With our stomachs full of popcorn and Buncha Crunch (the best movie snack combination), my brother and I drove home after seeing “On the Basis of Sex,” the story of now-Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her history-changing case on gender discrimination as a young attorney. We began our usual movie debrief and analysis, discussing how the characters were depicted, what we loved, what we would have changed and how the film made us feel. It was everything we could have asked for in a film about RBG (besides the fact that Felicity Jones, who plays her, isn’t Jewish — but that is for another column). 

We could not get over how strong, soft and confident RBG was depicted in the film. We were so fired up and empowered by watching her story. So I asked my brother where he thought she got her sense of security and confidence. He thought it had to be from her supportive husband Marty, who believed in her, was her equal and stood beside her always. I thought she learned it from her mother, because, in the film, they gave us some background about her teaching Ruth to question everything. But then I thought her confidence could have come from a secureness in her skills, knowledge or talent. And if she didn’t believe in herself, was she just channeling the classic lesson: Fake it until you make it? 

Regardless of how RBG gained her confidence, she was a key leader in change and challenged the status quo in her own way. Ruth Bader Ginsburg harnesses soft energy, a type of spirit that is thoughtful and nurturing yet still comamands people’s attention. She is soft-spoken, thoughtful, detail-oriented and sensitive. With all of these soft traits she holds, she also has the confidence to implement them into her work. When picking the series of cases that made discrimination of gender illegal, she looked at the details and knew how to frame it to the Supreme Court. She knows the power of her skills, knowledge and gifts and uses them to create change. As of late, I have been trying to channel my soft energy because I, too, am one big softie.

I have always been pretty self-aware of my emotional intelligence, sensitivity, nurturing abilities and relationship skills. I thought this skill set could only be really beneficial in my personal life and caretaking for children or older adults. This past year, I became the president of my cooperative house without holding the stereotypical characteristics of a president. I didn’t have the intention of being a leader in my house, but by building strong relationships with my housemates over time, being passionate about the future of our house and being my authentic soft self, I was able to gain this position. Being the president continues to show me how my soft traits positively impact my leadership style and power.

So, if I am aware of my strengths, how do I gain the confidence to apply these traits and put myself out there to work toward positions that scare me or are further out of reach? How can I harness my soft energy the way RBG did in law school and continues to do today as a Supreme Court justice? RBG never changed herself or her style to gain a position in power. She is a great example of how feminine, soft people can lead without having an iron fist or hard, masculine energy. I’m lucky to have someone in power with whom I share identities: being a white Jewish woman and setting the path which she did not have before her. Perhaps due to her position in the world — the privileges she holds and her intersecting role as one of the few woman in a field dominated by men — she has been able to cultivate her confidence.

From now on, I am going to continue harnessing my soft energy and remember that it can positively impact my leadership and power, even if I have to fake it until I make it. I think that when we are confident in our own abilities, even if they challenge the stereotypical image of power, we can create change and lead those around us in our own way.

Ellery Rosenzweig can be reached at erosenz@umich.edu.


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