Jane Fonda - Ted Eytan - FireDrill Friday

Jane Fonda: celebrating an icon of comedy, activism and advocacy.


Jane Fonda is an American actress, producer, writer, activist and philanthropist. A symbol of Hollywood glamour and a resilient pillar of activism, she is a powerhouse whose influence extends beyond the realm of acting. This multi-faceted woman has spent more than six decades enthralling the world with her acting prowess while propelling monumental changes in women's rights and environmental concerns.


Born in 1937, the daughter of renowned actor Henry Fonda, Jane's journey into the world of comedy was surely inevitable. She made her Broadway debut in 1960, earning two Tony Award nominations, before moving on to the big screen. She made her breakthrough in "Period of Adjustment" (1962), but it was her role in "Barbarella" (1968) that propelled her to the status of Hollywood icon. She became an Oscar magnet in the 70s, winning Best Actress awards for "Klute" (1971) and "Coming Home" (1978).

With an acting portfolio as diverse as it is extensive, she shines in drama, comedy and action roles, skillfully maneuvering across genres and eras. A testament to her timeless talent, she returned to the screen after a 15-year break in 2005 with the film "Monster-in-Law", and continues to charm audiences, most notably with her role in the Netflix hit series "Grace and Frankie" (2015-2022).


Alongside her acting career, Fonda is a fervent activist. Her commitment to humanitarian causes began during the Vietnam War, and she has remained a passionate advocate of social, political and environmental causes ever since. "I didn’t become an activist until I was 31. When I found out what was really happening in Vietnam I didn’t care if I ever worked again; I considered leaving the business to become a full-time activist. My father was terrified for me. He remembered the ’50s when people’s careers were destroyed. It’s possible the Hollywood blacklist will be brought back." (© Jane Fonda - Net-A-Porter, March 2, 2017).


A champion of women's rights, her commitment to feminism is well established. In the early 80s, she founded the Workout company, which revolutionized fitness for women. It wasn't just about physical well-being, but also about empowering women to take charge of their bodies.

Fonda also sits on the board of V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls. Her difficult past and the traumas she has had to face have led her to become a dedicated and passionate advocate for women's rights. She wants to help victims of abuse realize that the rape and abuse they suffer is not their fault. That's why she actively supports the V-Day movement. Furthermore, in 2001, she founded the Jane Fonda Center for Adolescent Reproductive Health, which aims to prevent teenage pregnancy.

In 2005, along with Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan, Fonda co-founded the Women's Media Center (WMC), to increase the visibility and decision-making power of women in the media. The WMC's primary mission is to promote a more equal representation of women in the media, and to combat gender stereotypes and discrimination. The organization works through a variety of programs and initiatives, including training and the promotion of women's voices in traditional media, as well as the promotion of new technologies to enable women to create and broadcast their own media. It also publishes research reports and analyses on the representation of women in the media, including studies on how women are portrayed in news and social media, and also awards annual prizes, such as the Gloria Steinem Foundation Awards, which recognize outstanding achievements by women in the media.


In a 2017 conversation for Net-A-Porter, interviewed by actress and activist Brie Larson, Jane Fonda speaks powerfully about the feminist movement, the impact of artists and her own struggles and experiences. It was Eve Ensler's play "The Vagina Monologues" that strongly inspired her to become the feminist she is today, but it took some time due to the strong impact of the patriarchal system in which she lived and that still affects many women today. "I grew up in the ’50s and it took me a long time to apply feminism to my life. The men in my life were wonderful, but victims of a patriarchal belief system. I felt diminished. Eventually I decided I wasn’t going to give up who I was in order to please the man I was with. I became an embodied feminist when I was single and saw Eve Ensler perform The Vagina Monologues. While I was laughing, my feminism carried from my head into my DNA. It took a long time, though, because I was brought up with the disease to please…"

Still today, the effects of patriarchy are felt, despite the feminist movement, and Jane Fonda has a lot to say on the subject. "I’ve been raped, I’ve been sexually abused as a child and I’ve been fired because I wouldn’t sleep with my boss, and I always thought it was my fault, that I didn’t do or say the right thing. I know young girls who’ve been raped and didn’t even know it was rape. They think, “It must have been because I said ‘no’ the wrong way.” One of the great things the women’s movement has done is to make us realize that rape and abuse is not our fault."


For Jane, the voice of artists is very important, as they have the ability to reach far more people than politicians. She herself is intensely involved in many social movements, regardless of how this might affect her career, because her commitment is what counts most. Despite this, her work as an actress has enabled her to share her commitment in a different way, and to see things from other angles. Today, she makes and produces films that reflect her values, because commitment "can be brought into film in many ways. I started making movies that reflected my values. I began as a producer with "Coming Home", "China Syndrome" and "Nine to Five". I think my acting improved when I became an activist – I see things from a broader perspective."


Ever since the dawn of time, women have been constantly judged on their looks. "The first time I got a spread in a fashion magazine there was a one-off piece of clothing from the runway. I asked, "Can you only be in magazines if you’re the size of this one piece?" There was this silence. Men get custom suits or shirts made to fit, but as women, if you don’t fit into that sample you bump up against an aspect of your career you can never blossom into.". At almost 80 years of age, Jane Fonda continues to fight against this, and has found strength in sport. "One reason I started my workout Fonda’s best-selling fitness program was because I knew that to be fully empowered, I needed to feel strong in my body. A woman once wrote to me and said, "I was brushing my teeth one morning and I found a muscle in my arm that wasn’t there before. I went to work that day and for the first time I stood up to my boss." It’s easier to be brave when you feel strong."


Jane Fonda also emphasizes the importance of learning to say "no". "'No' is a complete sentence. […] it took me 60 years to learn how to say no. If anyone offered me anything I would say yes. I took parts I wasn’t right for and I was taken advantage of. I didn’t know how to stand up for myself. Now, I would say, "No. This is a piece of s**t. I don’t like the way you’re treating me", and leave. If only I knew then what I do now."

Jane Fonda also seeks to convey a more positive image of growing old. She talks about this in her book "Women Coming of Age", because it's something that frightened her when she was younger, but which she now sees as a valuable advantage. "I was frightened of getting old and what I do when I’m frightened is I embrace and try to understand it. Then I left the business for 15 years and thought, "That’s one thing I’ll never accomplish." Then I came back with 2005 comedy Monster-in-Law, and, in time, got offered this part in Netflix Original series Grace and Frankie and thought, "It’s happened. We’re giving a face to aging women." People think of age as an arch: you’re born, you reach midlife, then you decline into decrepitude. But instead of being an arch, aging can be a stairway leading upward, where the older you get, the more you can evolve and become an authentic person."


Over the past few years, Fonda has established herself as a fierce environmental activist, focusing her efforts on the fight against climate change. Inspired by young climate activists like Greta Thunberg, she strives to raise awareness of the urgent need to fight climate change, and has launched the "Fire Drill Fridays" protests in Washington D.C. in 2019. Each week, she and other protesters demanded immediate action against climate change, boldly risking arrest for protesting in front of the Capitol and highlighting the urgency of the situation. She has also taken action in defense of renewable energies and against the fossil fuel industry. Beyond her activism, she also invested in renewable energy projects, such as the construction of a solar power plant in New Mexico.


Jane Fonda is a living testimony to the power of conviction and action. Thanks to her unbreakable spirit, exceptional acting career and unwavering activism, she has captured the world's attention, leveraging her notoriety to shine a light on vital issues. Her passion for women's rights and the climate crisis is an inspiration, reminding us all of the crucial role we play in shaping our planet's future.


Jane Fonda and Brie Larson’s full interview, for Net-A-Porter, March 2, 2017: https://www.net-a-porter.com/en-fr/porter/article-c0afa78a389fe2a2/cover-stories/cover-stories/jane-fonda-interview.

Women's Media Center: https://womensmediacenter.com/.

Jane Fonda Center for Adolescent Reproductive Health: https://med.emory.edu/departments/gynecology-obstetrics/centers/jane-fonda-center/index.html.

Jane Fonda’s "Workout": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwQ1PrED9IE.


© Photo : Ted Eytan - Fire Drill Fridays, Washington, DC - CC BY-SA 2.0.