June 1

Blog #156 – Battle of the Sexes

Battle of the Sexes' Review: Emma Stone Outshines Steve Carell in Tennis Drama - The Atlantic

This fun movie focused on the real tennis battle between aging men’s tennis champion, Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), and #1 women’s tennis star, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) in Houston, TX in 1973.  It was a huge extravaganza, with corporate sponsorships and huge prize money ($100,000 if King won, over 1/2 million in today’s money), possibly 90 million people watching at home and over 30,000 in attendance at the Houston Astrodome.  Their battle was a reflection of what was going on at the time period:

  1. Women’s liberation was making big headlines – part of liberation meant that women didn’t need men to be complete.  It’s one of the reasons why radical feminists burned bras, refused to follow typical Western beauty standards, and protested sexist American traditions like the Miss America beauty pageant.
  2. The Equal Rights Amendment had been passed by Congress in March 1972 which called for an end to all sexual discrimination.  By the time the match happened, 30 states had approved the ERA before the momentum stalled and approval finally expired in 1983.  A total of 35 states would approve the ERA, three short of the needed total of 38, and there was significant resistance from ladies’ groups and conservative politicians who saw the amendment as opening up the door to unisex bathrooms, gay marriage, and women fighting in the military (funny how we have all three of those things w/o the amendment today).
  3. The 2nd wave of feminism had made significant strides in getting women elected to high positions, leading corporations and unions, and pushing for wage equality, day care centers, an end to sexual harassment, and equality in education and sports (Title IX).

In a New York Times review of the movie, the opening line of the review was this: “Every so often an exceptionally capable woman has to prove her worth by competing against a clown.”  Maybe I’m a little biased, but this made me think of the 2016 Election.  Hillary Clinton was a very talented and experienced candidate for the presidency, but unlike Billie Jean, Clinton would not triumph over the clown.  Here’s a NYT article that finds parallels in the film.  It’s a wonder if the filmmakers made it this way intentionally.


The film also really focused on the gender wage gap – using one tournament in particular, the men’s prize money was 8x that of the women’s prize money.  The reasons that Jack Kramer (pictured above) and his cohort gave were pretty lame and were easily shot down by Billie Jean and Gladys Heldman (played by Sarah Silverman), and Kramer finally settled on the weak reasoning that the men’s game is more exciting.

There was also the love stories in the film – that’s the one thing that surprised me the most about the film – was that there were three love stories going on: one between Billie Jean and Marilyn, another with Bobby and his wife Priscilla, and the third between Billie Jean and her husband.  Each has their own resolution with only Bobby and Priscilla ending up staying together.

The True Story Behind Billie Jean King's Victorious “Battle of the Sexes” | At the Smithsonian| Smithsonian Magazine

One of the things that made me wonder was how accurate was the portrayal of Bobby Riggs.  Steve Carell does a great job of making him seem like a real human being w/ faults and flaws.  I also wondered how much of this challenge to women’s tennis players was real sexism, a gimmick, a chance to get back into the limelight, a way to feed his gambling hobby, or a combination of all of them.

Your job: Pick three of the questions below and answer them w/ specific examples from the movie. 

  1. How did the film portray the gender wage gap?  Do you think the women tennis players did the right thing?  Why or why not? 
  2. How did the film portray the love affair between Billie Jean and Marilyn?  Why couldn’t Billie Jean go public with the affair?  How have things changed since 1973? 
  3. What do you think Bobby Riggs’ true motivation was for the match?  Explain why you reached this conclusion. 
  4. After reading the article on the supposed parallels between the election of 2016 and the film, do you buy the author’s assertion that this was an intentional nod to the election?  Why or why not?  

Due by Tuesday, June 6 by 11:59 p.m.  350 words minimum for all three answers.  

Works Cited: 

Fact vs. Fiction in the movie – http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2017/09/25/fact_vs_fiction_in_the_movie_battle_of_the_sexes.html

NYT Review – https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/21/movies/review-battle-of-the-sexes-billie-jean-king-bobby-riggs.html?referrer=google_kp

Wikipedia page on ERA – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal_Rights_Amendment

Comparison of Battle and 2016 Election – http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2017/09/21/battle_of_the_sexes_reminders_of_the_2016_election.html

True Story behind Billie Jean King’s Victorious “Battle of the Sexes” – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/true-story-behind-billie-jean-king-battle-sexes-180964985/

Posted June 1, 2023 by geoffwickersham in category Blogs

57 thoughts on “Blog #156 – Battle of the Sexes

  1. Sebastian Forberg

    The gender wage gap is the main conflict that the women tennis players are fighting against. The wage gap was seen as when the women were paid less than the men even though they brought in the same amount of revenue and sales. The women thought that they should be paid for this reason. I think the women tennis players did the right thing to boycott tennis and raised awareness for the wage gap and in justice. I think this because if something is not fair it should be fought for and made right. This can be seen with all problems faced in our society like African Americans being treated unfairly. African Americans stood up for themselves for what’s right and they won just like the women in tennis.
    The movie portrays Billie Jean and Marilyn’s relationship as very secret but they still wanted to have a relationship. This was seen when Billie Jean had to tell everybody that she was just her hair dresser and she did not have a relationship with her. It was also seen throughout the movie as in public Billie Jean would never act romantically toward Marilyn and almost act like she did not matter to her. She could not show affection publicly because it would be seen as too different and wrong in the 70s. Another reason was because men and women might not have supported her movement for equal pay if she was in a relationship with another woman.
    I thought that Bobby Riggs was trying to win back his wife by beating Billie Jean in the tennis match but another reason could have been that he wanted to show that men were still one hundred percent better than women in sports and they could not compete. I think he was trying to show men’s superiority because he was a big gambler and was on top of the tennis world for a while and he thought because of his high confidence that no women could compete with him. Riggs was a very cocky man as seen when he placed a wager for any woman that could beat him. This was almost mocking woman saying that they are far less powerful and able to compete against men in sports.

  2. Emmanuel Scobie

    How did the film portray the gender wage gap? Do you think the women tennis players did the right thing? Why or why not?
    The film showed the wage gap as a main part of the film. That was one of the main antagonists of the whole film. At the beginning of the film, it said that men are paid 8 times more than women. Billie Jean King did the right things, even though at the time it didn’t look like the greatest thing to do. But as the movie continued and the extreme sexism toward women in the world became more prominent, the decision to boycott seemed like a good move. One of the main reasons the men got more money was because more people came to watch. Even though nearly the same amount of people came to watch the women’s matches. Many men said that “men are just stronger and better”. Which isn’t true at all, but anyway the film accurately portrayed the wage gap between men and women.
    How did the film portray the love affair between Billie Jean and Marilyn? Why couldn’t Billie Jean go public with the affair? How have things changed since 1973?
    The film portrayed the love affair between the two women as brief and in real life the affairs lasted for almost a decade. Billie Jean King could go public with the affair because It was with another woman. Affairs nonetheless are bad but as a world who despised gay people, it wouldn’t have gone over well with everyone. She probably would have gotten suspended just for liking the people she liked. Right now, women tennis players make about $254,394 and the men make $185,106. Female tennis players now make almost double what the Male tennis players make(on average). Also, LGBTQIA+ people have been gradually gaining more rights since 1973.
    What do you think Bobby Riggs’ true motivation was for the match? Explain why you reached this conclusion.
    I think Bobby Riggs has many motivations for the match. Mainly to back up his words that he said on public television. With all the sexist and bullshit he said on live television, he had to back it up. Also he bet a lot of money that he was going to win the match. He was convinced that he was so much better than any other Female tennis player that he staked $100,000 on the Billie Jean King match, as well as $15,000 of his own money that he bet on himself.

  3. natehidalgo

    1. Women`s tennis players’ actions in the “battle of the sexes” were important and effective in addressing the gender pay gap and advocating for gender equality in tennis.
    The film depicts the gender pay gap by focusing on the large disparity in prize money between male and female tennis players. Faced with this discrimination, tennis players stood up and demanded equal pay. By demanding equal pay, they were fighting not only for themselves, but for all female athletes facing similar challenges across different sports.

    2. In the 1970s, homophobia was still the norm, and many people feared the idea that major celebrities might prefer a different gender than what was considered normal and natural. Had Billie Jean exposed her affair early in her life, her career and her reputation would have been irreparably damaged. But the battle between the sexes goes back 50 years, and the world has changed a lot in that time. Today, the majority of sensible societies embrace LGBTQ people and gay relationships like Billie Jean King and Marilyn Burnett. Fortunately, they are widely accepted in modern society. But many still consider homosexuality immoral, and many American officials want to criminalize homosexuality. Despite the great progress made in promoting the inclusion of LGBTQ members, there is still some work that needs to be done.

    3. Bobby Riggs’ true motivation for the contest, in my opinion, was money rather than a genuine desire to prove that men are superior to women. Throughout the film, we see he is pretty severely addicted to gambling, particularly betting on tennis matches. He also expresses his thoughts that men are superior to women in a humorous rather than serious tone. While these jokes are pretty dumb, it does convey that he isn’t as big of a misogynist as I thought in the beginning. He still definitely has misogynist opinions though. I think he mainly wanted to benefit from the exposure of competing against King in the tennis match.  After all, he was able to promote the match really well by advertising to a big group of people who wanted to see King lose. Instead of practicing, he was out promoting the match. 

  4. Anaiah Green

    1. The film portrayed the wage gap by making it one of the reasons women wanted people to be more exposed to tennis. They wanted women playing to be more popular and gain the same crowd as men not only because they were just as good but because the men’s tennis players get more recognition, more sponsorships and more money. This is something that happens in the sports industry. Men get paid significantly more than women but not only in the sports industry in the common work industry as well. I think that Billie Jean handled it well after the other girl messed everything up by losing to Billy.

    2. At first I thought it was a fling and something that happened occasionally but. Billie Jean could not go public with the affair because, one, she was married. It would look bad for her to be cheating on her husband. She was a woman back in the 1970’s and there was a role married women had to play and an affair was not one of them. But the obvious reason is because it was a lesbian affair. Being LGBTQ+ because in the 1970’s was not tolerated and very looked down on. People were often hate crimed and slandered, ignored and casted out if they were.

    3. Initially, I thought that he was just playing the tennis games to win back his wife and get money but the more I watched it the more it seemed he was playing the games for his own self esteem. Beating women boosted his ego. He wanted to prove his masculinity. He also kept trying to manipulate his wife into thinking she was extra and over emotional. This is a common thing men try to do to women. But she had reasons for her emotions. He also continued to gamble and even tried to justify his gambling in a group of gamblers anonymous and told them they were just bad at gambling and needed to get good which proves that he was very toxic. He also kept speaking down and the female tennis players to make himself seem better.

  5. Jacob Becker

    The film portrayed the wage gap as a laughing stock compared to womens. The wage that Bobby got when he played was significantly more than Billie Jean King got. Bobby often poked around at this idea and even betted on himself winning the match up because of how much money he madea. Billie Jean King got paid a student teacher salary compared to what Bobby Rigs was making. I believe that the women’s tennis association did the right thing to set the standard for sports on an equal playing field because of King’s actions, the sport of tennis was forever changed from a male dominated sport to a gender neutral sport showing how sex does matter as much skill.

    3.) Bobby Rigs was motivated by his personal beliefs coming from his background in world war 2 as well as his gambling addiction. Bobby Riggs was motivated by his depression resulting from his personal life struggles; these are especially evident by his irrational decision making. Bobby was so cocky that he betted on himself to win the matchup that he had with Billie Jean King. Bobby Riggs true motivation was not to win for male privilege, but a way for him to display his emotional instability by blaming it on women. Bobby held this belief most likely because of his aforementioned struggles that he had in his personal life including his wife and his gambling addiction.

    4.) The 2016 presidential election definitely has some parallels to the movie as stated in the article. Women especially were forced into positions of mockery and seen as emotionally unfit for any role that was “too stressful” for their fragile minds. Bobby rigs used this same logic against King and used his male privilege to make fun at Billy. During the 2016 election, people made fun of Hillary because of his husband’s impeachment and accused her of being a liar despite all of her credentials. Trump made fun of Hillary and used his billionaire dollar persona to make up for all of the dirty tricks in the book to smear Hillary. All in all, Hillary Clinton and Billie Jean King both were qualified individuals who both were the victims of misogyny and male privilege standing in the way of their success.

  6. emily kruntovski

    How did the film portray the gender wage gap? Do you think the women tennis players did the right thing? Why or why not?

    The film “Battle of the Sexes” depicted the orientation wage hole in tennis by featuring the distinct contrast in prize cash among people. The men’s prize money was eight times greater than the women’s in one tournament. Billie Jean King and other female tennis players fought for equal pay and recognition to address this inequality. By protesting the gender wage gap, the female tennis players did the right thing. They were aware that their hard work, talent, and skills were just as valuable as those of men. Particularly, Billie Jean King led the charge for equality in tennis and co-founded the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). They paved the way for future generations of female athletes by challenging the system as it currently exists and demanding equal pay.

    How did the film portray the love affair between Billie Jean and Marilyn? Why couldn’t Billie Jean go public with the affair? How have things changed since 1973?
    The romance between Billie Jean King and Marilyn Barnett was portrayed in the movie as an important part of Billie Jean’s personal journey. It showed their profound close to home association and the battles they looked in keeping up with their relationship in the midst of cultural assumptions and private issues. Billie Jean couldn’t open up to the world about the undertaking since homosexuality was not broadly acknowledged in the public eye during that time. Her career, personal relationships, and public image would have been jeopardized had she come out as a lesbian. The film showed how Billie Jean and Marilyn had to deal with secrecy and the fear of being seen. Social attitudes toward LGBTQ+ relationships have changed significantly since 1973. Even though there are still obstacles, there is now more support and acceptance for people to be open about their sexual orientation. As a result of significant progress in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights and visibility, athletes like Billie Jean King are now able to talk more openly about their personal lives without fear of severe repercussions.

    What do you think Bobby Riggs’ true motivation was for the match? Explain why you reached this conclusion.
    Bobby Riggs’ actual inspiration for the match was possible a blend of variables, including the longing for consideration, monetary profit, and an opportunity to demonstrate his obsolete perspectives about ladies’ tennis. Bobby Riggs is depicted in the movie as a showman and gambler who is willing to go to great lengths for publicity. Riggs considered the match to be a chance to recover the spotlight and create pay. He wanted to reclaim his status and fame after his tennis success had been overlooked. He wanted to demonstrate that women were inferior in tennis and reinforce traditional gender roles by challenging a top female player. In any case, as the film advances, it becomes apparent that Riggs additionally wanted approval and regard. He wanted to be remembered for being more than just a gimmick or clown. Notwithstanding his underlying goals, the match ultimately turned into a stage for featuring issues of orientation correspondence and ignited a more extensive discussion about ladies’ freedoms. It is essential to note that the film takes some creative liberties in its depiction of Bobby Riggs’ true motivation. Despite the fact that the movie sheds light on his character and suggests possible motives, the precise balance between showmanship, financial gain, and personal beliefs can be up for debate.

  7. Jayda Evans

    The wage gap was apparent throughout the whole movie. Both the male and female tennis players were bringing in the same amount of viewers and money, but like they said in the movie, the men were being paid 8 times more than the women were. I think the women players did the right thing. They deserved to be paid for the work they were putting in. I would even say that the women were doing even more work because they had to deal with all of the sexism and setbacks that the men never had to do.
    The film portrayed Billie Jean and Marilyn’s affair as taboo, as all affairs are. However, in the early 70’s, two women were not allowed to love each other, so they felt as though they had to try extra hard to keep their relationship a secret. Things have definitely changed since 1973 when it comes to gay relationships, and not so much when it comes to cheating on your husband. I think both of those things are good. Gay people are still not accepted by some, but most people stand by their “Ally” title with pride. Some people are still hate crimed for holding hands with their partner on the street, but I think that violence has given us something to stand up for, to make sure that we no longer take the violence that people throw at us.
    I think Bobby Riggs’ true motivation for the match was that he wanted to prove to himself that he was man enough to beat a woman. I think he saw how confident she was that she could win and he got scared. On the outside, I think he was letting all of the men watching know that they are still men and they are still superior to the small, weak woman, but on the inside he was terrified. He was terrified of feeling like the weak one. He didn’t want to lose to a woman, but he mostly didn’t want to lose himself. I think in his head it wasn’t really about losing to her, it was about losing in general. He just wanted to prove to himself that he wasn’t the weak one, and I think that insecurity stemmed from Billie Jean being so confident.

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