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On the Basis of Sex Discussion Questions

  1. At the beginning of the film, the Dean of Harvard makes the women defend why they should have a place at Harvard and as a lawyer. What is so problematic about this? What examples can we think of in current times where women, people afab, and other non-cisgender men have to defend their right to exist in spaces that men occupy without question?

  2. Ruth has accepted a job as a professor because no law firms would hire her (largely, we can assume, due to her gender). During one scene of the film, her husband tells her "You're teaching the next generation of lawyers who are going to change the world, why are you upset about that?" To which Ruth replies, "Because I wanted to be doing that." So often in life, women are cast or assumed into roles as supporters: teachers wives, mothers, nurses (not doctors), etc. What is the harm of women always being forced into these supporting roles and never the role of participant or main character?

  3. Ruth sets out to finally take down gender based discrimination by using a strategies her fellow lawyers haven't yet tried; she uses a man's case, not a woman's, to try and get the law overturned. While we may wish to live in a world where the suffering of women was enough to get the courts to pay attention and do the right thing, Ruth recognizes that unfortunately, she doesn't. So she changes tactics. What can we learn from this about activism?

  4. Let's discuss the patriarchal irony Ruth encounters. Ruth couldn't get hired as a lawyer anywhere because she was a woman. Due to this, she struggles with presenting the court case orally; she hasn't had any opportunity to practice this aspect of court. So she is told that she must cede the presentation of her case, a case on gender based discrimination that she has been working on her whole life, a case that is on the very issue that kept her from being hired as a lawyer in the first place, to a man. She's told that for the sake of the women's rights movement she must sacrifice her own life's work. What does this teach us about the patriarchy? What other systemic ironies do we see the patriarchy force onto women in which they just can't seem to win, no matter what?

  5. Let's talk about Ruth's relationship with her daughter. First, how do you feel about the way Ruth treated Jane during the arugment they had? What do you make of Jane's conversation with her father about her mother's tendency to 'use her intelligence as a stick?' Secondly, Jane regularly inspires Ruth. She teaches Ruth things about gender and feminism that even Ruth, someone whose spent her entire life studying those topics, hadn't recognized. At once point in the film she even proves Ruth wrong about an argument they'd had, fueled by Ruth's What does this say about generational learning and the importance of listening to young people?

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