Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Is this the longest war?

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I went to see the film Battle of the Sexes recently. In essence it’s the story of a 1973 tennis match between Billie-Jean King and Bobby Riggs which became the most watched television sports event of all time. Trapped in a media glare King and Riggs, aged 30 and 55 respectively at the time, were on the opposite sides of a binary argument, but to some extent the real story was about off-court issues. Male chauvinism, equal pay, women’s liberation and even lesbianism were closely examined and mostly found wanting, even taking into account the era of the match-up.

Riggs, the world’s number one tennis player in 1939, is an old pro with a gambling addiction who has lost his drive and is looking for the next hustle. He firmly believes that an over-the-hill tennis veteran can beat the young female champion.

Meanwhile King has been arguing on behalf of her fellow players on the American women’s tennis circuit to be paid more and although the proposed match looks like a gimmick she realises the message it could send to the world if she wins. To complicate the issue, despite apparently being happily married, she unexpectedly falls in love with her female hairdresser.

And all this based on a true story.

If art really imitates life then the male of the species comes out of this rather badly.

A few years ago David Cunliffe apologised for being a man and subsequently lost the leadership of the Labour party, but perhaps he had a point.

Pay equity and glass ceilings are still relevant topics of conversation and then as if to emphasise the real life battle of the sexes out of left field wanders the grotesque Harvey Weinstein.

We’d all heard the stories of the ‘casting couches’ but turned blind eyes assuming the dalliances were consensual. A number of credible victims have come forward however alleging rape, and other sordid expectations from the pusillanimous producer.

But there are mixed messages. Italian film star Asia Argento says Mr Weinstein forced himself on her originally, but then concedes to later having a number of agreed-to liaisons with him ostensibly to further her career.

Meanwhile Weinstein admits to some misdemeanours, but assumes therapy will cure his perceived addiction and believes Mrs Weinstein will understand.

She doesn’t of course - and has left the building.

Can Mr Weinstein seriously be cured? I see a parallel in American doctor Vernon McGee’s ungenerous description of alcohol addiction. “If alcoholism is a disease,” he says “It is the only disease that comes in a bottle; the only disease contracted by an act of will, the only disease that is habit forming and is the only disease given as a Christmas gift.”

Writing in England’s Daily Telegraph 'Everyday Sexism' campaigner Lara Bates reckons Weinstein is not a “beast” or a “monster,” but a man who has behaved like many other powerful men. “While many decent men have been shocked and appalled by the emerging allegations, women everywhere have nodded grimly, thinking of their own Weinstein’s. If we insist on labelling Weinstein a monster, then we must face up to the fact that there are monsters everywhere and it shouldn’t be the responsibility of their victims to stop them,” she wrote.

You could argue that despite the 44 years since Billie-Jean and Bobby’s classic clash, the battle of the sexes is still being waged.

“Whatever they may be in public life, whatever their relations with men, in their relations with women, all men are rapists, and that’s all they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws and their codes.” - Marilyn French


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