This 2014 film from directors James Erskine and Zara Hayes, documents the historic 1973 tennis match between women’s right activist Billie Jean King and self-described “No.1 Chauvinist Pig”, Bobby Riggs.
Riggs, a retired tennis champion, humoured (or threatened, confused, angered, take your pick) by the women’s lib movement of the time, put out a challenge to female players. Sure of his, and every man’s dominance over women, he was determined to prove that women had just three roles that they should stick to (clue: participating in sport wasn’t one of them):
‘Number one, the woman should stay in the bedroom, Number two, they should get to the kitchen. Number three, they should support the man!’
Yup, that’s right ladies! A real keeper!
You couldn’t be more textbook misogynistic if you tried! It is as if Riggs was being purposefully and antagonistically juvenile. But as the documentary shows, this wasn’t a statement or some buffoonery from a tired eccentric, but a belief many men held, one which they were clinging ever tighter to as the women’s movement accelerated.
The initial battle of the sexes between Riggs and Margaret Court is almost too painful to watch. Thrown by a huge, unexpected crowd and rattled before the match even began (Court made the biggest PR mistake by not only accepting a bunch of flowers from Riggs, but by strangely and impulsively curtseying in thanks) Court lost miserably.
King all the while was watching on, and having originally refused to play against Riggs, Court’s defeat riled her up. As a founding member of what would become the WTA tour, King had found in the match the perfect way to publicize the women’s game, and give a boost to all women everywhere at a time when they were being mocked and ridiculed mercilessly.
As King trained in order to play a match she hoped would have a huge historical impact, Riggs, convinced unwaveringly of his assured victory, spent his time being photographed with starlets and young models, trotting out his brand of chauvinist pig mantras to any chat show host who’d listen.
Riggs is portrayed as such a deplorable individual, by the time the doc gets to the match, with the men in the crowd braying for King’s blood, you don’t just want King to win, you want her to bludgeon Riggs to the ground. I was practically screaming “FINISH HIM!!!!” as I found myself hanging off the edge of my seat, watching each rally with a dry mouth.
This is an engaging and rousing look at a pivotal moment in sport that will have you amazed at the utter BS women still had to put up with at the start of the 70s, and how extraordinary it is that in 2015 there is still such brazen disparity between the sexes in sport. King comes across as a straightforward, dignified and inspiring force whose actions roared loudly over the idiotic tittering of the male status quo.
Available on YouTube (I’m only pointing this out as they did so on Wittertainment).