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Jewish World Review April 20, 2001 / 27 Nissan, 5761

Diana West

Diana West
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D-Day, Schmee-Day -- HISTORY, as they say, is written by the victors--or made into TV movies by Goldie Hawn. The relentlessly tousle-headed actress, brow-creasingly perturbed by the perilous ignorance of the young about their historical heritage, decided it was incumbent upon her to bring the battle of the century to the small screen for the enlightenment of one and all.

D-Day, Schmee-Day: Ms. Hawn meant the 1973 tennis match between Bill Jean King and Bobby Riggs. "Younger people don't remember that match, don't remember how important it was, and don't know about that time period at all," Ms. Hawn told the New York Times before "When Billie Beat Bobby," the two-hour television movie she co-produced, aired on ABC earlier this week. "A lot of pioneers helped women, and one of those pioneers was certainly Billie Jean King."

How important was it that a star--sorry, pioneer--in her twenties beat a hustler in his fifties some 35 years past his prime? As it turned out, plenty; although this match of nearly 30 years ago is significant in ways Ms. Hawn and her cohorts probably never imagined. To them, Ms. King's victory (actually, she was still "Mrs." King back then) over the bombastic Riggs was more than a Barnumesque publicity stunt that drew 50 million television viewers to watch the women's Wimbledon champ play an over-the-hill self-promoter. Circus-like or not, the match registered as a ringingly emotional triumph in the so-called Battle of the Sexes.

Having chalked one up for women, what did Ms. King actually win for her "side"--enduring female supremacy over male tennis players? Hardly. Documdrama writer-director Jane Anderson explained Ms. King's victory as a "profound" contribution to the feminist movement--which, failing to move all females (let alone males), hardly makes her efforts cause for universal celebration. "Billie didn't have the rhetoric, she acted it out on the court," said Ms. Anderson. "Before Billie Jean, it was almost unacceptable to be a female athlete except in certain sports like ice skating."

Hawn as historian?

(It is tempting to take this opportunity to elaborate on the off-ice exploits of, say, Babe Didrikson, Althea Gibson, or even Esther Williams, but that would be unfair considering the terrible disadvantage at which feminist mythology is placed by historical fact. So, back to Ms. Anderson and her discourse on Ms. King's profundity.)

"Tennis was sort of feminine, too," Ms. Anderson explained, no doubt savoring the thought of her subtle-like-a-hatchet lens-work on a pair of ruffled tennis panties that, of course, stand for dread femininity in the TV movie. "But to be aggressive on the court like a man," she continued, "to really want to win and show it, to speak out, to throw your racket on the ground, to show frustration and elation in a sport so upper-class and steeped in tradition was just not what women did. Until Billie."

Is it just me, or is it hard to find cause for genuflection in this cross between a tantrum and a revolution? That's not to say that such a transformation in attitude and behavior, symbolized by Ms. King's performance, isn't actually profound. But is it really something to glorify as Goldie and Co. would have us believe?

Writing in The New Criterion this month (see, Kenneth Minogue makes a crushingly comprehensive case against radical feminism for its corrosive role in the decline--let's not be coy; he terms it "destruction"--of civilization as we used to know it. While Mr. Minogue, an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the London School of Economics, argues at rather a higher altitude than sub-par television docudramas, his theory plays out beautifully in the metaphor of the King-Riggs match.

What Mr. Minogue has gleaned from the women's movement is as sad as it is true. "What radical feminism essentially did," he writes, "was to deny complementarity between the sexes and set men and women up as competing teams playing exactly the same game in which all the rules were stacked against the women. It was only on this eccentric assumption--i.e., that women had identical talents and inclinations to men--that they could support the conclusion that there had been foul play."

It is this sense of foul play--oppression and injustice--that remains vital to the perpetuation of the feminist movement, from Billie Jean King's day to the present. Only a gnawing sense of grievance animates her and her sisters, transforming them into the "pioneers" Ms. Hawn seeks to celebrate for coming to the assistance of all those supposedly downtrodden American women strewn about the country. Sure, Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs. But where is the triumph in what came after?

JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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02/12/01: If only ...

© 2001, Diana West