Historian Mary Hershberger has compiled some of the best words spoken by actress and political activist Jane Fonda. Jane Fonda’s Words of Politics and Passion takes us back to Jane Fonda’s controversial role in the Vietnam war and the words she spoke then and her more recent reflections on that time. You see her attempts to humanize the enemy, to make us understand that they were mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, they were human beings. She makes real the young men drafted into an unpopular war. She recognizes that this was the most controversial period of life. She came into the peace movement seven years into the war. It was returning soldiers that convinced her, this was not like the war her father had fought. As she heard their stories and saw effects the war had wrought on their lives she embraced their cause. She made mistakes and learned. She learned the power of the presence of an actress and how important a single image could be for good or bad. Despite her mistakes she persevered on and would not be silenced.
Jane Fonda once said, “A lot of people come to hear me because I am an actress…What I care about is what they leave with.” Jane Fonda had found her public voice and the end of the war did not bring the end of her activism. She embraced feminism and the empowering of women by giving them control of their economic and reproductive lives. She understood the relationship between controlling reproduction and poverty. She also understood that access alone to contraception would not eliminate the link between pregnancy and poverty. Women need hope a reason to believe in the future, in a better life. That they had worth beyond being a wife and mother. Whether it was village in Cairo or teen pregnancy program in Georgia, Fonda helped to foster education and dreams in young women so they could see a future for themselves.
It is the empowerment of women that has shaped so much of Fonda’s activism. Over half of the food in the world is grown by women, mostly in unpaid subsistence farming. When women in developing countries earn and control their money they spend it to benefit family health and welfare. When men in developing counties earn money they tend to spend it on entertainment and consumer goods. Investing in women can have along term benefit on a community. Programs such as, Women’s World Banking, ACCION International and the Grameen Bank have made it possible for women to become entrepreneurs and provide for their families. Women with opportunities tend to have fewer children, have them latter in life and are better able to care for them.
While Fonda publicly was a strong, vocal, independent woman, privately she was silencing her voice. In her personal life she was twisting herself into a “pretzel” to be the right kind of woman. Fonda said, “I could turn myself into a pretzel to be whatever the man wanted me to be because otherwise, how could he love me? I was really good at it. Trust me, my Academy Awards should be for my private life.” She hid her real self from the men in her life. She was forfeiting a relationship with herself in order to be in a relationship with a man. It wasn’t until she was sixty that she came to terms with who she was. She realized that the patriarchal nature of her relationship damaged not only her but the men in her life. She now strives to move beyond Patriarchy and matriarchy to democracy; a democracy that respects the human rights of every man and women. After all, women’s rights are human rights. Reading Jane Fonda’s words you realize they are as relevant and thought provoking today as when she spoke them. This collection is an interesting insight into the life of a formidable activist.