Azara Blog: Jane Fonda visits Cambridge

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Date published: 2005/06/07

Jane Fonda is in England to publicise her book "My Life So Far". Today she was in Cambridge. Her first event was "In Conversation" with Carol Gilligan and Juliet Mitchell. It was held at Great St Mary's Church since all other big event spaces in the university are currently occupied for examinations. Amazingly enough the church was not even close to being full. It was mostly middle aged middle class people who remembered the Vietnam War.

This "conversation" was sponsored by the Cambridge University Centre for Gender Studies, and that by itself should tell you about the intent. Apparently Juliet Mitchell is a professor of psychoanalysis and gender studies, and Carol Gilligan is a visiting professor at the Centre from the States. And Fonda knew Gilligan, which is presumably why she bothered to come to Cambridge at all (it was her first time here).

The first half of the "conversation" was Gilligan and Mitchell making comments and Fonda responding. In fact Mitchell made most of the comments. Being a psychoanalyst she seemed to believe she knew more about the meaning of what Fonda had said in her autobiography than Fonda did herself. Needless to say Fonda was far too polite to ever tell Mitchell to get lost. But after one particularly long diatribe by Mitchell one of the members of the audience shouted out "that's just psycho-babble". And it was. But that's what you expect from gender studies types.

The second half of the "conversation" was questions from the audience. The most amusing one was a prelude to a real question (about the after-life) from a bloke who said that he would only ever have this one chance so would Fonda be willing to go out to dinner with him tonight. Mitchell didn't like that one bit, and Fonda just ignored it (a joke might have been in order).

Most actors (which includes actresses in the gender studies world) are a bit messed up, and Fonda seems to be no exception. Her father (Henry Fonda) was very cold, and her mother killed herself when Fonda was 12. This is not going to be a good foundation in life. She kept repeating about having to be a "good girl" (she was obviously rather bitter about that). She said that none of her three husbands had provided the intimacy she desired.

She seems to believe that "patriarchy" is the source of all evil in the world ("squash patriarchy to save us all"). And that the "damage" to boys starts at age 5-6. She didn't want to blame the parents, just society, but she admitted for herself, and put it down as a general hypothesis, that mothers treat their sons better than their daughters. There are almost certainly natural reasons for this (e.g. their sons remind them of their husbands without the accompanying down side, at least early in life). And it's amazing the number of men who belive they can get away with being horrid because their mother -- and often father -- told them they were the best and could never do anything wrong. (Camera switches to doting mother of mass murderer: "he was always such a nice boy".)

The best way to end "patriarchy"? Apparently to educate women, especially in the developing world. "Even Larry Summers believes in educating girls." And education is of course key, and it is unfortunate that debt relief and global warming dominate the current world discourse on development.

There were one or two questions about her films (the usual: what was she most proud of, etc.), but it was obvious she doesn't really consider acting to have been the most important part of her life, certainly not now. She did have one good quote: "I didn't want to be an actress but I was fired as a secretary because I wouldn't sleep with the boss".

Of course what she is probably most going to be remembered for (other than her exercise video) is her stance against the Vietnam War. She said that some Vietnam vets learned more about the war from reading her book than they had known at the time. And she said that one of the most amazing things she had observed in North Vietnam is that the people were not generally anti-American in spite of being bombed back to the stone age by America. And contrasted that with being called a "traitor" when she came back to the States.

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