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The New Feminism:
Reuniting the Head, the Heart & the Body

By Jane Fonda

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The following is a transcript of the keynote speech delivered by Jane Fonda at the 3rd Annual Women & Power Conference, organized by Omega Institute and V-Day in September 2004. To order the CD of this speech or to purchase other CDs from this event, please click here.

This has been an emotional three days. I don't think I'm the only one that has been filled with tears. They are tears of joy. When our bodies become tuning forks, vibrating with words spoken by sisters that enter us and hum with truth. Tears of realization not only that we are not alone, but that we are one.

Tears of recognition that all of us are on a journey and none of us have arrived at a destination. It's not just me. It's all of us.

Tears of relief to know that the path isn't supposed to be straight or easy or even. It's not just me that stumbles against obstacles. Gloria still does. Marion still does. And even Sister Chittister does. When my daughter read the brochure for this conference, she said, 'Oh, mom, its it's so New Age. Yoga, meditation. Inner peace. I thought it was going to be political. The elections are two months away.' Well, I understand her reaction. I would have had that reaction when I was 35. Or 45. Or 55.

Before I realized that if I was going to become an effective agent for change, I had some healing to do. And that things that we consider New Age, like music and dance and painting and drama therapy and prayer and laughter can be part of the healing process. I know that it was while I was laughing when I first saw Eve Ensler perform The Vagina Monologues that my feminism slipped out of my head and took up residence in my body. Where it has lived ever since ... Embodied at last.

Up until then I had been a feminist in the sense that I supported women. I brought gender issues into my movie roles. I helped women make their bodies strong. I read all the books. I thought I had it in my heart and my body. I didn't. I didn't. I didn't. It was too scary. It was like stepping off a cliff without knowing if there was a trampoline down below to catch me. It meant rearranging my cellular structure. It meant doing life differently. And I was too scared. Women have internalized patriarcy's tokens in various ways, but for me I silenced my true authentic voice all my life to keep a man. Because God forbid I should be without a man. Preferably an alpha male. Because without that, what would validate me.

And I needed to try to be perfect because I knew that if I wasn't perfect, I would never be loved. And as I sat on the panel yesterday, my sense of imperfection became focused on my body. I hated my body. It started around the beginning of adolescence. Before then I had been too busy climbing trees and wrestling with boys to worry about being perfect. What was more important than perfect was strong and brave. But then suddenly the wrestling became about sex and being popular and being right and good and perfect and fitting in. And then I became an actress in an imaged focused profession. And being competitive, I said, 'Well, damn. If I'm supposed to be perfect, I'll show them.' Which of course pitted me against other women and against myself. Because as Carl Jung said, perfection is for the Gods. Completeness is what we mortals must strive for. Perfection is the curse of patriarchy. It makes us hate ourselves. And you can't be embodied if you hate your body. So one of the things we have to do is help our girls to get angry. Angry. Not at their own bodies, but at the paradigm that does this to us, to all of us. Let us usher perfection to the door and learn that good enough is good enough.

There's a theory of behavioral change called social innoculation. Maybe some of you have daughters. Social innoculation. It means politicizing the problem. Let me tell you a story that explains this. In one of the ghettos of Chicago, young girls weren't going to school anymore. And community organizers weren't going to school anymore and they found out they didn't have the right Nike Jordan shoes. So the organizers did something differently. They invited all the boys going to school into the community center and they took a Nike Jordan shoe and they dissected it. They cut off one layer of the rubber and they said See this? This is not a God. This was made in Korea. People were paid slave wages to make this, robbing your mothers and fathers of jobs. And he cut off another slice. And so it went. Deconstructing the Nike Jordan sneaker so the boys would understand the false god that they had been worshipping. We need to name the problem so that our girls can say, 'It's not me and we're going to get mad.'

We also have to stop looking over our shoulder to see who is the expert with the plan. We're the experts. If we allow ourselves to listen to what Marion Woodman calls our feminine consciousness. But this has been muted in a lot of us by the power centered male belief center called patriarchy. I don't like that word. The first night Eve spoke about the old and new paradigm and never said the word. I guess I'm too canvenous. It's so rhetorical. It makes people's eyes glaze over. It did for me. The first time I ever heard Gloria Steinem use it back in the '70s, I thought, "Oh, my God, what that means is men are bad and we have to replace patriarchy with matriarchy.' Of course, given the way women are different than men, maybe a dose of matriarchy wouldn't be bad, maybe balancing things out. My favorite ex-husband Ted Turner -- maybe some of you saw him say it on Charlie Rose. Men, we had our chance and we blew it. We have to turn it over to women now.

But I've come to see that it's not about replacing one archy with another. It's about changing the social construct to one where power and its talisman, money, is not the chief operating principle. Now, governments -- there's this dual journey that we're on. There's the inner journey, this New Age stuff which is critical and the outer journey. Let's talk about governments first. Governments normally work within the power paradigm and governments play a central role in making us who we are. An empathic government encourages a caring government. A greedy government leads to a greedy maybe. A government that operates from a might makes right place creates a nation of bullies. Envied perhaps by the rest of the world for its things, but hated for its lack of goodness.

I first noticed this phenomenon of government when -- many years ago I was making a movie in a little town in Norway and there was a party scene. It was Ibsen's Doll House. It took three days to shoot and I had a lot of chance to spend time with the local people and I kept thinking there's something very different about these people. It's -- what can it be? There's no hard edges. And as I began to talk to them I realized it's because they felt seen by their government. They felt valued. They mattered. Pregnant women got free milk. There was maternity leave. All the things that make women's and men's lives easier was addressed by their government. The only time I saw this addressed is Michael Moore's Bowling For Columbine. He asks this very interesting question. The Canadians have the same T.V. shoes and video games and more guns per capita, but they're not violent. Of course we don't lock our doors. Are you kidding? And then he interviews three or four teenagers in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. They look just like ours, tattooed and pierced and everything like that. But they don't lock their doors. And they said to him, of course health care is our birthright. And of course we are taken care of. By our government. And that's the difference. He didn't spell it out explicitly, but that's the message.

I never told these stories in a context like this, but I'm going to tell you two stories.

I went to Hanoi in 1972 in July. And I was there while my government was bombing the country that had received me as a guest. And I was in a lot of air raids. And I was taken into a lot of air raid shelters. And I noticed that every time I would go into a shelter, including one which was in a hospital because I had a broken foot, so I was with patients in an air raid shelter during a bombing raid. And the Vietnamese people would look at me and ask the interpreter -- probably they thought I was Russian -- who was this white woman. And when the interpreter would say American, they would get all excited and they would smile at me.

And I would search their eyes for anger. I wanted to see anger. It would have made it easier if I could have seen what I know what I would have in my eyes if I were them. But I never did. Ever. and one day I had been taken several hours south of Hanoi to visit what had been the textile capital of north Vietnam that was raised to the ground and we were in the car and suddenly the driver and my interpreter said, 'Quick, get out!" All along the road there are these manholes that hold one person and you jump in them and you pull kind of a straw lid over to protect you from shrapnel if there's a raid. I couldn't even hear bombs coming because they weren't raid. I was running down the street to get into one of these holes and suddenly I was grabbed from behind by a young girl. She was clearly a school girl because she had a bunch of books tied with a rubber belt hanging over her shoulder and she grabbed me by the hand and ran with me in front of this peasant hut. And she pulled the straw thatch off the top of the hole and jumped in and pulled me in afterward. These are small holes. These are meant for one small Vietnamese person. She and I got in the hole and she pulled the lid over and the bombs started dropping and causing the ground to shake and I'm thinking, this is not happening. I'm going to wake up. I'm not in a bomb hole with a Vietnamese girl whom I don't know. I could feel her breath on my cheek. I could feel her eye lash on my cheek. It was so small that we were crammed together.

Pretty soon the bombing stopped. It turned out it was not that close. She crawled out and I got out and I started to cry and I just said to her, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." And she started to talk to me in Vietnamese. And the translator came over.

She must have been 15, 14. And she looked me straight in the eye and she said, "Don't be sorry for us. We know why we're fighting. It's you who don't know ..."

Well, it couldn't have been staged. It was impossible for it to have been staged. And I thought this young girl who says to me it's you -- you have to cry for your own people because we know why we're fighting. And I'm thinking this must be a country of saints or something. Nobody gets angry.

Several days later I'm asked to go see a production of a play -- a traveling troop of Vietnamese actresses is performing. It's Arthur Miller's play, You Are My Sons. They want me as an American to critique it to say if the capitalists are really the way they look. Two toned saddle shoes and a polka dot tie and I was like, OK, that will work. It's a story about a factory owner who makes parts for bombers during the second world war. He finds out that his factory is making faulty parts for the bombers, which could cause an airplane crash, but he doesn't say anything because he doesn't want to lose his government contract. One of his sons is a pilot and dies in an airplane crash. The other son accuses a -- attacks his father for putting greed and self-interest ahead of what was right. Well, I watched the play and I kept thinking why are they -- why are they -- there's a war going on. Why are they performing All My Sons, a Vietnamese traveling troop of actors in North Vietnam. And I asked the director, "Why are you doing this?" And he said, "We are a small country. We cannot afford to hate you. We have to teach our people there are good Americans and there are bad Americans. So that they will not hate Americans because one day when this war ends, we will have to be friends."

When you come back home from a thing like that and people talk about enemy, you think, "Wait a minute. Will we ever have a government here that will go to such sophisticated lengths to help our people not hate a country that is bombing them?" This is the kind of government -- and I don't want to romanticize the Vietnamese -- it has not turned out -- although we spend billions of dollars in tourist money over there.

Anyway, this is what I mean by the role of a government. This wasn't an accident that people didn't look at me during a war with hatred in their eyes. Their government taught them to love and to separate good from evil. That to me is a lesson that I will never ever forget.

So there's a dual journey to be taken. There's an inner journey and an outer journey and there's no conceptual model for the vision that we're working for. There's no road map for the politics of love. It's never happened.

Women have never yet had a chance in all of history to make a revolution. But if we're going to lead, we have to become the change that we seek. We have to incubate it in our bodies and embody it. When you think about it all the most impactful teachers, healers, activists are always people who embody their politics. I'm going to tell you another story. I have been living in France for eight years from 1962 to 1970 and I decided to leave my -- not my favorite ex-husband, but my first ex-husband and come home to be an activist. And I realized that in order to do that properly, I had to get to know this country of mine again. And I decided that I was going to drive across the country for two months. It was during the spring of 1970. And as I was driving, Nixon invaded Cambodia. Four students were killed at Kent State, two at Jackson State, 35,000 National Guard were called out in 16 states and a third of the nation's campuses closed down. I was arrested five times. But when I think back over those difficult two months, none of that is what I remember.

I remember a woman who was on the staff of a GI coffee house in Texas near Fort Hood. Her name was Terry Davis. And the moment I was in her presence, I sensed something different. It wasn't something I had been missing because I didn't know it existed. But I felt different in her presence. Because she moved from a place of love. She saw me not as a movie star, but as a whole me that I didn't even know existed yet.

She was interested in why I had become an activist and what I was doing to get involved in the movement and we were planning an upcoming demonstration and she asked my opinion. And she included me in all the decisions to make sure I was comfortable. This was -- this was very new for me. I was 31 years old. I made Barbarella. I was famous. But this was new to me. I saw the same sensitivity and compassion in the way she dealt with the GIs from Fort Hood at the coffee house. Unlike others in the peace movement at that time she didn't judge the young men who were on their way to Vietnam. She knew most of them were from poor rural or inner city situations and had no good alternatives.

It was my first time experiencing a woman's leadership and it was palpable, like sinking into a warm tub after a cold winter. It was also my first time experiencing someone who embodied her politics, who tried to model in her every day life the sort of society that she was fighting for. She fought not only against the government that was waging the war and depriving soldiers of their basic rights, she also fought against the sexism, the power struggles and judgmentalism within the movement itself. During that difficult two month trip, it was this time spent with Terry that stands out most deeply. A harbinger of the new world beyond isms and archies that I could envision because of her. She was in her power.

I chaired the campaign for adolescent pregnancy prevention, so I can't talk about power without talking about choice. You know, I used to wonder how is it that the so called pro-lifers show so much concern for the fetus, the fertilized egg growing inside the woman, but so little concern for the woman herself. Or even for the child once it is born.

And then I realized it's because this whole issue has nothing to do with being pro-life or pro-fetus. It has everything to do with power and who has it.

Throughout history many of the most patriarchial regimes and institution -- Hitler, Pinoche, the Vatican, Bush, have been the most opposed to women controlling their reproduction. The life of the fetus is only the most recent strategy. In other countries at other times it's been national security, upholding the national culture. There have been many strategies.

But we have to understand reproduction and sexuality are keys to women's empowerment. Child bearing and child rearing is a -- they're complex undertakings that can't be decided by a medical doctor or by policy makers or aging bishops. Celibate on top of it.

Because that makes a woman an object. It dismisses her knowledge about her own body and her own life. And instead of enhancing her dignity and self-respect it belittles and disempowers her. Robbed of her reproductive health and contraceptive decision making, a woman loses an essential element of what it means to be human. We have to hold this reproductive choice as a basic human right.

I want to talk about men for a minute. Because it's important -- one of the things as I've been through three marriages now and I'm writing my memoirs so I thought deeply about the marriages and my husbands and my father and I feel it has made me love them even more because I have come to realize that patriarchy is toxic to men as well as women. We don't see it so clearly because in some ways it privileges them and it's kind of - well, men will be men. That's the way things are ... But it's why men split off from their emotions. Why the empathy gene is plucked from their hearts. Why there's a bifurcation from between their head and their heart.

The system that undermines the notion of masculinity, what it means to be a real man, is a poison that runs deep and crosses generations. Fathers learn the steps to the non-relational dance of patriarchy at their father's knees and their fathers probably learned it at the grandfather's knees. So the toxins continue generation after generation until now. We have to change the steps of the dance for ourselves and for our children.

Gloria Steinem said in one of her books that we need to change patriarchal institutions if we are to stop producing leaders whose lives are then played out on a national and international stage.

About four years ago I got to know Carol Gilligan. She is a feminist psychologist who transformed the landscape of psychology. It was like, oh, yeah. Women are left out. We better put them in. It's just fascinating.

I just want to touch on it very briefly. What I learned, which helped me understand my own life a lot better and the lives of the girls that I work with, it's when girls reach puberty that the damage begins. Up until then we -- you know, if you can remember, if you can think and remember how fiesty before and owned your voice. And then this thing happened and we lose it. And of course teaching our girls to maintain resistance and not go underground with it is critical. And it's so important for mothers to own our power because, I mean, I've had a very difficult relationship with my daughter and I know why. I'm like her rehearsal. I'm the one that's showing her what it's going to be like. And what did she see? She saw me giving away my power. Marriage after marriage after relationship. And she's been pissed all her life.

So it happens to us at 12, 13, 14. But Carol Gilligan has three sons like Sally. So she cares about boys. And she's researched boys. And she and her colleagues -- you know what they discovered? The damage is done to boys around age five when they enter formal schooling. One out of ten young boys age five and six are on Ritalin in this country. It's when they -- it's not even so much the parents are saying anything specific to them. They're entering the world and the message is, don't be a a sissy or a mama's boy. Forget your emotions. They become emotionally illiterate.

Understand what that means as activists. Of course girls are the agents of change. You don't have to scratch very deep for us to say that's damn right. Man, I remember when I was ten and it wasn't like that at all.

But for boys, it's always been that way. They can't remember a time when they weren't entitled, when they weren't supposed to be this way, you know. They're at a tremendous disadvantage. And we have to hold that in our hearts and especially those of us that have young sons or in my case grandson -- my grandson is five and he just entered kindergarten and you don't think I'm vigilant? They need -- they need this combination of complete unconditional love and a lot of structure. But they have to be witnessed. They have to be seen. Some adult has to be present for them. And talking about the heart and about emotions to allow our young boys to come up and be worthy of our daughters.

So I want to say something about patriarchy and nature. I was on the board of the Turner Foundation. It was too hard, but my heart is still there because -- I don't know. I mean nature is us. Get this book. Barbara Kennedy just wrote this book called the "War Against Nature". And it talks about how the Bush administration is the worst administration in terms of our environment. Every agency -- every agency that is supposed to protect our environment is now headed by someone who runs a polluting industry. And it was on NPR the other day and he told the story. In the Tongass National Forest, there were trees alive when Christ walked the earth. There are five, six, seven hundred year-old cypress and cedar that have been valued at $20,000 on the stump that are being sold to the Alaska Pulp and Paper Company for $1.89. This is 100 percent Japanese owned. The trees are cut down and with the bark still on them they're shipped to Osaka Bay in Japan and they are stacked three stories deep underwater. Bobby Kennedy saw them because the Alaska Pulp and Paper Company gave a million dollars to the Bush administration.

I mean this is our irreplaceable national treasure. This is what our children will be able to -- should be able to witness and revere in nature. And it's going, going, gone to some company that gave money to Bush. So that's another thing that we have to fight against.

I'm fascinated by this link between control of nature and control of women. It's very old, you know. Back in the 15th, 16th century, 9 million women were put on a rack or burned because they were different. At that same time Frances Bacon, who is called the father of reason -- he's the one who came up with knowledge is power -- that was his line -- and he said we must put nature on the rack. Interesting. They were doing it to women and they said we have to do it to nature. And I'm on a spiritual quest, and so when I began to read the Agnostic Gospels, specifically the ones found in 1945 in the deserts of Egypt, in one of them there's a new version of the Garden of Eden myth and it was an epiphany for me. And I understood why in the fourth century bishops had to say this is going to the Bible and this isn't. These books will not go in the Bible and they're going to be destroyed. Only some very brave monks put them in urns and vases and they've now been translated. Of course one of the things they say is God is in all of us. That's very radical because it means you don't need hierarchy; right? You don't need bishops. We contain it within ourselves. But then listen to this version of the Garden of Eden. I felt like someone had said welcome home.

God looks down -- God looks down and sees Adam, man. And he says something is missing. All atoms and molecules are there and everything, but there's no consciousness. And so he sends down Eve, life, consciousness. The feminine spirit, light. She is dropped down and quickens the body of Adam into what today is our unique species. We are the only species who can observe the universe. We can be observers. I always wondered how come. Why? It's the feminine spirit. We didn't cause the downfall of man. We weren't an after thought. We quickened him into being. This incredible species that can observe God's creations.

That was when I really understood what Marion keeps talking about when she talks about the feminine consciousness. And robbing us of this by saying Eve caused the downfall, it has cut us off from our life source, from our Eve. God intended for there to be a balance.

That's why there's no archy. A balance between man, strength, balance, assertiveness -- very important things to have. And a woman, fluid in the present, connected to earth, intuitive, chaotic. Every human being has both of those. We live in a matrix that combines those elements. And the danger is when it gets out of kilter. And where the masculine rises to the detriment of the feminine in an individual, in a nation, or in the world. What happens, then, war, lust, power, denigration of what's sacred.

So our task is to bring back the balance. In ourselves, in our families, our communities, and in the world.

It's so hard because patriarchy has been around so long that we just think that's life. It's ordained. An argument can be made that there was a time in history when it was necessary to build civilizations out of societies that were hunter gatherers. Somebody has to be in charge.

But you can also make an argument that that paradigm has -- it's not only outlived its usefulness. It's become -- it's destroying everything. It's destroying balance. It's destroying nature. It's destroying men. It's destroying women. So our task is to bring back balance. Our task is to elect the least patriarchal guy.

I vote for the one that says that terrorism has to be dealt with with sensitivity myself. And you know why? Because it's true.

All the experts terrorism say you have to understand why young men want to blow themselves up. What is the cause of it? Before the conference started we were talking about this issue and John Kerry has been made fun of by Cheney because he said we have to be sensitive. But she said you know, supposing we had a president that would actually get a hold of Osama and said, "Let's talk." Remember the example she used about Gorbachev and Reagan. And for those of you who weren't here the first night -- there was suddenly this thing happened where the arms race was turned around, was stopped. And someone asked Gorbachev what happened between you and Reagan. And he said we talked. Talking. There's a chemical change that happens when people really show up for each other. Imagine what would happen if we just sat down with Osama and said, 'OK. Now, tell me what's the problem?' And we really -- it would be totally disarming, you know. It would be great.

You have to see a movie called What the Bleep Do I Know. It's playing to theaters in New York City. It's a tiny independent company out of Portland putting this out. It's about quantum physics, Judeo-Christian theories and change. One of the theories is, it's an experiment done by a Japanese scientist. It's true. The character in the movie played by Marlee Matlin, the wonderful deaf actress, she's in a subway and sees these huge vials of water and with photographs -- with photographs over them. The first one explains the vial of water was taken from a large body of water in Japan and the cells were photographed through a microscope, just random. And they look very random. The second photograph was taken of the water cells when they had been blessed by a Buddhist monk. They were like snow flakes. They had reformed themselves into these beautiful structures because they had been blessed. And then there was another photograph of the cells where overnight the words "I love you" had been taped to the water. and again, they were beautiful. They had changed again into these wonderful shapes. And then there was another one where the words had been taped "I hate you. I want to kill you." And the cells looked like knives. They were jagged and they were ugly and they were dangerous. and this man comes -- this is true. This man comes up to her and says, it makes you think, doesn't it? You know, if a thought can do that to the cells of water, think what it can do to you.

And there's another story that's told -- I didn't know anything about this. In 1993 in Washington D.C, 4,000 people came from all over the world to meditate. And they met with the police department in D.C. and they said we're going to meditate and the violent crime rate is going to drop. The police chief said, are you crazy? In Washington in the summertime? It would take two feet of snow to reduce the crime rate. Well, it did. 4,000 people from all over the world meditated for a week. And the violent crime rate dropped 25 percent. And the police were blown away. Totally blown away.

What this says is change is so mysterious and we must not lose hope. Embodiment, intentionality can make the difference if there's enough of us. That's why this conference is so important. If we can communicate through our hearts and souls and bodies what has happened to us today, that cellular change that has taken place -- do you feel it? Yeah. If you can transfer that to the people you're going back to, we're going to become a tipping point. You know, what we're seeing now is the balance so out of kilter, so barnacled with the wrong kind of power and lust. But think about what happens to a wounded beast. It's always right before the beast dies that it becomes the most dangerous. And it thrashes and flails. But most of us who have been here today know that right beneath the surface, a great tactonic shift is taking place.

I'll tell you why I know it. Have you ever been to Yellowstone National Park? My cousin has. Yellowstone is the place in the world next to Siberia where the earth's crust is the most thin. Where the molten interior of the earth pops out. Old Faithful is the most well known example of this. But if you walk through the park you can see steam rising above the trees and over here mud bubbling up from cracks and crevices in the crust. I've travelled all over the world. Sometimes with Eve. Sometimes on my own. But I've seen the steam. And I've seen the mud bubbling up. And it's women and men all over the world that are starting to come through those cracks and crevices. It's an army of love and that's what we have to be. We have to ripen the time and turn that steam and those bubbles into a volcano. So let's be a volcano. Thank you. Thank you very much.

We're going to end this in prayer. We want to go out on a prayerful note.


This keynote speech was delivered by Jane Fonda at the 3rd Annual Women & Power Conference organized by Omega Institute and V-Day in September 2004. To order the CD of this speech or to purchase other CDs from this event, please click here.

Jane Fonda is known worldwide as both an actress and an activist. Throughout her life she has devoted herself to the anti-war, civil rights, environmental, and women's movements. Her work on stage and screen earned numerous nominations and awards, including Oscars (Best Actress in 1971 for Klute and in 1978 for Coming Home) and an Emmy for her performance in The Dollmaker. Along with starring roles in dozens of highly acclaimed productions, Fonda also took on responsibilities as a film and television producer. Her credits include Coming Home, The China Syndrome, Nine to Five, Rollover, On Golden Pond, The Morning After, and The Dollmaker.

Fonda revolutionized the fitness industry with the release of Jane Fonda's Workout in 1982. She followed with the production of 23 home exercise videos, 13 audio recordings, and five books selling 16 million copies all together. The original Jane Fonda's Workout video remains the top grossing home video of all time.



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