Yes, I’m old enough to recall watching the televised match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, back in 1973. Touted as “The Battle of the Sexes” and seemingly a symbol of Woman-Beating-Back-Male-Braggadocio, Billie Jean, then 29, crushed Bobby in three straight sets. He was 55.
Looking back, the theatrical aspects and the terminology tossed about (“male chauvinist pig”) all seem oddly innocent, terribly distant, and even a little silly. Yet putting this major media event into context – Bobby’s blatant boasting, the fact that women’s tennis then earned little air time and even less money – anything to get the issues of women athletes and pay parity into the public eye was a good idea.
Nearly 40 years later, we can look at strides made in women’s sports. Who hasn’t heard of the Williams Sisters, or the major female talents of the past few decades? How many of us cheered on the U.S. Soccer Team recently?
But what about our everyday lives? The routine male bashing and female bashing that goes on in conversation, in writing, and from both sides of the gender divide? Are we still at this age-old game of he said, she said? Will we ever stop, and try to play nice?
This morning I am reminded of all the ways things haven’t changed. The Battle of the Sexes rages on – daily – and we have only to look to our bedrooms, or on the Internet.
How often do discussions deteriorate to stereotypes and generalizations about men and women? Peek at your preferred publications, any discussion that touches on gender roles, and the comments that follow. (Might I mention the continuing conversation over at the Huffington Post?) For example –
- Women don’t put out enough, so men cheat.
- Men don’t listen, so women tune them out.
- Women are after a man’s money.
- Men are after a woman’s body.
Women this, men that.
Men and women are different. We behave differently. We communicate differently. We respond differently – to almost everything.
Women this, men that.
Don’t we all say it? I admit, I do.
But I try not to. Partly, that’s because I am a woman raising sons. Partly, because it’s illogical to lump all men and all women into categories and be done with it.
There are reasons for generalizations and stereotypes; they serve a purpose. But when all we do is toss them around and not allow for digging deeper, when all we do is rely on cliché that allows for no exceptions, when we dismiss individuals and their motivations – we do ourselves a disservice.
We widen the gender gap, with little hope of understanding each other and forging better relationships. We tacitly accept our gender roles as adversarial, when we ought to be allies – allies in improving our lives.
We owe Billie Jean a great deal, and Bobby, too. Apparently they remained friends for years, they caught our attention, ignited a cause, and aided the effort toward gender parity in pay, as well as recognition of the phenomenal abilities of female athletes.
As I recall those days, I think of that odd duo as an alliance. We have much to fight for in this nation – more jobs, accessible health care, more affordable education – and rather than fight each other, maybe we could team up for better systems and better relationships. Maybe we could stop the bickering and bashing, and try working together.