A term often used in the sports and entertainment industries to hype up a competition whose contestants are a mix of male and female.

The term has been used in movies since 1914, when D.W. Griffith produced a film by this name. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0003665/) This was redone again by Griffith in 1928 as one of the very first romantic comedies ever produced in film.

However, the term has been used much more in the world of sports, most famously in 1973.


Bobby Riggs was a famous tennis player in the 1950s, but he will forever be associated with his antics in the mid-70s. He defeated Margaret Court in a match on Mother's Day 1973, and immediately challenged the current women's champion Billie Jean King to a match that would be held September 20, 1973.

Riggs, who at 55 was old enough to be the 29-year-old King's father, insisted that he was the superior tennis player simply because he was male. The pre-game hype was drawn out in an endless series of press conferences and feature articles, with King suddenly becoming the poster child for the entire women's liberation movement. Riggs played up his angle as the evil oppressor, going so far as to wear a t-shirt reading "Men's Liberation" and bragging about his self-described chauvinism.

King handily defeated the huffing-and-puffing Riggs in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. The event was witnessed on television by more than 50 million people on television, ranking it near the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards in terms of popularity. King scored huge endorsement deals and made the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. Her talent made her a household name, even though many men and women agreed that the match was a bit lopsided.

Riggs harbored no ill will against King, and the two remained friends until Riggs' death in 1995. Some speculate that the whole Battle of the Sexes match was orchestrated by Riggs to make a point that women are very skilled at tennis. Since the 1973 match, there has been no high-profile tennis match between the #1-ranked man and #1-ranked woman, which most see as a true "battle of the sexes."

Source: http://ok.essortment.com/billiejeanking_rvwa.htm


On October 10, 1999, Margaret McGregor handily defeated Loi Chow in what was billed as the first sanctioned male-female boxing match in U.S. history.

Loi Chow, a trainer and a jockey by trade, stepped in to replace his student Hector Morales when Morales dropped out citing personal concerns. Morales would have been making his pro debut; Chow had been 0-2 in professional bouts with his last bout in 1996. McGregor, by contrast, had an extensive kickboxing and boxing background. Before the bout, she had a 3-0 record in pro matches against women.

The fight generated huge controversy but still went on as scheduled. A crowd of less than 3,000 filed into Seattle's Mercer Arena to watch McGregor pummel the pudgy-looking Chow for all four rounds. She won a unanimous decision, 40-36.

Boxing commentators and observers regarded the match as little more than a publicity stunt, particularly when the more talented Morales dropped out. It will go down as a footnote in modern boxing history.

Sources: http://www.geocities.com/Colosseum/Field/6251/malevfem.htm , http://espn.go.com/boxing/news/1999/1009/106430.html

On the lighter side of boxing, Fox's Celebrity Boxing II pit Joey Buttafuoco against WWE's Joanie Laurer ("Chyna"). In a huge upset, Buttafuoco won a majority decision against Laurer after dominating their three-round exhibition.


Seeking a publicity stunt all their own, the promoters of amateur fighting tournament "Cage Wars II" included a male-female bout among the 11 on the card. Amateur Muay Thai fighter Deborah "Sunshine" Fettkether, with a 4-1-1 record, was slated to fight construction worker and first-time fighter Randy Pittman. Pittman listed the extent of his experience as "fighting in bars."

The event was scheduled to take place on October 21, 1999, just 11 days after the aforementioned boxing battle, in Mesa, Arizona. Despite an appeal by Mesa mayor Wayne Brown to call off the fight, it went on as scheduled. Fettkether dispatched with Pittman 59 seconds into the first round, as Pittman had no idea what he was in for.

Sources: http://muscles_at_work.tripod.com/html/menvswomen02.html , http://espn.go.com/boxing/news/1999/1019/122880.html

The events of 1999 underscore the fact that in physical competition, some women can hold their own against men. Unfortunately, concerns about safety and professionalism have prevented well-known combatants from opposite sexes from facing off against each other. A bout between Mike Tyson and Christy Martin might be more credible as a boxing battle of the sexes, but even Don King wouldn't step up to promote it.

More generally, the term "Battle of the Sexes" has been applied to events everywhere from horse racing to ice hockey, and even to non-sports events such as academic pursuits. A simple Google search turns up references to the phrase "Battle of the Sexes" in every context imaginable.

Betty and Billy are going on a date.  Unfortunately, they've both forgotten what exactly they had decided to do.  They know Betty wanted to go to the ballet and Billy wanted to go to the boxing match, but now they don't know what they chose.  And they have no way of getting in touch with each other before they are supposed to meet at one of the venues.

This is the unlikely premise for the collective action problem known as Battle of the Sexes.  (q.v. Prisoner's Dilemma, Chicken)

The name itself isn't really appropriate.  The problem isn't really about one sex—one actor—bettering the other, even though their preferences are different.  The problem is coordination:  Both prefer going together over going alone, so if Billy thinks Betty is going to choose the ballet, he too will choose to go to the ballet, even though he would prefer going to see the fight.  And the other way around.

If we put the problem in a game theory matrix, it looks like this:

|       BILLY       |
| Ballet  |  Boxing |
Ballet |   2,3p,n|   1,1   |       
BETTY -------+---------+---------+             
Boxing |   1,1   |   3,2p,n|       

The rational strategy of both Betty and Billy is to comply to the other's strategy.  There is no gain, no incentive, to unlilaterally defect from a situation where both actors choose the same venue.  In other words, the strategy combination of compliance is a Nash equilibrium (n).  Further, it is shown that whether they go to the Ballet or to see the boxing fight, the total utility gained is the same and as big as it gets:  In both instances, it is Pareto efficient (p), even though the two situations favors the one or the other.

Now, there is no obvious way for Betty or Billy to know which venue to choose.  It is a dilemma:  A dilemma of common aversions.  If they had been able to communicate they would probably end up at the same venue as nobody would gain anything by cheating.  On the other hand, it would also create the possibility of one of them domineering the other to do what the one prefers.

In the end, the objective of the game is to get the other to comply to your strategy while remembering that if you act too selfish, your partner can always threaten to non-comply (defect) even though they themself loses by it.  They might find solace in the fact that you stand to lose potentially relatively more than they.

Though abstract, The Battle of the Sexes isn't an uncommon problem.  For instance, in International policy-making, Battle describes the problem of two countries trying to coordinate their tolls and taxes.  The problems facing these international organisations when dealing with the risks of a Battle-like problem has spurred the creation of international organisations and regimes to help lift the veil of uncertainty.

Further reading:

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