Towards the end of the new movie Battle of the Sexes, a scene occurs that'll find viewers holding their breath. The titular match between tennis champs Billie Jean King, a tough, capable, feminist hero hellbent on proving her sexist haters wrong, and Bobby Riggs, a self-described "male chauvinist pig," is underway, and the outcome, for King, isn't looking good. She seems tired and unfocused, while Riggs is all casual, easy energy. Yet before long, the tides turn, and King begins delivering winning hit after hit. Eventually, she wins — and, in my screening, I nearly started clapping in the theater, so relieved that King had come out on top.
After all, we all know that it's possible for an inspiring and skillful woman to lose to a misogynistic, arrogant man in the biggest competition of her life. If it sounds like I'm referring to what happened to Hillary Clinton, I am; trust me, it's impossible to watch Battle of the Sexes and not make a comparison to the 2016 presidential election. The movie, like the race, is about a determined, talented woman who is forced to contend with constant sexism and unfounded hatred when she dares to fight for equal treatment and a position of power. Her appearance, her personal life, her intelligence — all of it is questioned, while her male opponent gets more popular the more openly vile he gets. No matter how much effort she puts in, or how qualified she is, nothing is enough for a hungry press and misogynistic society.
As such, the fact that I knew King would win in Battle of the Sexes, seeing that the outcome of the match had been decided way back in 1973, didn't matter one bit. The filmmakers filled the sequence with suspense, yes, but my relief was more due to the fact that I'd seen Clinton, like King, give it her all and do everything right but still lose to someone far less deserving. Seeing the tennis star win her match was incredibly satisfying, as due to Clinton's loss and, well, history, I knew just how unfairly King would've been treated, and how much it would've hurt, if she'd lost.
During the 2016 election, the world watched as Trump and his followers painted Clinton as the enemy, someone intent on ruining people's lives and who just never, ever knew when to shut up. The same could be said about the way Riggs and his followers (which, like Trump's, included plenty of the press), who attacked King at every point just because she dared to speak up for something she believed in and call out the men who got in her way. It's infuriating to watch smart, capable women be treated this way, and especially so to realize that King and Clinton's experiences were so similar despite the 40+ years separating their battles.
We all know how devastating it felt to see Clinton lose the election to Trump. For years, we'd watched her get hit with every form of sexism under the sun, called a "b*tch" and gotten told to be quiet more times than anyone could count, including by her Republican opponent. Every time Trump criticized her demeanor or encouraged his followers to jeer at her, we grew angry; and every time Clinton fought back, making it known that she would persevere despite it all and never sink to his level, we rejoiced. It seemed impossible that she wouldn't win, that, like her campaign often stated, love wouldn't trump hate.
But of course, that's not what happened, and seeing Trump win — and his hateful rhetoric and actions be supported by half the country — was heartbreaking. And the dangerous reality of his presidency so far has made that pain often feel just as fresh as it was on Nov. 8, 2016.
So no, watching Battle of the Sexes give King the happy, deserved ending that Clinton never got isn't just satisfying on an entertainment level. It's satisfying on a deep, soul-healing level, reminding us all that yes, it is possible for integrity and feminism to win out over sexism and hate. When women and girls in the bleachers hold up signs urging King to beat Riggs' sexist butt, it feels as heartwarming as seeing all those "Pantsuit Nation" and "Madam President" signs back in 2016. When King's fellow tennis player Rosie Casals tells a male reporter about her own achievements, it feels as inspiring as watching all the female politicians, journalists, and lawyers who followed in Clinton's footsteps. And when King bests Riggs with that final swing, it feels as wonderful as witnessing every triumph Clinton achieved during the election and in all the years before.
Seeing King beat Riggs and prove her haters wrong felt, even if just for a few minutes, like I was living out the dream I didn't get to back in November. It was cathartic and uplifting and emotional, and it was necessary. And while there have been a few other films this year that've featured inspiring moments of women kicking butt and proving men wrong, like Wonder Woman and Atomic Blonde, those movies, while indisputably important, are fantasies; in their worlds, of course the ladies win — why wouldn't they, when they're clearly more powerful, and more deserving, than anyone else?
But reality, as we know, isn't quite that simple. So Battle of the Sexes, a true story about a woman who really did beat her misogynistic male opponent despite every obstacle imaginable, is something else. It shows that good actually can triumph over hate — and that even if it didn't happen for Hillary, King's win proves that it doesn't mean it's impossible for someone else.