It was far more than a tennis match! Dave and I went to see the movie The Battle of the Sexes. It tells the story of a famous tennis game between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in 1973. Bobby Riggs an aging tennis professional claimed that men were far better tennis players than women. To prove male superiority he challenged Billie Jean King the reigning star of women’s tennis to a publicity match. Billie Jean accepted and won! At the end of the match Riggs said “I underestimated you.” In 2009 Billie Jean King was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her role in achieving greater pay equity and enhanced recognition for female athletes. Her activism brought attention to the need for gender equality in many areas of society.
I had just gotten married in 1973 when the famous Battle of the Sexes match was played and the movie reminded me of how far women have come since that time.
American women could not apply for their own credit card. Employers did not have to grant maternity leave. Women couldn’t run in the Boston Marathon. Women could not get a legal abortion. The ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) guaranteeing equal rights for men and women only passed for the first time in some American states in 1972. But it would be 1982 before every state ratified the amendment.
And Canada wasn’t much different.
The RCMP did not recruit women. Women could not fly planes in the Canadian Air Force and Air Canada had no female pilots. Women’s incomes were 60% lower than mens. Pregnancy was reason for dismissal by an employer and sexual harassment was not legally wrong. Women had no guaranteed property rights after a divorce.
The Battle of the Sexes tennis match was symbolic of what was going on in the 1970s as women fought to gain a more equal footing with men. Billie Jean King was just one of many, many women who took on the fight for greater recognition and rights for women. I’m so grateful for their courage and bravado!