In 1973, 100 million tennis fans sat down to watch Billie Jean King take on chauvinistic player, Bobby Riggs, in a match that would change the game for female players forevermore. A new documentary released this week is set to show the world how.
As a Wimbledon fanatic, I’m glued to the screen this summer. But something has changed; no longer is the focus on gender. But age. The female struggle appears to have been accepted, overcome, and forgotten. Yet, as an advocate for sexual equality, King isn’t let us forget the past struggles that easily. The documentary, ‘Battle of the Sexes’, premiered in the UK this Wednesday, and the international response has been incredible. Despite it’s actions taking place 40 years ago, it’s message has never proved so true.
In a world where feminists are continuously cajoled for having no causes left to fight, sport proves differently. Girls all over the world are being discriminated against, excluded because of their gender despite their talents. Most recently, the tale of 12-year-old Maddy Blythe has hit headlines. Kicked off her school’s football team after years of playing the game, Maddy has labelled the decision “archaic”. The reason for her exit? The sudden worry her female presence could cause an outburst of sexual harassment. The claim comes from no reality; it is a decision based on her Christian head teacher’s religious morals.
With tales such as Maddy’s still remaining very much in the present, it is not surprising figures such as King still provide us with (much needed) inspiration. Personal anecdotes including sport, girls, and lack of opportunity are far too common. The joke that “girls can’t throw” is still the norm. On enquiring as to why my high school had no female rugby outlet and with a list of girls prepared to form a team, I myself was found with a headmaster’s door in my face. The only excuse? That a girl’s team was too expensive to insure. But why? When it comes to finance, why is there not equal funding? Without it, we have no equal opportunities.
In terms of tennis, it may prove shocking that equality in tournament prize money only levelled out in the last decade. Wimbledon, itself, has taken 39 years to reach the prize equality, first introduced in 2007. That’s just 6 years ago people!
As the documentary takes route in modern culture, young women are sitting up everywhere, taking note. Billie Jean King brought us far into the ideal, and her message continues to resonate amongst sports women of today:
“We owe the tour to Billie Jean King and the original nine” says Venus Williams in a sneak preview, “Being the hero that she is, she stood up for women’s sports, not just tennis. Women.”
Thanks to Billie Jean and the original nine that dared question their sport, the girls have gone from playing for one dollar a match to receiving an equal sum to that of the mens singles. And with Wimbledon awarding £1,600,000 to both victors, that’s quite a difference!