For younger generations (looking at you, and, well, me), Jane Fonda may, at first glance, appear to have had an easy, glitzy Hollywood life—after all she was born to a famous actor, married three prominent men over her lifetime, and used her acting career as a catapult to become a fitness magnate.
But Fonda has not only worked hard to overcome personal challenges—she lost her mother to suicide at the age of 12 and her father was always a distant figure—she has put herself and her fame at risk in the name of activism since the early 1970s. Fonda was one of the most prominent Americans to resist to the Vietnam War (Martin Sheen recently said she’s his hero for it), was a feminist long before every woke bro started to sprinkle the word on his Tinder profile and is a hardcore environmentalist who warned us earlier this year not to trust “good-looking liberals,” like Justin Trudeau, who are reneging on climate commitments.
Not only is she a political powerhouse, in 2005 (at the age of 67) she resurrected her acting career by playing J.Lo’s Monster-in-Law. She’s won Emmy awards, Oscars and BAFTAs, and currently stars in the hit Netflix show Grace and Frankie with her BFF Lily Tomlin. Oh yeah, and she’s turning 80 later this month and shows no signs of slowing down.
Fonda has always been a feminist icon, but in 2017 she has been especially (rightfully) fired up, providing some serious life lessons on what it means to own your choices as a woman and what it looks like to legitimately stand up for your principles. Here, a crash course in feminism, Fonda-style.
1. Say what no one else will
In October, Fonda appeared alongside Gloria Steinem, feminist icon and fellow co-founder of Women in Media Centre, on All In With Chris Hayes. When asked by Hayes if the fallout from Weinstein’s actions felt different from past scandals, she responded: “It feels different. It’s too bad because it’s probably because so many of the women were assaulted by Harvey Weinstein are famous and white and everybody knows them. This has been going on a long time to Black women and other women of colour and it doesn’t get out quite the same.”
2. Call out straight-up racism when you see it
In an interview with Stephen Sackur on BBC’s famed tough-interview show Hard Talk, the no-nonsense host asked her if she was in the position to, would she “take a knee” as NFL players who have followed Colin Kapaernick’s lead have, in protest of police brutality against Black Americans.
“I would take a knee. I would take two knees. I’d get on all fours if necessary,” she said without skipping a beat. “Trump is manipulating it to make it do with the military—it has nothing to do with the military, it has nothing to do with patriotism. It has to do with the fact that racism is alive and well in America today.”
3. Shut down dumb, sexist shit
When being interviewed by Megyn Kelly along with Robert Redford, co-star of her latest film Our Souls at Night (yes, it’s on Netflix, and yes, you definitely should watch it), Kelly asked Redford when he thought he turned into a heartthrob, then turned to Fonda to ask her why she regretted getting plastic surgery. While Kelly tried to mask her doozy of a double standard by dressing it up with compliments, Fonda wasn’t having it.
“We really wanna talk about that right now?” Fonda responded, her expression aghast, each word dripping with incredulity.
4. Constantly turn the conversation to what really matters
“Who gives a rat’s ass?” she responded, then quickly apologized. “It’s just that, with everything going on in the world, our country, it’s really hard to talk about myself or entertainment right now.”
5. You can be give-no-effs in your activism and still give an eff about fashion
Just because the world is going to shit doesn’t mean you should dress for the part, or denounce anything that doesn’t involve fighting the patriarchy as frivolity. Case in point: this past fall, Fonda walked a Paris Fashion Week show in a floor-length tiger-print gown (rawr), stopping her sexy stride only to give Naomi Campbell a kiss. And this is perhaps Fonda’s best lesson of all—to keep shining through the darkest times, even when people expect you to fade away.
More from FLARE’s ‘12 Days of Feminists’ series:
Day 1: Anne T. Donahue on Fierce Truth Teller Scaachi Koul
Day 3: Janaya Khan on Mary Hooks Bringing Black Moms Home
Day 4: Meghan Collie on “Unf-ckwithable Voice of Reason” Lauren Duca
Day 5: Nakita Valerio on Effervescent Community Leader Nasra Adem
Day 6: Anne Thériault on Tanya Tagaq Singing Truth to Power