Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Necessary Checkout

At my library I'm responsible for ordering and maintaining our bestseller collection. This is a small collection of current, temporary books that are intended for leisure reading. I'll order a title, we'll keep it about 3-5 years, then I'll send it back to the company we bought it from.

I was going through a list of older titles last month and came across one that we'd had since 2005, but it had never circulated. For four years, it sat on our shelves unread, unappreciated, and unloved. This happens sometimes, and it essentially means that I ordered a dud. And now it was time to send it back.

But I couldn't do it. So I decided I would check it out. To save it the shame of never having been read. This wasn't just a pity read. It was an interesting title: A Necessary Spectacle: Billie Jean King, Bobby Riggs, and the Tennis Match That Leveled the Game by Selena Roberts.

It's actually a really good book. It's about the "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match in 1973, where King, in her prime, took on the 55-year-old sexist Riggs, who boasted that no woman could ever beat him.

It's a story that involves biography, sexism, sensationalism, civil rights, hucksterism, equal rights, sexuality, and tennis.

Following my tradition of reviewing books while I'm in the middle of them, here are a few thoughts on the story.

A lot of people have heard of the "Battle of the Sexes" match, but many don't know (I didn't, anyway) that there was a precursor to this match between King and Riggs. Earlier in the year, because Bobby Riggs couldn't get BJK to play him, he played Margaret Court. Court was one of the best (if not the best) women players in the world at the time, but she was completely clueless about the significance of the match. She had a conservative, traditional attitude and didn't trust the "women's libbers." She thought Riggs was just a tasteless, yet harmless old geezer who wanted to play an exhibition.

She didn't take the match seriously, and got her butt handed to her.

This just ratcheted up Riggs' sexist remarks, and consequently Billie Jean felt she had no choice now but to face Bobby and put things right. This wasn't just a meaningless exhibition between two tennis stars. Many people, even other top female tennis stars, didn't believe that King could beat Riggs. They bought into the myth that a woman couldn't beat a man.

Women at the time were fighting for equal rights. Female tennis pros wanted a more equitable share of proceeds. Title IX was being considered. There was a lot at stake. For example, a woman like Billie Jean King, who was the primary breadwinner in her family, couldn't even get a credit card. Her husband, on the other hand, got applications in the mail all the time.

Riggs, for his part, was just in it just for the attention and money. It seems that he was just as clueless as Court had been. In press conferences he would talk trash to King, saying outrageously sexist things in an effort to get attention and press. When she called him a creep, he was shocked and hurt that she would go after him personally. He just didn't seem to get how important the equal rights movement was.

So that's where I am in the book right now. I can't wait to see if women ever won the right to apply for credit cards.

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