On the Basis of Sex Parent Guide
A compelling story of a ferociously intelligent woman, her unusually supportive husband, and the legal battle for gender equality.
Parent Movie Review
At the beginning of her first year at Harvard Law School in 1956, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) is at the receiving end of a shocking question from Dean Erwin Griswold (Sam Waterston). At a formal dinner, the dean asks the handful of female students to explain “why you’re occupying a place that could have gone to a man.”
The fact that such a question is so outrageously offensive today is partially due to the legal work of Ms. Ginsburg, a leader in court challenges against discriminatory legislation and, since 1993, a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
But Justice Ginsburg’s success didn’t come quickly and her struggle is the heart of this triumphant film. Early in her first school term, Ruth’s husband, Martin Ginsburg (Armie Hammer), collapses and is diagnosed with testicular cancer. Marty is in his second year of law school and it is not certain that he will even survive, let alone complete his education. But he married a woman of uncommon determination. While Marty endures his draining medical treatments, Ruth looks after their baby, attends her classes and completes her assignments, and then goes to Marty’s classes to take notes for him. Watching this film left me astounded not only with Ruth’s intelligence, but with her energy and perseverance. Having married a law student and seen first hand the toll law school can take, I started calculating in my head how many hours of sleep a night Ruth would have been able to get while managing her unbelievable workload. The answer was precious few.
Even with her extraordinary intelligence and work ethic, Ruth has to take a circuitous path to legal success – more direct routes closed due to her gender. Harvard Law School blocks her request to complete her degree in New York City when her husband gets a job there. After she transfers to Columbia Law School and graduates at the top of her class, law firms refuse to hire her. (“We hired a woman last year,” one lawyer tells her. “Why would we want another one?) So Ruth settles for a career in academia and becomes an expert in sexual discrimination, teaching students who can go on to change the world. Then, one day, her husband hands her a tax case he thinks she will find interesting. And the rest is history…
On the Basis of Sex is a compelling story about the long journey towards gender equality. It contains potent messages about equality of the sexes, the benefits of hard work and preparation, and the examples parents set for their children. It also shows a united, loving marriage where both parties are totally committed to the growth and happiness of the other. This is the kind of marriage that more parents would like their teens to see on the big screen. It should be pointed out, however, that the affection in this marriage is demonstrated in the movie’s single sensual scene: this involves Marty sliding off Ruth’s dress, kissing her on the chest, and carrying her off to bed. Aside from this episode, other content issues are occasional profanities (including one sexual expletive) and some drinking and smoking. My only quibble with the film is that Felicity Jones’ Brooklyn accent seems to come and go throughout the film, which is a forgivable lapse in her otherwise tenacious performance.
Minor flaws aside, this is a rousing, thought-provoking film parents (or teachers) can use as a springboard for discussions with teens. It made me want to come home and hug my daughter, grateful that her opportunities aren’t limited on the basis of sex.Directed by Mimi Leder. Starring Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, and Justin Theroux. Running time: 120 minutes. Theatrical release January 11, 2019. Updated April 29, 2020
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On the Basis of Sex
Rating & Content Info
Why is On the Basis of Sex rated PG-13? On the Basis of Sex is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for some language and suggestive content
Violence: A young man collapses while playing a game; he later learns that he has testicular cancer. Minor family arguments are seen: there is no physical violence but there are some raised voices. A woman is repeatedly demeaned due to her gender.
Sexual Content: A husband and wife embrace; he unzips the back of her dress and kisses her chest. They embrace passionately and he carries her onto the bed. Further sexual activity is not seen but is implied.
Profanity: There are approximately one dozen mild and moderate profanities as well as one sexual expletive. Slurs are used against Jews and African Americans on two occasions.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Minimal social drinking in a few scenes. A husband and wife toast each other with champagne at home and clink glasses with their young daughter. There is historically accurate smoking in a few scenes.
Page last updated April 29, 2020
On the Basis of Sex Parents' Guide
Ruth Bader Ginsburg blazed a trail for women to follow. Which women in your family were the trailblazers? Who was the first woman in your family to vote? To graduate from high school? From university? To start a business? How can you benefit from learning about their experiences?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
If you want to hear Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s story from her perspective, check out My Own Words, a collection of her writings and speeches. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a biography written by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik. For bite-sized quotes from the famous judge, try Mary Zaia’s You Can’t Spell Truth Without Ruth: An Unauthorized Collection of Witty & Wise Quotes from the Queen of Supreme, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Another female Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, has shared her experiences and perspective in My Beloved World.
Justice Ginsburg stands on the shoulders of a long line of pioneers for equal rights. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has written Bold & Brave: Ten Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote to celebrate those women. This book is suitable for children. Also suitable for young readers is Chelsea Clinton’s She Persisted, with its story of inspiring women such as Helen Keller, Harriet Tubman, Sally Ride, Nellie Bly, and Oprah Winfrey. She has also written an international version celebrating female pioneers around the world.
Adults looking for a more in-depth treatment of history should dig into Sally G McMillen’s Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement. One of the earliest calls for female equality dates back to the 18th century and Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women.
Women around the world are continuing to fight for their rights and those of others. Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have written an inspiring account of their efforts in Half the Sky.
The most recent home video release of On the Basis of Sex movie is April 9, 2019. Here are some details…
Related home video titles:
On the Basis of Sex is available for streaming. Women’s rights have never come easily. Suffragette tells the harrowing story of what women in England endured as they fought for the right to vote.
Earlier in 2018, RBG, a documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg hit the theaters to popular acclaim.
Life without equal rights is brutal for women, as is illustrated in The Breadwinner, an animated film about life in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Another story of a girl fighting for her rights is told in Wadjda, a film from Saudi Arabia.
He Named Me Malala is the inspiring true story of Malala Yousafzai and her almost fatal campaign for female education in Pakistan.