Battles of the sexes have likely been going on, in one form or another, for as long as men and women have roamed the planet. But the first time an event was ever officially billed as such was in 1973, when tennis champion Billie Jean King faced off against Bobby Riggs to prove once and for all that female players deserve equal respect on the court.
The event, which took place at the Houston Astrodome on a September afternoon, pitted Riggs — a former Wimbledon winner himself, who, at 55, was well past his playing prime — against King, who, at 29, was at the top of her game. Forty-eight million viewers from living rooms across America tuned in to watch; courtside, fans wore handmade buttons featuring phrases like “I’m with Billie Jean” and waved banners in the air. After an animated sing-along to “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” wrapped up, Riggs strolled onto the court, waving a gigantic Sugar Daddy candy sucker, which he presented to his opponent; King was carried out on a chaise manned by half-dressed hunks, her own contribution to the spectacle, and gifted Riggs with a pink, squealing piglet — a nod to his “chauvinist pig” routine. But when the game began, King stopped playing around. She was there to win. Because she knew if she didn’t, it would be a loss for women everywhere.
As of this month, “battle of the sexes” is no longer just a moment in tennis history or a platitude trotted out to describe any variety of gender-based friction. It’s also a film of the same name, starring
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