Here we are in Women’s History Month and we cheer! We beam! We hug! We shout! We speak truth! We link our arms and shake our fists and step forward. We’ve come a long way. What a bitter uphill battle we’ve fought, and continue to fight. We have cause to celebrate. But….I daresay we have a long way to go.
I see on social media, read in periodicals, and hear in conversation that women must continue to unite, must support each other and fill the Senate seats. I’m completely on board with that. I’m excited that the patriarchal walls are crumbling in almost every aspect of our Western society, and women are being heard and taking numbers. But (here’s the but), do we realize, as empowered women, we are still stuck with some bad habits such as gossiping about each other, passing judgments based on personal style and preference, and even naming outspoken strong opinionated women bitch or abrasive. Be honest. Do you exhibit old behavior that could use reform? Surely, we can all say “yes”.
I’d like to talk about Jane. Jane Fonda, that is. Raise your hand if you watched the Oscars. If you raised your hand, were you amazed by the elders — Rita Moreno and Eva Marie Saint — and the grace and beauty with which they have aged? And conversely, did you reel at the pulled puffed faces of Jane Fonda and Faye Dunaway, and proceed to comment or joke on social media and to friends? I read many such comments, and then I had an uneasy feeling in my gut — in my ‘woman strength and sisterhood’ place. I thought, “We are traitors to one another.”
Perhaps you only know Jane Fonda as an actor. Her professional body of work and achievements includes Emmy and Tony nominations, 2 Academy Awards, 2 BAFTA Awards, and 4 Golden Globes.
I am old enough to remember Jane in her earliest public years. Though I was much younger than she, I remember her public resistance to the Vietnam War, that famous picture of her sitting on an anti-aircraft gun on a visit to Hanoi in ’72, and her mug shot, fingers raised in a peace sign. She stood in political protest against Vietnam, Iraq, and then again protested the Israeli-Pakistani conflict. She has been the subject of government surveillance, putting her life and reputation on the line to stand up for justice for the people. She is a bad-ass woman.
Jane also became an early advocate for women’s rights and health, working to end violence against women. She and Gloria Steinam co-founded Women’s Media Center for women’s voices in the media. In the 1990s, she founded the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power and Potential (GCAPP), a charitable organization to foster education and adolescent reproductive health. Take note: She has been one of the most vocal and visible advocates for our rights in our lifetime, sisters.
Jane is also an environmentalist, and I remember seeing her on the front lines of protest during the Standing Rock standoff for the Native Americans. Once again, Jane using her visibility and star-power voice to advocate for those who would not be heard. And if you are familiar with her interviews and work, you know she has a powerful straight-to-the-point voice.
Her father, as many of you know, was the film star Henry Fonda. She revealed after his death that she lived under his constant scrutiny. He told her she always “had to look perfect.”
She went on to launch her fitness videos and women all over the Western hemisphere did leg lifts and sit-ups on their living room floors with Jane instructing on the TV. She battled bulimia and survived breast cancer.
I tell you all of this because Jane Fonda has her reasons for doing whatever she wants to her face, her body. She is a survivor in every corner of the ring. Those eyes have seen things we will never understand so that we can see the ceiling shatter. Those lips have yelled and screamed and chanted for US so that we may speak our truth. And that body has been pushed and handcuffed so that we can protect and honor our own bodies.
This woman, still moving forward on this journey, never giving up, still working and expanding and speaking out, has my utmost respect. I would say we sisters all owe her not insults, but a huge measure of honor and gratitude.
If we are to gain the ground we are poised to claim, I think it’s crucial that we lift each other up, not tear each other down. I have certainly been guilty of speaking before thinking. I’m now making a conscious effort to check myself before speaking or posting on social media. Do my words empower women and celebrate the sisterhood, or do they tear down the progress we’ve made? Are they borne out of the fears of the generations of women who’ve come before me? It’s time to name the fear and banish it. I am choosing to look beyond the exterior, to keep some of my opinions to myself, to forgive and raise up women each day. As we labor and walk next to each other, let us clear the path before us for those walking beside and behind, for our daughters and all the generations to come. Let’s leave that legacy for womankind and the future so that we may be the healers of our world.
Thank you for paving the road, Jane.