Battle of the Sexes: Film Analysis of Gender Discrimination

2939 words (12 pages) Essay in Film Studies

23/09/19 Film Studies Reference this

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Introduction (approx. 400 words)

“Intersectionality is a sociological theory describing multiple threats of discrimination when an individual’s identities overlap with a number of minority classes — such as race, gender, age, ethnicity, health and other characteristics” (Williams 2017). Phoenix, (2006) states that it relates to “the complex political struggles and arguments that seek to make visible the multiple positioning that constitutes everyday life and the power relations that are central to it”. The film I’m going to be talking about in my essay is battle of the sexes, which is based on a true story, throughout the film there is discrimination for females, however it also touches on sexuality and issues that arise. Theorizing the relationship between different axes of identity raises complex issues of theory, methodology and politics. Axes of identity cannot be simply added on top of each other, specifically they cannot be added on top of gender, for example “structures of class, racism, gender and sexuality are experienced simultaneously, and cannot be reduced to independent variables … The oppression of each is inscribed within the other – is constituted by and is constitutive of each other” (Brah 1996, p. 109). I thought Battle of the Sexes is a good film to analysis regarding discussing different intersectional lines as it covers different issues, furthermore its issues that females are facing in the tennis world. Although gender pay gap in tennis is now equal its constantly being argued that females are not equal to males. Having been a tennis player myself it’s clear to me that there is still a long way to go but this film shows the progress that has been made and the setbacks female tennis players have faced.

Synopsis of film and highlight key issues (approx. 700 words)

The 2017 biographical film battle of the sexes is about Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Billie Jean King has just been named number 1 in tennis. Whilst Billie Jean King is at a dance with her husband Larry her manager Gladys comes over the her with a letter from Jack Kramer who was once a tennis player himself. He is running the Pacific Southwest Tennis Tournament in 1970. That tournament offered women just 15% of the prize money that it awarded the men, despite that the women’s final selling as many as the men. Billie jean challenged Kramer about the pay gap, and when he would not agree to up the women’s prize money, Billie jean boycotted (IMDb 2017). She and several other women went on to create the Virginia Slims tour and later the Women’s Tennis Association. Billie Jean decides that she and Gladys will hold their own tournament for female players. As Billie jean and her fellow female tennis players are in a middle of a photo shoot in honor of the $1 contracts they have just signed for Glayd’s tour, Jack shows up to tell her that if she plans to boycott his tennis tournament with her own, then her and the other female tennis players will be kicked out of the U.S Lawn Tennis Association. However, she doesn’t back down and informs the other females that they have been kicked out. Whilst this is going on Bobby Riggs a retired tennis player is out gambling with his friends and he wins a rolls Royce, he brings it home to show his son junior who is very excited however his wife Priscilla annoyed and kicks Bobby out. As a result of this Bobby attends groups to overcome gambling. However when he attends a session, he is rude and convinces the other people there that they are bad gamblers and that their losses brought them to this group (IMDb 2017). The session did not help Bobby and he continues to get involved with his gambling issue, this shows that his character has an addition to gambling. Gladys female tennis player started their tour with Virginia Slim Cigarettes sponsoring them, although this wasn’t the best sponsor for an athletic event, it was the only advertising money they could get. Before there tour start the female players go to get their hair done at a salon, here Billie Jean meets Marilyn who its clear she finds attractive and later on has an affair with (IMDb 2017). Whilst there are on tour in San Diego Marilyn joins Billie Jean and ask if she wants to go dancing, they later return to Billie Jeans hotel room where they get intimate. Later that evening, Bobby calls Billie Jean room and proposes an idea, in which they play a tennis match for $100,000, she refuses this offer and puts the phone down. Bobby then tries to challenge another female player this being Margaret Court who accepts the offer. Margaret is aware what’s going on between Billie Jean and Marilyn, and knows that sponsorship for her would end if they knew she was having a relationship with another woman. Larry then goes on to surprise Billie Jean at her hotel. Whilst on his way to her room, he meets Marilyn in the lift holding an ice bucket. Both were unaware of each other relationship to Billie Jean and end up walking to the same room. Marilyn quickly makes an excuse and leaves. Larry enters the room and finds Marilyn’s bra and then starts to realize. He then later runs into her again telling her that if word got out about the two of them it would ruin her career (IMDb 2017). From this it’s clear to say that sexuality is an issue and if people find out it will ruin her career as it will change people’s views.  Bobby and Margaret play their match, with the other females watching on a TV. Margaret loses and bobby boasts about his win. Bobby boasting about his win shows that he is sexist and arrogant and Billie jean sees this as an insult to women and decides to challenge bobby to shut him up. During the buildup to the match Riggs tries to gain as much publicity, whilst Billie Jean trains her hardest. Bobby becomes civil with Pricilla over this gambling however she doesn’t like the way he talks of men being better than women and his comments about women belonging in the kitchen. The big days comes and bobby turns up wearing a jacket saying sugar daddy. By Bobby believing that women should be in the kitchen and by wearing that jacket, it shows that his character has little respect for women and is big headed. Bobby leads the match at the start but Billie jean wins the first and second set and later on emerges champion. Billie jeans character throughout the film shows determination and passion to prove that females are equal (Spencer, N. 2000).

Critical Interrogation (approx. 1000 words):

Battle of the Sexes refers to a conflict between male and female gender roles. In the section I will be looking into gender and sexuality based inequality in the film. The film is publicity stunt and use to promote females but also had political side to it. The main character in the film is Billie Jean King who is fighting for equal rights. When looking at intersectional lines of their identity for example gender, it’s clear King has very strong views about it.  Billie Jean king character fits well as being a feminist. Stanley (2006) states that “King credits her husband, Larry, for turning her into a feminist in the early 60’s.” When looking at feminist theory they produce the idea that society is organized in a way that systematically privileges men and masculinity whilst marginalizing or exploiting women and this system is called patriarchy. To talk about patriarchy and to adopt Feminist Theory “does not imply that women are either totally powerless or totally deprived of rights, influences, and resources.” (French, 1985,). Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. Hooks (2001) states that “feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” Many people argue that men and women are not the same so they can’t be equal. They believe that because their bodies are different, i.e weaker and smaller they are not equal. This is clearly shown in the battle of the sexes film as men and women are not being paid the same, their reason being that men are better and more interesting. Billie Jean is experiencing throughout her life and the film inequality in the form of men being inferior and winning more money. Bobby Riggs throughout the film is sexist, patriarchal thinking as well as having the idea of the dominant, alpha male. From the match, he wants to gain as much publicity to prove that that this is the case. “Women are, further, divided amongst themselves and endlessly in competition for access to those beings who might, in the twenty first century, be described as the “alpha males” (Turner 2009). Marx is well known for his view that the entry of women into “public production” would also lead to their more general emancipation, and certain socialist societies organized the degree of child care which made this possible (Turner 2009). The match been Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs has been credited with enhancing the status of girls and women in sport (Frey, 1998: Hahn. 1998: Nelson, 1998). Although the match was staged during the conjunctural moment now referred to as second wave feminism, it was commemorated within the context of third wave feminism. The second wave of feminism was between the 1960s to 1980s, and focused on reducing inequalities in sex, family, the workplace, reproductive rights, de facto inequalities, and official legal inequalities. (Heywood & Dworkin, 2003). Furthermore the “Third wave feminism is a product of that contradiction between the continuation of sexism and an increasingly realizable feminist dream that today many women do have more opportunity” (Heywood & Dworkin, 2003, p. 41). Many scholars and professionals use the battle of the sexes as a way of describing feminism. For instance, Historian Susan Ware uses the famous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs to explore the modern feminist movement, particularly the “benefits and limits of liberal feminism” that emphasized equality and individual achievement” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia 1979). The purpose of Battle of the Sexes is to inform young people about this significant moment from 44 years ago, and about the strides we have made as women since then. It demonstrates where issues of sexism from past and present overlap and Billie Jeans character put this across well. She helped show the struggles that women had to go through and wanted to prove that women do not belong on the tennis court – let alone do they deserve equal pay – and that their role is reserved for the kitchen and the bedroom (Ende 2017). As well as Billie Jean suffering from inequality in the tennis world she also experiencing homophobia from her sexuality. “Your sexuality is about who you’re attracted to sexually and romantically” (ReachOut Australia 2019). In Billie Jeans case, she is married to Larry her husband but develops a relationship with a female, this makes her ‘homosexual’. However, throughout the film she is scared to admit to others that she has feelings for Marilyn. For example, Margaret court knows that if sponsors know about her relationship with another female they will pull out, so it’s kept quiet. Furthermore, Billie Jean knows that if it comes out she will be discriminated against even more. Grosz (1994) gives four different senses in which sexuality may be understood, the first being that it can be “understood as a drive, an impulse or form of propulsion, directing a subject towards an object.” Secondly it can be implied in “terms of an act, a series of practices and behaviors involving bodies, organs and pleasures, usually, but not always involving orgasm” (Grosz 1994). Thirdly, it can also be understood in terms of identity, most commonly stated by the term gender, being at least two different form, usually male and female. Lastly in can refer to a “set of orientations, positions and desires, which implies that there are particular ways in which the desires, differences, and bodies of subjects can seek their pleasure.” (Grosz 1994). I believe Grosz different ways of describing sexuality is good as its in many different way and it incorporates the body as the central site of sexuality. “The involvement of girls and women in vigorous masculine sports also cast a shadow over the normality of their gendered and sexual identity from the 1890s onwards” (White 2009). As the film is biographical when researching Billie Jean and looking at the development she has made for female tennis, she is now a gay rights activist, and has admitted she didn’t start feeling comfortable about being gay until she was 51 years old, after “tons of therapy.” She believes this was partly because of the shame many people — including her own parents — associated with homosexuality, which King said, “was a big deal in the ’70s” (C. Jackson 2017)

Conclusion (approx. 500 words):

Billie jeans character fought for women’s equality in both the sports world and for women of all professions. By playing in and winning the match, that was the most-watched tennis match ever, she proved to the world that men are not better than women, but they are both equal. As well as winning the $100,000 prize money. However, she was also struggling with her sexuality as she didn’t want it to come out that she was attracted to a female, this was due to the views on homosexuality around the 1970’s, furthermore she knew that she would lose respect and sponsorship, as well as having the disapproval from her friends and family. She would adopt an identity on a strong independent straight female in order to be accepted and valued. “Critiques of categorical thinking have led to recognition of multiple and fluid nature of individuals’ identities and the complex ways in which enduring inequalities are produced through social relations of difference” (Flintoff, Fitzgerald & Scraton 2008). However, Butler (1990) would argue for both genders she would say that “the effect of proliferating gender configurations, de-stabilizing substantive identity, and depriving the naturalizing narratives of compulsory heterosexuality of their central protagonists: ‘man’ and ‘woman’” (Butler 1990).  At the time of Billie Jean king it’s clear to see that there were many social issues going on. However, Billie jeans actions changed the world of tennis and to date the gender pay gap is now equal due to her work. The film help understands the issues that women faced as well as promoting females, and showing the political side. When analyzing the film is clear that feminist theory has opened up new ways of studying the social world, not least in that context of the intersection of the social and the personal.


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