Even when you know how a movie is going to end, the real satisfaction comes in watching how the story unfolds. When I got the chance to attend an advance screening of Battle of the Sexes, I couldn’t wait to see Emma Stone and Steve Carell bring the epic 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs to life.
And while Carrell’s Riggs engages in misogynistic bluster that is mostly chalked up to putting “the show back in chauvinism,” I was surprised to find that the real antagonist was tennis promoter Jack Kramer, portrayed by Bill Pullman. Kramer utilizes his institutional power to deny women equal pay and to offer a steady drumbeat of his own misogynistic bluster so offensive, that audience members gasped as he spoke.
Ten minutes into the film he made a statement that I’m still thinking about today. From the inside of an exclusive men’s club, Kramer explains to King why the women’s singles winner of an upcoming tournament would earn eight-times less than her male counterpart, relying on a flurry of bigoted explanations on the physical superiority of men’s tennis before closing with “It’s just biology.”
It’s just biology.
Like many, I winced when I heard those words. But then it occurred to me that, sadly, those three words provided an answer to so much.
What other answer can there to be to the question of why so many women in the United States today have to fight for their rightful legal protection under Title IX, including on college campuses; why so many women continue to experience sexual harassment in the workplace, including in Silicon Valley; and why so many women continue to fight for the same equal pay Billie Jean King fought for roughly 45 years ago.
“It’s just biology” also offers answers to the challenges our Leagues overseas contend with every day. What other answer can there be to the question of why two-thirds of women in Mexico have been victims of gender-based violence, why the prevalence of discrimination and violence among indigenous women in Canada is so prevalent, or why single women in the U.K. are statistically more likely to live in poverty than their male counterparts.
It’s just biology. My counter to that is simple. It’s just equality.
It’s the answer to anyone who ever asks why The Junior League works so hard to bring awareness to human trafficking and to combat domestic violence. It answers why we are focused on community engagement, whether during times of profound civic unrest like Ferguson and Charlottesville, or in times of natural disaster, like the work we are doing now for victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, as well as the earthquake in Mexico City. And if anyone asks why we are nurturing the next generation of civic leaders who will work to protect and advance women on college campuses, in Silicon Valley, and throughout the world, the answer is simple. It’s just equality.
But it’s not just equality for equality’s sake. Near the end of the film, Emma Stone’s King turns to a reporter and says that it’s not about women being better than men, that it’s just about respect. And that is the ultimate answer to why we do what we do. Because we are entitled to the respect that leads to equality.
While Battle of the Sexes was nearly 45 years ago, the Battle for Today is being fought in exclusive clubs, sports leagues, board rooms, and communities all over the world. And if anyone asks why we continue to fight, just give them the answer.
Katie Kwo Gerson, At-Large Member AJLI Governance Committee and member of the Junior League of Kansas City, was in attendance at the LA Premiere on 9/16 as a guest of Citizen Watch Corporation, a major sponsor of “Battle of the Sexes”. While there, Katie met Billie Jean King who shared a connection about the Junior League of Detroit, an important ally in her early career, supporting the Virginia Slims Tournament. To this day, Billie Jean greatly admires the work of The Junior League because she believes strongly in our mission…..especially the work we do to “develop the potential of women.”