Title: Battle of the Sexes
Rating: 4 Stars
It’s interesting when a film covers events that I distinctly remember from my childhood. It forces me to look at events with fresh eyes. This film is about the so called battle of the sexes, in which a 55 year old Bobby Riggs took on 29 year old Billie Jean King in a $100,000 winner take all match.
Bobby Riggs had previously beaten Margaret Court rather handily, but it was generally accepted that Billie Jean King was the best woman’s player, so even though this was just an exhibition, there was a tremendous amount of hoopla over it.
The film did a good job describing the atmosphere and building up to the climatic match. It also covered King’s awakening sexuality in a sensitive manner.
From what I remember from 1973, when I was 10 years old, there were a large number of people actively rooting for Bobby Riggs. There was a general feeling that women should know their role, stick to it, and be appreciative for the morsels that they were given. Those ‘women libbers’ might have had a point when they started but now they’ve gone too far. Why should they demand equal pay when everyone knows that men are the breadwinners?
Obviously there are people who still think that today but in the 1970s it was blatantly overt and mainstream. It wasn’t unusual on the television for some self satisfied old white guy to sanctimoniously give advice to girls about their place. Looking back, I can only imagine how much that steamed those women looking for more than just life outside of the kitchen and the bedroom.
In hindsight, it seems kind of insane that somehow the establishment decided to put itself behind Riggs, an, even at that time, known gambler, self-promoter, and hustler, in contrast to the hardworking and earnest King. His character fits the rogue narrative that main stream America mostly just chuckles at and lovingly calls a knucklehead. Barnum would have been proud.
This was the same time when Title IX passed, which mandated that women should have equal access to participating in college sports. Before it passed, one percent of college athletic budgets went to women. Athletic scholarships were given exclusively to men.
I remember when it passed. There was much gnashing of teeth. Who would want to see a woman play sports? There’s no money to be made with women’s sports! It was taking money from deserving men! Women don’t really even want to play sports, right?
Interesting enough, this happened during Nixon’s second term. Even though he probably wasn’t in love with it, he directed the executive branch to execute it, and to their credit, they did. Can you imagine a Republican administration in today’s climate doing this?
In fact, I’m surprised that Title IX hasn’t been targeted yet. There seems to be a movement that thinks that somehow making America great again involves removing hard won equal rights from those that previously were lacking them. (otherwise known as ‘special rights’).
All of this backdrop makes the film’s message all that much more important. The battle was won (OK, maybe not won but substantial progress was made) but the war is not over.
This film is an example of how to make an engaging film that also has an important message. In this case, the message is equality and acceptance. In the year 2017, it’s pretty sad that this message is still important to champion, but it definitely is, so kudos to the film for making it.