‘Battle of the Sexes’
‘’Ever since that day when I was 11 years old, I wasn’t allowed in a photo because I wasn’t wearing a tennis skirt. I knew that I wanted to change the sport.’’ The words of Billie Jean King are a source of inspiration for a myriad of upcoming and even present-day tennis maestros. And it's safe to say that her determination to change the sport has shown colours, all seven of the rainbow. However, the question remains, how did one woman accomplish such feats within her career that decades of tennis players before her could not? What were the game-changing events in her fight against the patriarchal tennis world? Here to bring us more on this woman and her brilliant story is Perspectoverse’s, Hiba Riaz.
Speaking of the well-known biographical artwork, Battle of the Sexes, 2017, the documentary attempts to look at the lives of the self-proclaimed chauvinist Bobby Riggs and the tennis superstar Billy Jean King. Tennis fans across the world have recognised this to be a movie that is worth the watch. And one of the most riveting reasons why that is so is because of the two distinct battles shown on the screen. To explain, this film illuminated the difference between battling for equality between the sexes, as shown as a fight lead valiantly by feminist King, and battling to hold on to superficial superiority, a loosing and crooked struggle lead by a patriarchal man desperate to prove the fool's paradise.
By 1973, the year in which the movie is set in, Billie Jean King was 29 and one of the top female tennis players while Bobby Riggs, 55, was a former world champion and wasn't that much of an influence as King relentlessly dominated in the court. While the former was a renowned feminist symbol and the first female athlete to earn more than $100,000 in a single year, the latter was a self-awoved male chauvinist whose gambling addiction fetched a debt of $100,000.
The movie opens with King already making history, making waves as a player and as an advocate of human rights and equal pay. Though Bobby Riggs’ was once considered the best tennis player in the world, he craved a return to the spotlight and decided to challenge some of tennis’ top women players.
In a well-publicized faceoff soon called the Mother’s Day Massacre that occurred during the same year, Bobby defeated Margaret Court, a loss that King felt she needed to correct. As he turned to Billie Jean King, whom he called the ‘women’s libber leader’, tensions arose in the women’s tennis world. ‘’I’ll play her on clay, grass, wood, cement, marble or roller skates, Riggs said, “We got to keep this sex thing going on. I’m a woman specialist now. Women play about 25 per cent as good as men, so they should get 25 percent of the money men get’’.
On the other hand, King spent the summer of 1973 organising a meeting that led to the creation of the Women’s Tennis Association and threatened to boycott the 1973 US Open if male and female champions were not paid the same. This shockingly led to the Open becoming the first major tennis tournament to offer equal prize money.
On September 30th, King entered the stadium on a litter carried by several underdressed young men and waving to the crowd. It was a message to Riggs that she wasn’t cowed by his posturing and clowning and also a message to any woman who had ever worried about being laughed at if she stepped out of line. While Riggs’ followed in a rickshaw, flocked by the bevy of ‘’Bobby’s bosom buddies’’. Riggs presented King with a giant Sugar Daddy lollipop and she responded by giving him a squealing piglet as a symbol of his male chauvinism.
Nevertheless, with a television audience estimated at 50 million people in the United States and 90 million in 37 countries, 29-year- old King beat the 55-year-old Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. Undoubtedly, the match is considered a significant event in developing greater recognition and respect for women’s tennis.
“I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match,’’ she said, “It would ruin the women’s tour and affect all women’s esteem’’.
The revolution could have been tough to squeeze in two hours, it repeatedly announced that there was a lot at stake, but without much urgency. Bobby’s sexist pronouncements are outrageous, but his stunts were so absurd that they were hard to take seriously. He later comes off as more needy than threatening. The better villain was a tennis promoter, Jack Kramer, one of those men who never bothered to hide his contempt for women.
Billie Jean also faces down Kramer at one point, speaking the feminist truth: “It’s when we want a little bit of what you’ve got, that’s what you can’t stand’’.
Just as the year prior to the famous match, Title IX was passed. An education amendment of 1972 that prohibits federally funded educational institutions from discriminating against students or employees based on sex. But women’s sports were still treated as a novelty. It was largely through the efforts of King, who led the formation of a new tour and threatened to boycott tournaments, that the pay gap began closing between her colleagues and those on the men’s side.
Written by Hiba Riaz
Illustrated by Anannya Pincha