30 Iconic Ruth Bader Ginsburg Quotes on Women, Equality, and Justice

Justice Ginsburg's words look to the future, even after her passing.

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Despite all the ways Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made history, she knew the fight for equality wasn’t quite won. Still, the trailblazing attorney perpetually looked to the future with optimism throughout her 87 years.

Born in Brooklyn, Ginsburg earned her law degree from Columbia (after transferring from Harvard) with only nine women in her graduating class. She then became the first female tenured professor at Columbia Law School, became the founder of the Women’s Rights Project, and brought cases to the Supreme Court where she eventually would become the second female Justice in history in 1993.

These Ruth Bader Ginsburg quotes speak to her optimism and hard work to her very end. Her words— reflection, advice, feminist ideas, quotes about change, and leadership quotes—reveal what will now be her legacy: a call to action for future generations to continue her life’s work.

RBG quotes about being a leader

“Whatever you choose to do, leave tracks. That means don’t do it just for yourself. You will want to leave the world a little better for your having lived.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Leave Tracks Quoterd.com, Getty Images

“Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” —Harvard University, 2015

“I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability.”

“When contemplated in its extreme, almost any power looks dangerous.”

“You can’t have it all, all at once.” —The New York Times

“If you want to be a true professional, do something outside yourself.”

“It bothers me when people say to make it to the top of the tree you have to give up a family.” —The New Yorker, 2013

Check out some more empowering quotes from women in politics for timeless advice.

RBG quotes about women and equality

“I don’t say women’s rights—I say the constitutional principle of the equal citizenship stature of men and women.”

“My mother told me two things constantly. One was to be a lady, and the other was to be independent. The study of law was unusual for women of my generation. For most girls growing up in the ’40s, the most important degree was not your B.A., but your M.R.S.”  —via the ACLU

“Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.” —ABC News, 2001

“I’m sometimes asked, ‘When will there be enough?’ and my answer is, ‘When there are nine.’ People are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” —Georgetown Law School, 2015, on how many female Supreme Court Justices is enough

“If you’re a boy and you like teaching, you like nursing, you would like to have a doll, that’s OK. We should each be free to develop our own talents, whatever they may be, and not be held back by artificial barriers.” —My Own Words

“I always thought that there was nothing an antifeminist would want more than to have women only in women’s organizations, in their own little corner empathizing with each other and not touching a man’s world. If you’re going to change things, you have to be with the people who hold the levers.” —The New York Times, 2009

“In recent years, people have said, ‘This is the way I am.’ And others looked around, and we discovered it’s our next-door neighbor—we’re very fond of them, or it’s our child’s best friend, or even our child. I think that as more and more people came out and said that ‘this is who I am,’ the rest of us recognized that they are one of us.” —Bloomberg, 2015

“It’s an unconscious bias. It’s the expectation. You have a lowered expectation when you hear a woman speaking; I think that still goes on. That instinctively when a man speaks, he will be listened to, where people will not expect the woman to say anything of value. But all of the women in my generation have had, time and again, that experience where you say something at a meeting, and nobody makes anything of it. And maybe half an hour later, a man makes the identical point, and people react to it and say, ‘Good idea.’ That, I think, is a problem that persists.” —Slate, 2020

“I didn’t change the Constitution; the equality principle was there from the start. I just was an advocate for seeing its full realization.”

“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.” —U.S. News, 2009

Ruth Bader Ginsburg All Places Where Decisions Are Being Made Quoterd.com, Getty Images

“Feminism—I think the simplest explanation, and one that captures the idea, is a song that Marlo Thomas sang, ‘Free to Be You and Me.’ Free to be, if you were a girl—doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Anything you want to be.” —My Own Words

“The enormous difference between fighting gender discrimination as opposed to race discrimination is good people immediately perceive race discrimination as evil and intolerable. But when I talked about sex-based discrimination, I got the response, ‘What are you talking about? Women are treated ever so much better than men!’”

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her wellbeing and dignity. It’s a decision she must make for herself.”

RBG quotes about dissent and the Supreme Court

“My hope is that we will get back to the way it once was, that kind of collegiality, good relations, people who liked and respected each other even though they disagreed on some important questions.”

“Dissents speak to a future age. The greatest dissents become court opinions and gradually become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.”

“I am ever hopeful that if the court has a blind spot today, its eyes will be open tomorrow.” —Washington Post, 2014

“My dissenting opinions, like my briefs, are meant to persuade. And sometimes one must be forceful about saying how wrong the Court is.” —The New Republic, 2014

“Some of my favorite opinions are dissenting opinions. I will not live to see what becomes of them, but I remain hopeful.” —NPR, 2013

“You can disagree without being disagreeable.”

RBG quotes about change

“You go on to the next challenge and you give it your all. These important issues are not going to go away.”

“Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.” —The New York Times, 2015

“I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.” —via Slate, 2012

“Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” —RBG2018

Now that you’ve been inspired by these Ruth Bader Ginsburg quotes, read up on more quotes from strong women that will make you feel all the girl power. And soon, you’ll be able to catch the justice on one of the new 2023 stamps.

Emma Taubenfeld
Emma Taubenfeld is a former assistant editor for Reader’s Digest who writes about digital lifestyle topics such as memes, social media captions, pickup lines and cute pets. When she’s not working, you can find Emma reading corny young adult novels, creating carefully curated playlists and figuring out how to spice up boxed mac and cheese.