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.
Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs before their match in 1973.
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!
The Famous Five
Are You This Determined to Vote?
The Bechdel Test
Filed under History, Sports
I saw the movie The Women’s Balcony at the Toronto International Film Festival Theatre this week. It reminded me of just how far we’ve come in giving women an equal place with men in religious institutions and just how far we still have to go.
The Women’s Balcony is a Hebrew film about a synagogue in Jerusalem being influenced by their new young conservative rabbi who wants women to worship separately from men in a closed room at the side of the temple. The women want to worship in an open balcony right in the same area as the men worship. Eventually the women leave their husbands because they are siding with the new rabbi. The women raise the money for a balcony and manage to get it built. They return to their husbands who facilitate the removal of the conservative rabbi and the return of their older more flexible rabbi. Progress has been made although the fact that official power in the synagogue still rests with a man, or that women still sit separately from their husbands in a balcony isn’t addressed in the film. Reading about the film later I learned it reflects the ongoing divide in Judaism between orthodox and liberal factions and their differing views of women’s roles in the church. Women are becoming more visible but are still far from equal.
Church at the Mennonite Village Museum with separate sides for men and women.
I can remember attending my grandparents’ church where men and women sat on different sides of the sanctuary. I grew up in a church where there were no women pastors or leaders. Thankfully those times have changed in some Christian churches but in others women still have no voice and are not represented in leadership at all. This lack of equality for women in the Southern Baptist Church is what led former American President Jimmy Carter to publicly announce he was leaving the denomination after his family had belonged to it for generations. A council created by my Mennonite denomination in 2016 to oversee a time of transition in our national church body contained eight men and one woman. Women were more visible than they would have been in the past but they still were far from equal.
In my lifetime women have gained greater representation and influence in religious spheres but the journey is far from complete.
Questions After Watching the Film Silence
The Children are Watching and Listening and Wondering
A Woman I Wish I Knew More About
The Canadian Senate may soon kill a bill that alters our national anthem to make it more gender inclusive.
The bill introduced in the House of Commons by the late Liberal MP Mauril Belanger and passed by a majority vote, would change the phrase ‘in all thy sons command’ in O Canada to ‘in all of us command.’ The bill is awaiting Senate approval to become law. Senator Don Plett and some of his colleagues may prevent that from happening. Plett has introduced an amendment to the bill that would return the contentious phrase in the song to its original 1908 wording ‘thou dost in us command’.
The wording Plett is championing is also gender inclusive but here’s the problem. If the Senate amends the bill it has to go back to the House of Commons to be voted on again. Since Mr. Belanger has died members will have to agree unanimously to let another MP sponsor the bill. Some members may refuse to agree because they don’t want to change the words of the anthem. Thus the bill will die.
Plett is aware this could happen but won’t withdraw his amendment. He says he isn’t comfortable tinkering with the song’s language even though the Toronto Star reports the anthem’s words have been altered many times in the past. I wonder if those who oppose making the anthem gender inclusive would feel the same way if the phrase in question said ‘in all our daughters’ command.’
Statue at the Manitoba Legislature that recognizes the famous five who fought to have women recognized as persons in Canada
In a Senate speech Plett claimed our anthem shouldn’t change because it reminds us of where we came from. The current version which uses the word ‘sons’ to refer to Canadian citizens does remind us of the past when women weren’t persons in Canada. They were their husbands’ and fathers’ property. They couldn’t vote and their contributions went largely unrecognized. Mr. Plett is right. It is very important to remember where we came from. We come from a time when women were victims of all kinds of abuse because they had fewer human rights than men.
Anyone watching the new television version of Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s chilling story The Handmaid’s Tale will recognize just how vital it is not to take for granted what women have gained in their fight for equality. Atwood’s tale reminds us there is great peril in forgetting the negative ramifications of patriarchy, not only for women but also for society as a whole. I wonder if Mr. Plett and his colleagues are thinking we need to maintain the sexist version of our national anthem so we remember those terrible times and continue to fight for equality? Somehow I doubt it. There is a time for looking back at the past but our national anthem should inspire us to think about a better future.
‘In all of us command’ represents reality. Women can serve in our country’s armed forces in all the same roles as men. Women make up half our government’s cabinet.
The current debate about the anthem reminds me of something that happened in a church I attended in the 1980s. I asked for the church constitution to be changed removing the pronoun ‘he’ from descriptions of duties for elected offices in the church. A number of women held these offices but they were still being referred to as ‘he’ in our constitution. My suggestion caused so much debate and alarm I almost left the church.
A trio of Quebec suffragettes who fought for 22 years to give women the right to vote in their province.
But that was more than three decades ago. Surely people have realized by now that language is powerful and can exclude and marginalize. Language isn’t stagnant. It is ever evolving just as the role of women in Canadian society continues to evolve. Hopefully Mr. Plett and his like-minded senators can come to see that.
Are You This Determined to Vote?
An Inclusive O Canada
The Famous Five
Filed under Music, Politics