Dionne Chris­tian talks to Jane Fonda about fem­i­nism and why she re­fuses to be de­spon­dent about life


I’m not sure why, in 1980, my mother took her pre-teen daugh­ters to see 9 To 5, the movie (with some very adult themes) in which Jane Fonda, Lily Tom­lin and Dolly Par­ton play work­ing women want­ing to move ahead but whose boss won’t seem to let them. They plot re­venge against their “sex­ist, ego­tis­ti­cal, ly­ing, hyp­o­crit­i­cal bigot” of an em­ployer.

Maybe Mum wanted to give us a win­dow into her world — “this is the sort of crap I deal with to put food on the ta­ble” — or warn us that if you don’t fin­ish school and get those all-im­por­tant qual­i­fi­ca­tions, you’ll never be mistress of your own des­tiny. Maybe she just liked Par­ton’s Grammy award-win­ning theme song and felt like a night out at the movies but couldn’t af­ford a babysit­ter.

It seems even more sur­real, 38 years later, to be in­ter­view­ing Jane Fonda — Jane Fonda! — by phone and talk­ing about many of the same things the movie did. It re­minds me of the 2017 Women’s March, where some car­ried protest signs that read, “I can’t be­lieve we’re still protest­ing this shit.”

Fonda prob­a­bly wouldn’t put it that way. At 80, she seems calm and mea­sured. The myth­i­cal wis­dom with age? Fonda thinks so.

“I’m not ca­pa­ble of cyn­i­cism for some rea­son,” she says, in a strong and re­as­sur­ing tone. “I guess that gene just wasn’t passed on to me and, you know, it helps to be older be­cause you have a long view and I have a long, 80-year view of all the prob­lems and crises that have hap­pened be­fore and we sur­vived.”

She even re­fuses to be de­spon­dent about the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in the United States — in­deed, the Western world — although she de­scribes it as one of the big­gest crises in democ­racy we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced.

“I won’t name names but it’s very, very danger­ous. I think we do just have to keep re­mind­ing our­selves that we have pre­vailed be­fore and this has been huge. I mean the one gift that we were given in Novem­ber 2016 was the gift of be­ing awak­ened. We’re woke!”

Fonda’s so­lu­tion is to en­sure as many peo­ple are reg­is­tered to vote in the US mid-term elec­tions but first there’s the speak­ing tour to Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

“I’m go­ing to talk about the things that I’ve done that have the most ef­fect on me, have been the most im­por­tant to me — writ­ing my mem­oir [2005’s My Life So Far] was one of them and I’ll ex­plain why that was most im­por­tant and then I hope there will be a lot of time for ques­tions and an­swers be­cause that’s al­ways my favourite part,” she says.

Cyn­ics might say such pub­lic speak­ing en­gage­ments are a nice lit­tle earner, but she re­ally doesn’t need the work. Fonda is as busy as ever.

Her lat­est movie, The Book Club, was re­leased in New Zealand this month; she’s just fin­ished film­ing sea­son five of the Net­flix com­edy Grace and

Frankie along­side her old friend Tom­lin and then, of course, there’s ac­tivism.

We get on to the sub­ject of women and work less than three min­utes into a 20-minute in­ter­view. What is she most proud of and what does she most re­gret? She ad­mits she wishes she’d been a bet­ter

par­ent to her three grown chil­dren, Mary Luana Wil­liams, Vanessa Vadim and Troy Gar­ity. Fonda says that par­ent­ing didn’t come nat­u­rally to her.

“I’ve stud­ied par­ent­ing now, I ac­tu­ally stud­ied it, and I know what was sup­posed to hap­pen. I didn’t know when I was younger,” she says. “I have learned that you have to re­ally show up 100 per cent and pay close at­ten­tion and let your chil­dren know that you love them un­con­di­tion­ally; you may not love every­thing they do but they, as hu­man be­ings, are very de­serv­ing of love.

“I’m try­ing to make up for it now, do­ing the things that I just said. It’s never too late; that’s the mes­sage, it’s never too late, and I have grand­chil­dren and I try to do that with them.”

Fonda’s mother, Frances Sey­mour Fonda, com­mit­ted sui­cide when Jane was just 12 years old. Fa­ther Henry re­mar­ried later that year, aged 45, to so­cialite Su­san Blan­chard, who was just nine years older than his daugh­ter.

“I come from a long line of de­pressed peo­ple and, you know, when I was in my 40s, I would wake up and it was 12 neg­a­tive thoughts I would have. I was def­i­nitely a glass-half-empty kind of per­son, you know, and I just wasn’t happy that I was that way so I started to work on my­self and it made a lot of dif­fer­ence.”

“I DON’T know about New Zealand but here, women can’t af­ford to pay for child­care and then very of­ten the child­care is like ware­hous­ing in­stead of play­ing that role of a vil­lage,” she says. “I’m hop­ing that the #time­sup and #metoo move­ments will help that; I think they will.

“I’ve just spent a week in Wash­ing­ton DC with farm-work­ing women and do­mes­tic work­ers — all women — try­ing to get over­time, more pro­tec­tion and paid what they de­serve. You know, peo­ple want to see — it’s not even so much about the money, well it is a lot about the money — but it’s also about want­ing to feel that they’re re­spected; that they are pro­fes­sion­als and they are paid as re­spected pro­fes­sion­als. That’s what the women want — not to be treated like chat­tels.”

And when they go to work no one’s go­ing to harass them or make lewd re­marks?

“Yes, ex­actly. Like now in the United States, Ti­tle VII in the Civil Rights Act pro­tects peo­ple from sex­ual ha­rass­ment and abuse but it only ap­plies to busi­nesses with 15 em­ploy­ees or more. One of the things that we were try­ing to do in Wash­ing­ton was to ex­pand that so it covers all busi­nesses, even if there’s only one em­ployee be­cause this is the fu­ture. With ro­bots and the gig econ­omy, peo­ple are not go­ing to be work­ing in the way they were be­fore so ev­ery­one has to be pro­tected.”

Fonda’s wide-rang­ing ac­tivism is al­most as fa­mous — or in­fa­mous — as her act­ing but as a young woman, it was no means cer­tain she would do ei­ther. For a while, she taught dance in New York be­fore at­tend­ing Vas­sar Col­lege but dropped out to spend six months study­ing art in Paris. Barely out of her teens, she re­turned to the US, drift­ing into modelling, grac­ing the cover of Vogue and starting her film ca­reer.

In 1968, her hus­band, French film-maker Roger Vadim, cast her in the sci-fi spoof Bar­barella as a young woman who trav­els from planet to planet, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a whole range of erotic ad­ven­tures. JANE FONDA, sex sym­bol, had ar­rived and there she could have stayed had she not made some shrewd choices. A year later, she earned her first Academy Award nom­i­na­tion for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? In 1971, she took home the Best Ac­tress Os­car for her role as a pros­ti­tute in the mur­der mys­tery, Klute.

By then a mother, Fonda was de­vel­op­ing a strong so­cial con­science, en­cour­aged by ex­pe­ri­ences in France, where she and Vadim so­cialised with left-lean­ing in­tel­lec­tu­als. She’d long been op­posed to the Viet­nam War when, in 1972, trav­elled to Hanoi where she was pho­tographed sit­ting atop a North Viet­namese Army anti-air­craft gun. The photo — Fonda claimed it was a set-up — caused out­rage; she was dubbed “Hanoi Jane” and an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­cans never for­gave her for what they saw as trai­tor­ous be­hav­iour.

It didn’t kill her ca­reer; Fonda con­tin­ued to make crit­i­cally ac­claimed film af­ter crit­i­cally ac­claimed film, earn­ing a sec­ond Os­car and a string of other award nom­i­na­tions. But, by then mar­ried to her sec­ond hus­band, po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist Tom Hay­den, she was not happy.

Her life has been any­thing but 9-to-5. In the 1980s, she built a sec­ond em­pire as a fit­ness guru, re­leas­ing ex­er­cise videos and books. It’s even been said that she fu­elled the growth of the home VCR with Amer­i­cans rush­ing out to buy their own ma­chines so they could watch and work out to Fonda’s videos. In 1990, she di­vorced Hay­den and an­nounced her re­tire­ment from act­ing.

A year later, Fonda mar­ried CNN founder Ted Turner. She says she’ll talk about her re­la­tion­ships with men, in­clud­ing her mar­riage to Turner, which was a “turn­ing point” and ended in di­vorce af­ter 10 years.

Fonda likes to re­fer to hav­ing lived her life in three acts and now she’s rev­el­ling in Act III. The achieve­ment she’s most proud of?

“That I’ve man­aged to make the whole greater than its parts; I’ve worked very hard to take the dif­fer­ent parts of my life and make them into some­thing that has mean­ing. It’s not some­thing I thought I would ever be able to do when I was younger; I never even thought about do­ing it but I am 80 now and I feel that I’m still un­der con­struc­tion but things are pretty much in place and I am feel­ing good.”

Left: Jane Fonda with close friend Lily Tom­lin and be­low, in 1980’s Nine to Five.

Michael Sar­razin and Fonda in a scene from 1969’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

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