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Remembering Billie Jean King's Badass Battle Of The Sexes

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1973 was a wild year in this country: Roe V. Wade was won, a gallon of gas was 35 cents, and Richard Nixon was the president – oh, how much has changed. And on September 20th, 1973, Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in one of the biggest exhibition matches ever, nicknamed the “Battle of the Sexes.”

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After a long winning streak — in which he collected $100,000 by betting on himself — Riggs felt he needed a real challenge: Beating a woman at tennis. After defeating Margaret Court, a match called the “Mother’s Day Massacre” because Riggs eviscerated Court, 6-2 and 6-1, Riggs decided to focus on our queen Billie Jean King. He taunted her, mocked her feminism, and made sure the entire event was taken as a joke. The media loved the two battling, and especially loved how chauvinist and loud Bobby Riggs was. Billie Jean King was famous to true tennis fans, but like most women athletes, her name was not as well-known as Riggs'. For King, this was her chance to take over the spotlight. The event was a highly gender-stereotyped match, focusing on Billie Jean’s proud feminist ideals compared to Riggs’ famous comments like “women belong in the bedroom and kitchen, in that order.” 

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All us hairy-legged, athletic, loud-mouthed feminists rejoiced together: Billie Jean King destroyed Riggs, and boom, the patriarchy toppled. Well, not entirely, but King did beat Riggs in the smackdown of the century. King is famous for explaining the pressure she felt to win as, "I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn't win that match...it would ruin the women's tour and affect all women's self-esteem."

Emma Stone and Steve Carell will be taking on the roles of Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in the film the Battle of the Sexes, debuting September 22. The film has been receiving decent reviews and tons of anticipation. The campy, desperate comedy of Riggs is portrayed perfectly by Steve Carell, who is perfect for such a physically comedic role. Emma Stone shines as Billie Jean, with great confidence. Billie Jean King is an out and proud lesbian now, but at the time she was not, and Stone’s portrayal of King’s attraction and subtlety is both nuanced and complicated. 

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So check out the movie and never forget: Billie Jean King was carried in an ostrich feather-covered platform and beat a guy wearing a “Sugar Daddy” jacket so that you will always go out for the varsity team.

 

Header Photo via Flickr/Blair 

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big haired nerd who likes to talk about books, politics, coffee and anything else you can think of. Be warned of shennanigans: follow me on twitter @BRIawesome 

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