Sunday, December 21, 2008
Happy Winter Solstice! Also, happy birthday to Jane Fonda who is one of my all time favorite feminists. A couple years ago I read Jane's autobiography and it was one of the first things that made me start really thinking and caring about our history as women. Her life story kind of reminded me of this old 70s novel The Women's Room that I read at some point in high school. The Women's Room follows one woman from her life as a tranquilizer happy house wife to an enlightened feminist grad student. I think I read the book after I'd been dumped by my first boyfriend and somehow the lesson that came across was just "men suck". The biography of Jane Fonda is a way longer, crazier, and more star studded story of one woman's self discovery. She certainly didn't do everything right and she pretty much never stops saying inappropriate things (anyone catch her recently dropping the big C word on Good Morning America). Yet, the story of her life is sort of the story of how we as women changed in the last seven decades.
I couldn't figure out which picture to put up of Jane so I decided to tell the story of her chameleon like life through pictures. Lady Jane Seymour Fonda was born in 1937 to the actor Henry Fonda and his wife Frances Ford Seymour. When Jane was 12 her mother committed suicide and Jane and her brother Peter were told she had a heart attack. In fact all the kids at her school were sworn to keep the secret and she found out the real cause of death when reading a gossip magazine. Her father never spoke of it and the children were raised by nannies a series of his young girlfriends and wives.
Jane went on to attend Vassar, work as a model, and spend some time in France. While in France, she went skinny dipping with Greta Garbo who encouraged her to try acting. Jane was introduced to Lee Strasberg and joined the Actors Studio. She spent some time acting on Broadway and eventually ended up back in France and soon married French new wave director Roger Vadim. Despite the fact that she was around 30, Jane was still pretty confused about who she was and the relationship with Vadim didn't help much. Imagine being married to a man whose ex's included Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Denueve and who insisted on bringing home prostitutes for three ways. Roger and Jane had one daughter Vanessa, and also made Barbarella together.
Before moving back home, Jane met some American soldiers who had fled Vietnam and they encouraged her to get political and stand up against the war. She returned to America where she toured college campuses to raise awareness about Vietnam. Jane also spoke out in support of the Black Panthers as well as Native American efforts to reclaim Alcatraz. In 1971 she won an Oscar for her role in Klute. One of the things Jane Fonda is most famous for is protesting the Vietnam war which she did a lot in the 70s. She visited Hanoi in 1972 and drew attention to the American bombings of the dike system along the Red River. Unfortunately, photographs of her sitting on a North Vietnamese aircraft, convinced some that she was working against American forces. These are some of the most interesting parts of her biography, when she eventually gets her FBI files and learns how closely the government had been following her...well, its just really scary (I'm not surprised they don't disclose that info anymore). She continued her political path after marrying activist Tom Hayden. Together they spoke out against Vietnam and after the war Tom ran for public office.
Jane formed a creative group to make the movie Coming Home, designed to convey the emotional and physical pain that met veterans upon their return to America. With Coming Home she won her second Oscar for best actress. As well as focusing on movies about political and environmental issues, she started making workout videos to support the campaigns of her husband. For Jane, the workout videos were about encouraging women to sweat and exercise without being considered un-ladylike. They were also a way to combat an eating disorder she'd had since childhood. She had grown up in a time when only diets and ballet were deemed valid exercise for women. The movie 9 to 5 was also the beginning of Jane's venture into women's issues. She and Tom Hayden had one son Troy Garity and adopted Mary "Lulu" Williams, before divorcing in 1990. In 1991 she married broadcasting mogul Ted Turner. During her time with him she started focusing on population stabilization and its relation to women's well being and health. She helped implement programs that work to educate and protect girls in third world countries. In 2001 she and Ted Turner divorced and she founded the the Jane Fonda Center for Adolescent Reproductive Health at Emory University in Atlanta,Georgia. The center works to prevent adolescent pregnancy though training and program development.
There are about a zillion other things Jane Fonda accomplished, from the "Free The Army" tour she created with Donald Sutherland, to founding multiple performing arts programs for under privileged kids, to being named a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund. The list goes on and on. There is also a good deal of her life that she admits to doing wrong, or missing out on all together. Yet, for me that's sort of the best part - you just dust yourself off, apologize, get a new haircut, and try to do the next decade a little bit better.