At the last Athena Power Talk of the semester, the Barnard’s Athena Center welcome Irin Carmon to discuss her career thus far. As one of the co-authors of The Notorious RBG and a ex-correspondent at MSNBC, specializing in gender in politics. Bwog Deputy Editor Mia Lindheimer covers the event.
When Ruth Bader Ginsburg is wearing her “dissent jabot,” Irin Carmon is taking notes. Carmon has been reporting on gender-based issues for most of her career, from riding in a van with pro-lifers to write a story about the historic vote against banning abortions after 20 weeks. Carmon was approached to partner with Shana Knizhnik to author The Notorious RBG: The Life & Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a detailed account of just how RBG became so notorious.
An obvious nod to The Notorious BIG, Ginsberg officially became notorious after she broke the record for dissent from the bench within a week. Although, when told about her new nickname, RBG had no clue who The Notorious BIG was, she now recognizes that the nickname is perfect because they’re “both from Brooklyn.” She was in midst of pressure to retire when people started calling her by this new moniker, and all of a sudden, all of these young women were celebrating her. Knizhnik started the Tumblr, and the book stemmed from its popularity.
RBG’s popularity has grown a little too much for her taste — Carmon showed the audience a picture of Ginsberg’s reaction to the many Notorious RBG tattoos out there, and it’s a face of honest horror. It’s a good reminder that, in some ways, she is still a Jewish grandma. She pulled Carmon aside at an event, saying, “I just need to tell you Irin, the tattoos are going too far.” Nonetheless, Carmon assured the audience that RBG is still “embracing the notorious.”
When asked about just how Ginsberg became a cultural icon in a way really no Supreme Court Justice has before, Irin Carmon attributes it to the fact that RBG has truly transformed women’s standing under the law; she’s stayed herself, and honestly, she’s just reached that age where she “dgaf” and can say what she wants.
The conversation went on for quite a while about RBG’s shenanigans– from elephant-riding with Scalia to insisting to insisting she “don’t sit in the back,” particularly when it comes to white water rafting. According to Carmon, the most surprising thing about RBG are her “arms of steel.” Carmon is definitely not RGB’s doctor, but assured the audience that Ginsberg is on top of her health. In fact, she cited a time that RGB left dinner with the Obamas early to get to her workout on time. She’s taking her vitamins and, knock on wood, should make it through this administration.
Carmon herself has a lot to say about recent political developments. If Hillary had been the current President, we likely would have another feminist on the Supreme Court and possibly even had the opportunity to rewrite how women are treated in regards to politics.
After spending about three years at MSNBC, Carmon has a unique perspective about journalism today. MSNBC calls itself progressive, so Carmon didn’t even need to ask to cover the reproductive issues she wanted to. Additionally, she felt that people who she was reporting on respected her more; she wasn’t trying to trick them so much as understand their side of the story. She advocates that, rather than acting as completely unbiased reporters, journalists acknowledge the perspective they are coming from and treating the opposition with respect. She thinks there are a solid amount of people doing that right now. Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow, for example, still talk to republicans like they’re human, while still maintaining and stating their own values.
She also regards the rise of fake news as simple capitalism; where there is a demand, there will be a supply. Before the election, apparently, the majority of fake news was catered to right-wing readers. Now, however, there is a lot more “Donald Trump Might Get Impeached TODAY,” type of posts; it’s just what the people want to see.
When asked about who she thinks the first woman President of the United States might be, Carmon gave a few ideas with the disclaimer that, looking at where we are now, she really doesn’t want to get in the business of predicting things. Still she named Nikki Haley, because there’s a trend of the first woman leader of a country coming from a more conservative side (see: Margaret Thatcher). On a more hopeful note, she named Kirsten Gillibrand as a possibility as well.
How do we move forward? According to Irin Carmon, we should do our best to avoid “activism fatigue,” and make sure we continue to “channel the spirit of RBG.”
Image courtesy of Athena Center Facebook Page