There’s a new movie out: “Battle of the Sexes.” Seen it yet? I haven’t, but I plan to.
Martha Crawford, an eloquent psychotherapist, did see the movie and shared her childhood recollections about the event the film depicts on Twitter. It made for an incredibly powerful story.
I’ve rendered Ms. Crawford’s tweets in paragraph form below the fold…
Take it away, Ms. Crawford…
So last night I took my daughter to see Battle of the Sexes. And I had such visceral memories of that event and its lead up: My father was a white men’s club chauvinist: his misogyny was cold and hard. His daily humor dripping with contempt.
My mother was the brunt of jokes about her body, her “flat chest” my fathers favorite joke to tell was a rape joke at my mother’s expense. And women’s libbers and feminazis were a constant threat to him. The world he offered me to grow up into was a stifling jail.
& this silly tennis match. Between this buffoon- who my white mens country’s club father thought was hilarious- he was sure Riggs would win. And my mother and I quietly watched.
I cannot tell you how terrified I was that she would lose. I was 8 or so. Second grade. If she lost it seemed to mean to me that I would never get out. That every exit was blocked.
His cheers at every point she lost terrified me. He was always screaming at TV sports and the sudden eruptions always made me jump. I sat on the floor – I didn’t like to sit on the couch next to him because I had dreams that it would swallow me up and smother me.
I prayed silently the way children do: “please let her win please let her win”. I needed my father to lose. I needed her to unseat him.
I thought I might not be able to withstand watching her lose. He wanted me to stay and watch as a lesson. He often said I was “too spirited” and needed to be broken like a horse. He’d need to find a man with “spurs” for me.
So when Billie Jean King crushed Riggs- I saw for the first time that my father was crushable. And I saw his face crumple momentarily. And the mumbling and grumbling of defeat.
And there was OXYGEN. Air to breathe.
And I JUMPED and CHEERED and my mother told me to quiet down but I didn’t. And I knew for the first time that there was absolutely a WAY OUT.
I don’t know if my daughter could imagine the way that tennis match was like fresh rain in a drought. I don’t know if she can imagine how trapped and starved women were.
She was like: “Why didn’t she just tell her husband she was bi?”
When I explained why there was a “closet” she said “you mean EVERYONE?”
So: I’m glad that there are oppressions that my daughter cannot conceive of alongside those that she is aware of, and is vigilant about. How lovely that she cannot even conceive of the bind my mother and I were trapped in.
My mother would leave my father two years later. And like BJK she would leave his assets and his lifestyle behind. She worked pumped gas and raised us as latchkey kids & never looked back.
And she “took back” her own name. And I never after that considered giving mine up. And my daughter knows that whatever she decides to call herself in this life, that she owns her own identity. How grateful I am for that.
But don’t convince yourself that these men are gone. These are exactly the men holding office today. Their contempt is just as cold & ugly. But now, there are millions of role models, women, LGBTQ folk & people of color who have claimed their power: my kids have access to heroes.
Even if there is still so much to do- there is now a pantheon of heroes for the next generation to set their foundation upon. I don’t know if that film was able to convey how many stakeholders there were in that event. It changed lives, not just tennis.
So heroes matter. So many of you have served as heroes, and only feel defeated that white men like this are still in power. But you have emboldened those who are coming up behind you.
You have strengthened the legacy of liberation. You don’t just win by overthrowing oppression. You win by showing others that they are not alone when they stand up themselves.
It is interesting to me that so many now define this as “abuse” At that time there was no public censure for misogyny. This was the acceptable NORM of the era. This was every single marriage I saw around me.
In a few more years: divorce would skyrocket from 15% to a full 50% of all marriages. This was fully normative in more than half of the households around us. But this wasn’t “abusive” at the time. This was the way things were.
Every single girl I knew faced this in some form. If not at home, in the world. When my mother left my father she had no credit rating. No bank account. No credit card. No professional resume.
And men all around us complained about how they were getting “gouged” by alimony and child support. This behavior is only extreme and reprehensible NOW. It was normal then. My mother was the aberrant one.
What a treasure we have earned to be able to recognize and name abuse as unacceptable. We must guard that treasure.
Ms. Crawford’s story resonates deeply with me. My mom also fled a soul-crushing straight-jacket of a marriage and struggled to make her way in a world where she had to work twice as hard to be considered half as good. And she knew what she was getting into; she understood the price of her freedom.
Mom once told me about an incident that occurred while she and my father were still married, when she took a filing / paperwork job in the office of an air-conditioner distribution warehouse. Her horrible lout of a boss started making crude advances on her as soon as she started working there.
The harassment began with crude jokes and innuendos. He’d do stuff like cut out photos from porn magazines, hide them in catalogs and direct my mother to look up something so she’d see them, then he’d leer at her.
There was no one for her to tell at work, no home office with an HR department and rules forbidding that type of behavior. It was the 1970s; no one gave a shit.
Mom didn’t want to say anything at home because the fact that she had a job at all already wounded my father’s pride, but they needed the money. Eventually, the creepy boss escalated the harassment and got physical, which prompted my mom to flee the warehouse in tears.
She went home and told my father, who stormed to the warehouse and beat the shit out of the offending manager. Yay Dad! But my father’s anger was really more about another man trying to horn in on HIS property than outrage over the injustice done to my mother.
The beat-down was the end of that job and that income. There was no recourse for my mother, other than my father beating the shit out of the pig who groped her. That’s just the way shit worked back then, and God help women who didn’t have a male “protector.”
We’ve definitely made progress since those days, but I don’t have to tell you that it has been uneven. My guess is there isn’t a woman reading this who hasn’t experienced something similarly vile — at work, in a classroom, in the dorm lounge.
We can measure progress in how quickly swinish predator Harvey Weinstein was tossed from his gilded perch after his serial abuse of women became widely known to the public rather than an open secret within the industry. It was a surprise to Harvey; his early comments make it clear he thought he could brazen it out. And why wouldn’t he think that?
Weinstein’s fellow swinish predator, Donald Trump, is in the White House, despite — or worse yet, because — he’s widely known as a crude, leering pig. And his minions and media stooges have the unmitigated gall to try to smear Hillary Clinton with Weinstein’s crimes.
But, as Ms. Crawford says, the fact that this wretched behavior is now called “abuse” is a treasure that we must guard. Because God knows it’s in danger of being stolen away. And, we have our heroes. That’s important too.