Sometimes you don't realize you're a part of making history while it's being made.
Which is not to say that I had anything to do with tennis great Billie Jean King's groundbreaking match with Bobby Riggs. I was simply alive and aware of it happening. But even at my tender age, it seemed like a lot of hullabaloo, and a publicity stunt. What I was not aware of is all the backstory surrounding it.
I have friends, and indeed colleagues on this site just 5, 6, 7 years older than I am – and just that little amount of time makes a huge difference in the cognizance of world events. They know what an earthmover Billie Jean King has been.
At the breakfast I attended yesterday (for and by NYWA), many women were honored for their myriad contributions in various fields. And a lot of wisdom was imparted, some of which I'll probably share here over the next few weeks.
But the primary honoree was Billie Jean King. And the many women in that room knew the extraordinary impact this woman has had on women's rights, sports, and equality in general.
"What else can I say about this legendary woman that hasn't been said," said Christiane Amanpour, who was there to introduce her and went on to sum up not only the essence of every other woman's speech that morning, but offered fresh and inspiring insights on Billie Jean King, because, well, Christiane Amanpour is brilliant.
We watched a short film on Billie Jean King. I didn't know the tennis great wore prints and color and patterns on her tennis "whites". I didn't know how hard she had to fight for there to be women's tennis, or tours, or prize money even in the same ball park (or tennis court) as men. I didn't realize what a true trailblazer she was — when other women were afraid of losing what they had, she had to stress, but we have nothing to lose. I didn't really realize what ceiling cracker she was on a dozen fronts.
And stupidly, I didn't really realize that I should have worn waterproof mascara. I finally had to break down and smudge my cloth napkin; I hate that.
When Billie Jean got up to speak, she did it again – kicked preconceived notions to the curb.
We had begun by announcing all the women's organizations present: Women in Film & Television, Women in Media, Women in Communications, Women in Jewelry … to the point where there was some suppressed giggles.
"I can't stand that," Billie Jean said, then paused, reframing to fit the "positive" message directive and explain:
She hadn't gotten what she wanted. Billie Jean King's goal had been to integrate women and men in the sport. But the men wouldn't have it. So they had to start a separate women's organization.
This matters because the statistics still reflect the old story: Only 18% of corporate executives are women, only 8% make it to the board room; women still earn only 78 cents on the dollar.
Then this legendary icon of women's rights and gender equality said, what "really keeps us back…", we won't really be free
until we truly work together—men and women."
I went back to my napkin. Because of the lucidity and logic, delivered with grace that Christiane Amanpour had mentioned.
"Women have children—both boys and girls." She mentioned her brother, pro baseball star Randy Moffitt, whose 2 daughters he wants to see succeed. We're all in this together.
She also gets exasperated at women who perpetuate a separatist mindset when they tell her 'I'm not an athlete'. "Do not put yourself down!" Billie Jean King insisted.
If you can breathe, you're an athlete. When you think you can't take another step, and you do, you're an athlete."
It's a funny thing, being a part of history. There's something about it you feel. I felt it back in the '70s when the Billie Jean King/Bobby Riggs tennis match took place, even if I wasn't entirely clear on the specifics. I'm sure the people living through World War II felt it. I feel it now.
The pulse of history seems to wax and wane; like veins on a map, it crisscrosses everything and its lifeblood pulses louder and more insistently at certain points in time. So that the people living it will remember it. That was one of those times. This is.
I'm glad was alive then so I can remember it now.
I'm glad I'm alive now so I can remember it.
"When they give Lifetime Achievement Awards, that means you're getting," Billie Jean King flashed a quick half smile, "mature..." said the 68-year-old.
But I'm not done yet. And neither are you!"
We're not done. This is history – you're livin' it.