Battle of the Sexes
Battle of the Sexes educates and inspires as it describes both the on-court and off-court drama leading up to the 1973 tennis match in which three-time Wimbledon winner Bobby Riggs, full of braggadocio and condescension, challenged the reigning women’s singles champion, Billie Jean King, in an effort to prove male athletic superiority. The match was broadcast live on national television. The results--King won in straight sets--are widely known, but what makes this movie important is how well suited it is to America’s current political and social climate. The movie portrays King, in the heat of competition, exploring her sexuality and struggling to be treated as an equal.
In a 2014 interview with NPR, King described the discrimination female professional tennis players faced in the ’60s and ’70s:
“First we had the challenge of [there being no] professional tennis [league for women] and then we had this [pay] disparity. But more importantly, the men who owned the tournaments, who ran the tournaments, started to drop the women's events entirely. Most of the places, when they did have us play [and] included us, they gave us about a 12- or 11-to-1 ratio of prize money."
In 1968, King’s winnings as Wimbledon champion were less than half of her male counterpart’s. The male-led United States Lawn Tennis Association (now the United States Tennis Association) insisted there were bona fide reasons for refusing to give male and female winners equal prize money. With the support of major female tennis players, King created a breakaway league that sought to redress the inequities and ultimately led to the founding of the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973. Sadly, the film doesn’t do justice to how risky this was for King, nor does it adequately convey sexism’s pervasiveness during that era. America has made significant progress in the intervening decades, but events in recent years have demonstrated how tenuous those hard-won gains can be.
Battle of the Sexes is a depressing reminder of the ongoing social controversy around gender. Even at Indian Springs, individuals are sometimes scorned or marginalized because of their chosen identity. The implicit bias that assumes women are no match for men continues to play out in most walks of life, from politics to sports. Battle of the Sexes serves as a reminder of the discrimination we are still capable of, and the struggle that continues.
- Haden Ryan-Embry '20