Well, despite my best intentions, I didn’t post too much on Women’s History last month… So, now that the month is over (!), I wanted to include at least one post devoted to a woman still making history – Jane Fonda. I have chosen her for a number of reasons – because I recently wrote about her for an encyclopedia of women in military history, because she has been in the news quite a bit lately regarding her plans for world fitness day, because she continues to be an important feminist activist even though she is often overlooked by our youth obsessed culture (which includes a rather youth obsessed feminist movement as well…), and, lastly, because she has personal relevance for me given my dad loathes her as “a traitor” and I have long loved her not only for her “feel the burn” antics but also for her life-long devotion to feminism.
I knew of Jane Fonda first as an actress and aerobics guru . I loved On Golden Pond, and my sister and I regularly popped her workouts into our Beta-max player to “feel the burn.” It wasn’t until years later that I learned of her anti-war and feminist activism. My dad, like many former military peeps, still views her as a traitor.
Now 72, Jane Fonda continues to fight the good fight and remains active both literally – she will launch world fitness day on May 1 – and intellectually/politically through her continued devotion to empowering girls and women, critiquing militarism and patriarchy, and working to eradicate violence globally.
Born December 21, 1937 in New York City. Fonda is a well-known actress and anti-war activist who rose to fame in the 1960s. Known in the 1980s for her exercise videos, she is now perceived as an anti-war icon by some and a traitor by others.
Conflicting views of her anti-war activism stem mainly from her longstanding and very vocal opposition to the Vietnam War. Though she devoted years of her life to educating herself about war, its effects on soldiers and civilians, and worked tirelessly with GI’s, peace activists, and leaders, she was often framed as “just an actress” who had no business speaking out about the war. The response to her work was gendered in the extreme – and remains so to this day.
Fonda became a well-known opponent of Vietnam War in the early 1970s, especially its reliance on civilian bombing. From 1970 to 1975, she used her celebrity status to raise money for various anti-war groups. She traveled across the United States in 1970 visiting GI coffeehouses run by veterans and civilians. Her reputation for strong antiwar speeches and generosity in funding antiwar causes soon resulted in large crowds at public appearances.
During this time period, Fonda made significant contributions to the United States Serviceman’s Fund and formed the “Free the Army Tour” with Fred Gardner and Donald Sutherland. Free the Army toured through1972 and was then made into film titled F.T.A. Fonda played a major role in the Winter Soldier Investigations into war crimes. She raised funs for Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), founded the GI Office in Washington D.C, which provided legal aid for draftees, and helped to establish the Indochina Peace Campaign, an antiwar education organization.
Credited with helping connect the Vietnam antiwar movement with the cultural mainstream by some, Fonda was vilified and attacked by others. A large part of the attacks stem from Fonda’s 1972 trip to Hanoi, a pivotal moment in her anti-war activism. While in Vietnam, she spoke out against the war, highlighting the mistreatment of civilians, calling the war a lost cause, and condemning both the Johnson and Nixon administrations. She argued the war was for the benefit of U.S.businessmen and not in the interests of American citizens generally. Her speeches and talks emphasized the tolls of war on individual families, on children, and on poor or underprivileged communities both in Vietnam and in the U.S.
Fonda is often credited with publicly exposing the strategy of bombing the dikes in Vietnam. While in Vietnam, Fonda also visited American prisoners of war and publically claimed the POW’s assured her they had not been tortured. This resulted in much animosity towards Fonda. In the years following her Hanoi visit, many accusations Fonda had caused POW suffering and torture circulated. The infamous photo of her seated on an anti-aircraft battery used against American pilots fueled her future characterization as “Hanoi Jane.” Fonda apologized for this photo sixteen years later in an interview with Barbara Walters. Directing her comments to the soldiers who served in Vietnam, Fonda carefully crafted her apology so as to only include the photo incident and not the rest of her antiwar activism. In a 60 Minutes interview on March 31, 2005, Fonda reiterated she did not regret her trip to North Vietnam in 1972, with the exception of the anti-aircraft photo.
Named in 1999 by ABC News as one of 100 most imp women of 20th Century, Fonda continues her work as a peace activist. She has continued to place particular emphasis on war’s impact on women, often iterating that war is rooted in patriarchy and acts as one of the greatest threats to democracy. In 2002 she visited Israel and demonstrated with the Women in Black against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip. More recently, Fonda has argued that the so-called War on Terror will result in more terrorist attacks and an increased global hatred of Americans. Fonda and George Galloway organized and anti-war bus tour for 2005 but postponed the tour to focus on to the relief operations in the Gulf Coast necessitated by Hurricane Katrina. In 2007, Fonda participated in an anti-war rally in Washington, D.C. Currently, Fonda remains active in feminist and peace activist movements, focusing in recent years on war in the Congo and violence against women.
Burke, Carol. Camp All-American, Hanoi Jane, and the High-and-Tight. Boston: Beacon, 2004.
Hershberger, Mary. Jane Fonda’s War: A Political Biography of an Antiwar Icon. New York: The New Press, 2005.
Hershberger, Mary. Jane Fonda’s Words of Politics and Passion. New York: The New Press, 2006.