Quick Quote: Billie Jean King Defines Feminism

Billie Jean King and Stacey Allaster were in Toronto at the beginning of the week, and held a joint press conference to discuss the 40th anniversary of the WTA and women’s tennis. The whole press conference is a must-read, but the excerpts below really resonated with me:

Q.  What do you say to young women who kind of cringe at the word “feminism” and to tennis players who say that the women’s game and the women’s tour is exactly where it should be and there are no more battles?
BILLIE JEAN KING:  Boy, that’s a really good question‑‑ questions.  There are two there, really.  First of all, I will tell you a story.  When we used to play, my generation we would walk into the media area when we finally were getting media.  That was a big deal to have you in a room like this.  That’s why I want to tell you how much I appreciate you, because in the ’70s, without you, our stories weren’t told.  So I don’t want you to give up on your job because things have changed, okay?  You still tell the stories in a different way, I think, than if it just comes from the individual, tweeting or the sound bites or whatever.

I used to walk into a room, and there was never a woman sports writer, never.  So it was all guys.  I get along great with guys because of my brother, and my dad was a jock, I’m easy‑peasy.

So I go, Okay, before we start, I want each of you guys to tell me what you think a feminist means.  What does feminism mean to you?  You couldn’t believe them.  They go (indicating index finger on chin and staring at ceiling).  They start thinking.  I go, Okay, before we start, I just want to tell you what it means to me.  It means equal rights for boys and girls.  It’s very simple.  It means choice.  That’s it.  That everybody should have the same opportunities, same rights, easy‑peasy.

I said, Okay, now we can start the press conference.

That answers the first one, because I think they need to understand it’s not a bad word.  It’s actually a very strong, wonderful word.  Many men are feminists too, by the way.  People have a very negative connotation with that word.  If you really look it up, all it is is about equality.  It’s simple.

The second part of the question, there is always more that we have to do.  Even if things were perfect for both genders, we still want to make things better.  There is a lot of the world that’s not doing well.  70% of poverty is women, and women tennis players are an example.  Equal prize money is the message, not the money.  It’s the message that we send through equal, that word “equal,” prize money is ‑‑ that’s the important thing.  We’re for both boys and girls.

So it’s very important for women to do, to keep pushing forward, because it’s important that young boys and girls see us as strong.  We all have a right to be who we are, that we can do things really well, that we know how to compete, we know how to lead, we know how to have the passion every day, the fire in the belly just like the guys every day.

We’re human beings, both the boys and girls, and we both have emotions.  Like I was telling the ticket holders‑‑ I was just there with the premium ticket holders before I came here, and, you know, it’s so important that we’re all in this world together, that we work together.

So, anyway, does that answer your question?  Because I get ‑‑you got me all fired up.  Talk about fire in the belly.

Okay, I can’t leave it at that. Here’s another excerpt from the interview:

BILLIE JEAN KING:  It’s getting better.  But until girls have the same opportunities that boys do in sports or any other field of endeavor ‑‑the biggest difference I find in sports, anyway, and I think it’s shifting in business, and of course we will probably touch on it today, is that the resources available to men’s sports compared to women’s sports is just night and day, okay?  Men are willing to spend billions of dollars and lose billions of dollars, long‑term thinking, on men’s sports.
Here’s what happens with women’s.  Let’s say you start a soccer league.  If the women don’t make money in two years, the guys say, See, they’re not making any money.  But no one ever says to them, How much money are the guys making?  Do you think our Major League Soccer ‑‑


BILLIE JEAN KING:  The Andusz (phonetic) family was willing to go for 30 years to invest.  I have never seen anyone in women’s sports really say, We’re going to invest, I don’t care what it takes for the next 10, 20, 30 years, we’re going to put X on the map.

I have never heard that about women’s sports.  For men’s sports, I hear it all the time.  That is discrimination.  That’s just the way it is.  That’s the world I lived in as a girl, as a woman, growing up.

She said ‑‑she’s so sweet.  I have a special birthday.  I’m going to be 70 this year.  I don’t care about birthdays.  You know how girls are taught not to tell anybody?  That’s bologna.  Just tell everybody.  Who cares?  God, we get hung up on all the wrong things in life.  Golly.  Come on.  I’m going to be 7‑0, and I love it.  It’s the 40‑ 40‑ 40‑70.  Yeah.  I don’t care.  I’m glad I made it to 70.  That’s the privilege.

Mic drop.

Lindsay is an author, a filmmaker, a long-winded blogger, and a huge tennis fan.

4 Responses

  1. Peter
    Peter August 8, 2013 at 7:49 pm |

    Old people inspire me.

  2. Patrick of La Verne
    Patrick of La Verne August 8, 2013 at 10:05 pm |

    Great, great stuff, Lindsay.

    Somehow, it’s only been in the last couple of years that I have come to fully appreciate Ms. King’s contribution to tennis, sports, women, and America in general.

    She is something of a Moses for women in sports, and given sports’ great international stage, a prophetic voice for women in general.

    And Moses was a guy who would understand the meaning of a forty-year struggle.

  3. Brodie
    Brodie August 9, 2013 at 12:49 am |

    I was simply floored to be in the room while this was happening. She spoke as passionately as the words come across. That she said that there is still work to be done was what mattered the most to me. She was also incredibly proud of the WTA and I had never felt as proud to be a tennis fan or lover of specifically women’s tennis and what it stands for than I had been when she talked. I’m bringing a transcript of it home to my mom because I know it will make her day. BJK the best.

    (It ended up being slightly hilarious because old aunt BJK talked for quiiiiite a while at the beginning and it was a long conference that clearly ate up some time of other players. It didn’t bug me one bit, though.)

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