In a new video from AARP, Billie Jean King looks back on how her historic match against Bobby Riggs—dubbed the “Battle of the Sexes” and now the subject of a feature film of the same name—changed women’s lives, and her own.
“When I was 12, I had an epiphany,” King told AARP. “I was at the Los Angeles Tennis Club. It was the 1950s. I started thinking about my sport. Everyone was white. I said to myself, ‘Where is everybody else?’ It was heavy on my mind at the time. I promised myself that I would fight for equal rights and opportunities for boys and girls, men and women. The King-Riggs match gave me the biggest platform I could ever have had.”
King used the game—sensationalized by the media and Riggs himself as some sort of attempt to prove women weren’t worthy opponents, and framed as a showdown between feminists and male chauvinists—to declare and prove to millions of viewers that women deserved equality and respect. “Everybody in the world thought a guy—any guy—could beat any girl,” said King. “That got me irritated. When I played Bobby, this is what I wanted out of it: I wanted everyone to come together. I wanted to start changing the hearts and minds of people.”
She emerged onto the Houston Astrodome court in a pink throne with ERA YES signs in the background, gave Riggs a gift show pig and put a claimed victory not just for herself, and not just for women in sports—but for women on and off the court and around the world. “I have not had one day in my life where someone doesn’t come up to me and say something about it,” King said. “Women will say to me, ‘I watched that match. That gave me self-confidence for the first time.’ Guys will come up and say, ‘I didn’t understand until I had a daughter.’ Kids say, ‘My grandparents told me all about you. You played this big match against this guy—and you won!'”
“Girls are taught to be perfect,” King explained to AARP. “Boys are taught to be brave… That’s why girls never think they are good enough; it’s the message we get from the day we’re born. It drives me insane the way we’re socialized.”