Women's Lives on Screen

Making Her Case: Dramatisation, Feminism, and the Law in the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Biopic On the Basis of Sex





feminist biopic, gender equality, women’s rights, male professions


The portrayal of women in film has experienced a remarkable increase in recent years (see for example The Iron Lady, Hidden Figures, Jackie, or Judy). Female biographical film becomes particularly powerful when its entire theme and ideology centres around the law and politics of gender and sex, as is the case in Mimi Leder’s biopic On the Basis of Sex (2018) about the life of the late US Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The gender-conscious film portrays and dramatises the life of a determined woman who, despite struggles and sex-based discriminations, has transformed the justice system in terms of gender equality and the protection of women’s rights since the 1970s. This article argues that by negotiating the intertwinement of personal life and public achievement, the film covers pivotal issues of the feminist biopic such as the dissolving of traditional gender roles and a narrative of female success but also points to a collective notion of the biopic in its attempt to initiate wider political and societal discourses. The dramatisation of Ginsburg’s life in the form of a feminist courtroom biopic celebrates Ginsburg’s legacy via a strong affective, political focus and a juxtaposition of private and public, personal and professional, accompanied by an aesthetics of symbolism and symmetry.

Author Biography

Christina Schönberger-Stepien, University of Augsburg

Christina Schönberger-Stepien is currently lecturer at the University of Augsburg, where she received her PhD in October 2020. Her doctoral research on second- and third-person autobiographical writing was fully funded by the German Academic Scholarship Foundation. She holds a PhD in English Literature, an MA in English and American Studies, and a Master of Education. In 2019, she held a Visiting Scholarship at the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing at Wolfson College. Her main research and teaching areas include life-writing, working-class literature, Victorian literature and, more generally, literary theory and British literature and culture from the 19th to the 21st century.





Women's Lives on Screen