Women’s Fund Keyholder Event Features Lisa Ling Interview with Billie Jean King
It’s that time of year again, when the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio brings in notable, thought-leading women to address the region’s feminists at their Keyholder event. This year’s guest is former World No. 1 tennis player Billie Jean King, who will be interviewed by Lisa Ling, reporter and host of “This is Life” on CNN.
“I’m excited to just know about what she was thinking through her whole journey,” Ling said. “I think she’s such a powerful icon, and I’m so honored — as a woman, but also as a tennis player. I just worshipped her when I was a kid.”
Ling has achieved mounting success in her own career, starting work as a journalist for Channel One News as a teenager. She’s been a war correspondent, traveled to dozens of countries and reported on topics like child marriage and bride burning. She’s trotted the globe as an investigative reporter for National Geographic and Oprah, and now hosts “This is Life,” a series examining domestic cultural phenomena and social issues.
Despite her success in a male-dominated field, Ling’s admittance into feminism was almost reluctant. When asked on The View about her position, she said, “Oh, I’m not a feminist.”
“To me, the word feminist conjured up images of women who didn’t shave their armpits and who were like, man haters right?” Ling explained. “And Joy Behar looked at me and assailed me, and she said, “You know what? You probably wouldn’t even be sitting here if it wasn’t for feminists and women of my generation,’ and she was absolutely right, you know? I think it was because of her generation and women before her, who fought for my rights, that I was able to sit there and so stridently declare myself not to be a feminist.”
She’s since changed her tune. When asked in a phone interview if she’s a feminist, she said, “Oh yeah — absolutely.”
What that feminism means is debated a lot — the meaning behind the word shape-shifts depending on the identity of the person who aligns with it. American feminism has historically focused on issues experienced by white women, but it’s recently opened up to include the LGBTQ community, women of color, immigrants, and refugees. This broadening has resulted in women’s issues transforming into simply human issues, with one diverse group facing down varying systemic inequalities together.
As nations (hesitatingly) globalize, determining how feminism applies to marginalized groups around the planet, Ling said, takes some thoughtful listening and engagement.
“Feminism ultimately means choice,” she said.
For example, Muslim women who wear head and body coverings don’t necessarily feel oppressed. Rather, many feel liberated, which means laws that either banning or requiring them are equally sexist.
“But, you know, when I worked on a piece about child marriage in Ethiopia, and this phenomenon happens in over 40 countries in the world, people will say to me ‘Child marriage is practiced, and has been practiced, for generations. How can you, as an American, go in and say it’s wrong?’ And I always say it’s when the girls say to me ‘I don’t want to get married at 8, 9, 10 years old. I want to have an education.’ That’s when I know it’s wrong.”
The lesson for Ling is to listen to women, hear their stories, and attempt to gain some understanding from them. King’s story — one of triumph, betrayal, ridicule and also unabashed leadership in the fight for social justice — is one that Ling hopes to unravel at the Women’s Fund’s Keholderevent.
King, who was involuntarily outed in 1981 (subsequently losing all of her endorsements), won 39 Grand Slam titles over her career. She fought for equal prize money for men and women, and has prioritized women’s voices by creating a pro tour and players’ union just for women. In 2009, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama for her work toward the advancement of women in the sport.
“I think in hearing about the challenges and obstacles that Billie Jean has overcome, I think that will really empower people to be able to not feel inhibited by their own obstacles,” Ling said. “I also just appreciate how she has continued to speak up for women. She was such a pioneer and just continues to advocate for women.”
The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio’s Keyholder event “Changing the Game” is on Thursday, May 4. It starts at 6 p.m. at the Ohio Theatre.
For more information, visit womensfundcentralohio.org/keyholder. For tickets, visit womensfundcentralohio.givezooks.com/events/keyholder-2017-changing-the-game.