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Ruth Bader Ginsburg has spent a lifetime fighting for gender equality, but in an interview over the weekend the 84-year-old supreme court justice made clear she sees the fight as unfinished business.

When asked at the Sundance Film Festival for her thoughts on the nascent #MeToo movement, she was unequivocal with her praise: “It’s about time,” Ginsburg told her interviewer. “For so long women were silent, thinking there was nothing you could do about it, but now the law is on the side of women, or men, who encounter harassment and that’s a good thing.”

“Every woman of my vintage knows what sexual harassment is, although we didn’t have a name for it,” she said in a wide-ranging interview ahead of the Sundance premiere of RBG, a documentary film about her life.

Ginsburg didn’t shy away from the personal, telling NPR’s Nina Totenberg she too had been subject to such behavior as a student at Cornell preparing for a chemistry test in the 1950s.

“My instructor said … ‘I’ll give you a practice exam,’” Ginsburg recalled. The next day she was alarmed when the practice exam ended up being identical to the real test. “I knew exactly what he wanted in return,” she said. “And that’s just one of many examples.”

Back then, the set of available options for women on the receiving end of sexual harassment was limited. The consensus at the time, Ginsburg said, was “get past it” and “boys will be boys”.

But that didn’t sit well with the future women’s rights lawyer who went straight to the instructor’s office post exam.

“‘How dare you? How dare you do this?’” she recalled demanding of the instructor. “And that was the end of it,” she said.

But it was not the last sexist treatment Ginsburg would experience coming up through America’s educational and legal systems.

As a young law professor at Rutgers, Ginsburg recalled learning that she had been required to take a much greater salary cut than a male colleague with an equivalent degree of experience.

But when she asked the dean about the disparity she was told, “Ruth, he has a wife and two children to support. You have a husband with a good-paying job in New York.”

It was the same year the Equal Pay Act passed, said Ginsburg, and “that was the answer I got”.

She did not accept it as the final word, instead teaming up with other female academics at Rutgers to file an Equal Pay Act complaint, which the university eventually settled.

Later in life – when she found her work as a teacher and litigator helping to found the ACLU Women’s Rights Project was continually interrupted by calls from her son’s school – she handled the situation directly.

“The child was what his teachers called ‘hyperactive’ and I called ‘lively’,” Ginsburg said, but what bothered her more was the school’s apparent impression that she was her son’s sole parent. And so one day, after staying up all night working on a brief, Ginsburg relieved them of the misapprehension. “This child has two parents. Please alternate calls. It’s his father’s turn,” she said.

Her husband Martin – who died in 2010 and who she has called the first man who “cared that I had a brain” – was sent to deal with things that day.

After that, the calls from her son’s school dropped off. “The reason was they had to think long and hard before asking a man to take time out of his work day to come to the school,” she said.

Credit: Guardian