I normally like to separate my Violence Girl stories and post them on my True Life Adventures of Violence Girl blog, but I realized that we have just marked the 35th anniversary of a famous tennis match known as The Battle of the Sexes. If you were old enough to be watching TV on September 20, 1973, then you already know what I'm talking about. If you aren't that old, then I invite you to read this excerpt from my autobiography-in-progress, Violence Girl.
The television ad promised golden, sun-kissed locks if I used their product. All I had to do was spray my hair with Sun-In and go outside. I followed the directions, saturating my coal black hair with the spray and then letting it air dry in the sun, but my hair was so dark that the sun had no power over it. This gentle method was not designed for people like me with coarse, jet black hair but those ads had worked their influence on me and now I had my heart set on those golden streaks. I'd have to call in the big artillery.
I bought a package of hair dye at the drugstore and lightened my hair with it. Hair dye must be different nowadays than it was when I was growing up because my hairdressers always repeat the same refrain: "Color cannot lift color," they say to me and I do understand that, but what about the peroxide they mix it with? In the old days, hair color was mixed with peroxide and you could buy a light blonde color at the drugstore that would lift your hair several shades. I know - because that's exactly what I did. Of course it was a gamble, you didn't get the color on the box right away. With black hair you'd get a brassy, deep red the first time, then a copper penny color and if you kept at it and didn't burn your hair off, after multiple treatments you could end up with a lovely dye job just like mine.
I've always had a problem knowing my limitations. When I was very little, my father made me believe that I could be anything: President, brain surgeon - I just added blonde to the list. When I looked in the mirror, I didn't see what others saw: the cheap dye job, the broken, crooked teeth and braces, the bulging midsection. I saw myself through my father's eyes. I was a beautiful blonde and if the world thought it could limit me or beat me down, then it had another thing coming. I would never be a beaten woman.
That summer of '72 I was golden and I wasn't the only one. My world expanded beyond the everyday concerns of East LA when Munich, Germany hosted the summer Olympics. Making history was a sexy American swimmer named Mark Spitz who captivated the attention of people all over the world by winning seven gold medals, a record which stood unbroken until this year. I became a fan of his and of the Soviet gold medal gymnast Olga Korbut, but not for the same reasons. Olga made athletics look graceful. She would later receive a Star Magazine "groupie" makeover.
Olga Korbut gets the Star groupie look.
At that time in my life, I looked up to groupies. I thought they had style, sex appeal and chutzpah and I imagined their lifestyle was quite glamorous. I wondered if Olga Korbut knew what she was in for when she agreed to let the makeover team at Star dress her up. I for one wholeheartedly approved of her new look and my appreciation for her increased.
Tragedy struck at the Olympics that year when a group of Israeli athletes were murdered . Because he was Jewish, Mark Spitz was perceived as a potential target and left the Olympics early. That Fall, I started 9th grade and I drew a huge, poster sized charcoal portrait of Mark Spitz for art class. It won me a summer scholarship to the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.
The following Spring, a loudmouth, braggart tennis player started making news with his sexist statements about women in tennis. I had absolutely no interest in tennis but I found myself getting angry. Later that year, that loudmouth named Bobby Riggs would challenge Billie Jean King to a tennis match which would become known as the Battle of the Sexes. It was at that point that I realized for the first time in my life that there was a name for what I was and still am - a feminist.
Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs
The Battle of the Sexes was like no other tennis match I've ever seen. It was more like a Lucha Libre bout: the amount of theater that went into it and the things that the athletes stood for was every bit as important as (and perhaps even more important than) the athleticism. Billie Jean was carried in on a golden litter, trimmed with bright pink feathers. She looked like an Egyptian queen and handed Bobby a live baby pig for his male chauvinistic pig statements.
Billie Jean King didn't just defeat Bobby Riggs that September day 35 years ago, she triumphed over sexism and male chauvinism and men and women who championed equality of the sexes all over the world celebrated with her. News of Billie Jean's victory reached all the way into East LA, where a bottle-blonde teenage girl whose world had been rather small up until this point suddenly realized that a woman who refused to play by the rules could change everything.