By the time the character of Marty Ginsburg donned his second apron in the new Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic, the audience imperative became clear, at least to me: Sure, take your daughters to see “On the Basis of Sex,” which opened this week. But more importantly, take your sons.
Take your sons because it’s good for them to see powerful, brilliant women in leading roles. Because overhearing a group of teenage fanboys excitedly discuss Brie Larson as Captain Marvel in a coffee shop last week legitimately warmed my irritated holiday-season heart. And because, yes, RBG is a historic figure, blah blah, celebrated with action dolls and a signature workout routine, blah blah.
But mostly take your sons because it’s important for them to see powerful, brilliant men in partnering roles. And because Marty Ginsburg — who in real life championed his wife’s Supreme Court appointment and truly was an excellent cook — is an illustration of a man who understood that his manhood didn’t need to be threatened by his wife’s success, any more than it needed to be threatened by the testicular cancer he learned of early in their marriage. After his diagnosis, Ruth doubled up on her class load and typed out his law school papers so he could graduate. He went on to become an esteemed Georgetown professor.
She sacrificed for his career, then he did the same for hers. She grew because he fed her, literally and spiritually.
If there’s a through line in the emails that have landed in my inbox this year, it’s that men want me to write more about them. “But, the good things about men,” as one reader put it a few months ago.
The secret, of course, is that all columns about women are equally columns about men, and vice versa. And all columns about transgender people are, in some ways, columns about cisgender people, because we all inhabit this earth together, and the friction between us is what ends up shaping who we are.
Would more women understand they could be Supreme Court justices if more men understood they were allowed to be not breadwinners but breadmakers? What if we acknowledged that the stereotypes holding some of us back are actually holding all of us back — an impossible equation in which putting one person on an awkward pedestal forces another person down to the dirt?
In recent years, the “Bechdel test” has entered the popular lexicon as an easy way to assess women’s representation in movies. To pass the test, films must include at least one scene in which two female characters have a conversation about something that isn’t a man. “On the Basis of Sex” would easily pass: There are multiple scenes involving Ruth and her modern-thinking daughter butting heads over the right way to tackle sexism.
But another movie about Ginsburg was released in 2018, a documentary called “RBG,” and some essayists argued that it didn’t pass tests of gender representation. Too much attention was given to Marty, went the argument; he was awarded outsize credit for her success.
I saw that documentary, too, and the importance given to Marty’s role didn’t bother me. There’s nothing sexist about recognizing that in marriages, one person’s success often depends on the supportiveness of their spouse. There’s nothing wrong with crediting a good man who used his privilege to help advance equality.
Give me movies about women. Movies where they talk to each other and laugh with each other and help advance one another’s careers.
But also give me Marty Ginsburg in an apron, any day of the week. Marty in the kitchen is the essential complement to Ruth on the bench. And even while he’s acting as her counterbalance, they’re on the same side.
Monica Hesse is a columnist writing about gender and its impact on society. For more visit wapo.st/hesse .