I’ve been playing tennis since I was five years old. As a young girl playing in the 90s, I was still subjected to a rigid dress code that dictated that we played in skirts or dresses.
Considering my own personal context, Battle of the Sexes was always going to resonate with me as both a player and a woman.
I was ready for the rampant 1970s sexism and the ways in which things have and haven’t changed for women. What I didn’t expect was the film’s strong, albeit accidental, correlation to the marriage equality survey that is currently dominating the Australian social and media landscapes.
It’s difficult not to contextualise the media and entertainment we consume. We always bring outside influence to the table. This is exactly how I felt whilst watching Battle of the Sexes.
In fact, anyone invested in the survey will have difficulty separating the film’s overarching theme of equality with present day politics.
Battle of the Sexes recounts the infamous 1973 showdown match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell). However, the match itself feels almost like a B-plot when you compare it to the screen time that Carrell actually gets.
That isn’t to say that he isn’t great; he is. Simultaneously charismatic and repugnant, he perfectly encapsulates the aging superstar and hustler who “puts the show back in chauvinism.”
The majority of the film revolves around the Virginia Slims Circuit — an all-female tennis tour that was born out of in significant pay inequality between male and female players by the United States Lawn Tennis Association.
We follow 9 powerhouse female athletes around as they revolt against sexism in their industry and pave their own way forward. At the centre of the narrative is King, who not only leads the charge for equality, but also explores her sexuality through the story as she discovers that she is attracted to women.
One of the players, who both beats King and loses to Rigg early in the film, is Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee). I can’t ignore the fact that her presence is partially responsible for the huge correlation that can be drawn between the marriage equality survey and Battle of the Sexes.
She has a significant supporting role in the movie as King’s athletic and moral rival. Even in the dramatised realm, her hardcore Christian attitude further contextualises her public proclamations against marriage equality earlier this year.
Although the film highlights the discrimination that LGBTQI+ people during the time period, it doesn’t mention that King was outed in 1981 due to a palimony lawsuit filed by Marilyn Barnett, her lover both in real life and the film. Within 24 hours she lost all of her endorsement deals and had to continue playing competitively just to pay the bills.
I honestly don’t think that the fact that King is queer is why Battle of the Sexes will remind Australian audiences of the current postal survey. That would be an over simplification. If anything, it’s the theme of inequality that is the foundation for the entire story.
The sexism is purposely overt and confronting in a way that initially makes you thankful that times have changed. Until you begin to wonder how much they actually have.
King was fighting for equal rights. Just like fellow Australians still are now.
There were a great deal of lines in the film that stood out, most of which centred around chauvanism.
“Men are the superior animal.”
“She’s a nice old fashioned girl… she’ll do as she’s damn well told.”
Perhaps the most pertinent of all was delivered by Alan Cumming in the final act. “Someday we will be free to be who we are and love who we love.”
I certainly hope so.