Former first lady Michelle Obama is celebrating women's rights milestones, while also warning about "how quickly progress like this can be taken away.”
Fifty years ago, the U.S. Open became the first Grand Slam tennis tournament to pay equal prize money to women. Obama gave a speech on Monday during the annual championship in New York, celebrating the woman who helped make that milestone possible.
Tennis Champs and Motherhood
“It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to join you in celebrating 50 years of equal prize money at the U.S. Open and to honor the woman who helped make it all possible, my friend, Billie Jean King,” she said.
During her long fight to secure equal pay for women in tennis, King — who was present for Obama's speech — won the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” match against Bobby Riggs, a professional tennis player known for his vehemently anti-equality stances.
“Men were paid as much as eight times more than women. And then there were folks like Bobby Riggs out there making ridiculous statements like, ‘Women belong in the bedroom and kitchen, in that order,'" Obama recalled. "Those were his exact words, believe it or not.”
She continued: “So, Billie Jean had a choice: She could put her head down, keep winning tournament after tournament and just accept whatever check she was given. Or she could dig deep and break serve."
While Obama acknowledged that “even today, there are far too many tournaments out there that still need to give equal pay to women," she noted that the issue “far bigger than a champion’s paycheck.”
“This is about how women are seen and valued in this world," she said. "Sadly, we have seen how quickly progress like this can be taken away if we are not mindful and vigilant, if we do not keep remembering, and advocating, and organizing, and speaking out — and yes — voting."
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