Released worldwide on Friday, the new film Battle of the Sexes takes a look into the highly acclaimed tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs that took place in 1973. The film stars Emma Stone as Ms. King and Steve Carrell as Mr. Riggs. The film takes a look at the women’s liberation movement and how men like Mr. Riggs actively tried to keep women at home in domestic roles.
The lead up to the match drew in a lot of attention not just for the particular match itself but also on issues such as equal pay and gender equality. Billie Jean King was known to be a feminist who was a dogged champion of female rights and equal pay. During the 70s, not many trainers were willing to dedicate their time to female athletes because they had biological factors that would affect their ability to play such as menstruation or pregnancy. In addition, Mr. Riggs was labeled a serial hustler and outward chauvinist. He initially challenged Ms. King to a match because he believed women were so athletically inferior to men that the (at the time) top female player in the world would not be able to beat him, a 55 year old retired player with as he described it “one foot in the grave.”
Mr. Riggs made comments insinuating that his victory alone would squash the women’s liberation movement or at least set them back twenty years. He stated that he wanted to put women back at home taking care of our babies, where they belong. Ms. King initially denied the offer to face off against Mr. Riggs but after he defeated Margaret Court handily, Ms. King felt there was something to prove and something to fight for as a female athlete.
According to the New York Times, the actual match featured so much extravagance that it alone could have qualified as a Hollywood film. On the day of the match, Ms. King was carried to the court on a “golden litter,” carried by buff male athletes; while Mr. Riggs was brought in in wheelbarrow pushed by models. Billie Jean was accompanied between games by her secretary at the time, who later outed her as a lesbian.
Members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team recently filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after learning how great the disparities in their pay were compared to their male counterparts. According to data collected by the PBS News Hour, the U.S. Soccer Federation projected they would make $5.2 million in profits from the women’s team while losing $1 million in profits from the men’s side. In spite of this fact, the men’s team were offered luxurious bonuses for reaching the quarterfinals and subsequent rounds of the World Cup, for which the women’s team did not receive any bonuses. Players selected to the men’s World Cup roster received over five times the amount female players received for the same honor, with male players awarded $76,000 and females only receiving $15,000.
The release of this film feels all too timely in the current world. With challenges to movements such as equal pay for equal work and in a time where women feel so uneasy about the future of their own reproductive rights, a film like this may provide the inspiration to continue the fight.