’s Eight. Both movies were praised as advancement for representation of women on screen by feminists yet pilloried by fans of the franchise who disliked the idea of “ruining” the movie by changing the gender of the main characters with no major alterations to the plot.

women in movies

I don’t see either of these films as “ruining” the originals on which they are based. However, they do nothing to advance feminism. They do not tell uniquely female stories: they tell the same stories with different characters. They attempt to cater to nostalgia and make only a base-level attempt at modernizing and equalizing the gender imbalances which exist in Hollywood.

I don’t want Hollywood to tell me that, as a woman, I can do anything that a man can do (naturally, without messing up a face of perfect makeup). I already know that. I already know that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did: backwards and in heels.

women in movies

I want a uniquely female narrative. I want true stories, fantasies, action, biographies, superhero films, horror, romance, and comedy. I want every person in the world to see female faces and names on billboards. I want young women to see it. I want young women to know that it’s possible to tell their stories. I want to know that the world will listen. Women don’t just want more. We deserve it.


Leana Reich

Leana Reich is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying Cultural and Linguistic Anthropology. She loves to explore cities, particularly by way of coffee shops and museums, and doesn’t properly understand how lucky she is to have lived at the beach her entire life. She does understand how lucky she is to have such an amazing mom as a role model and appreciates her every day.


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