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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
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.
- How did the film portray the gender wage gap? Do you think the women tennis players did the right thing? Why or why not?
- 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?
- What do you think Bobby Riggs’ true motivation was for the match? Explain why you reached this conclusion.
- 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.
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
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/