I gave my girlfriend the autobiography of Jane Fonda as a birthday present, and she enjoyed it so much, I read the book myself. What a life this woman has led: one of the fullest lives ever.
Of course, as a guy, I enjoyed the sexual revelations of the book: how Jane engaged in threesomes to please her womanizing first husband Roger Vadim, because he liked to bring other women to their marriage bed. It’s rather sweet how Fonda confesses that she liked the mornings-after more than the nights-before, when her husband was out of the house and she could be girls together with the other woman over breakfast. Some of the women were prostitutes. These little chats might have helped her in her Oscar-winning portrayal of the prostitute in the film Klute.
Fonda says “the disease to please” that women suffer from is a feminist issue, because women subject themselves to oppression in order to ensure that they keep the love of their men, which creates in women a dissociation between their heads and their bodies. I asked my girlfriend what this heads-and-bodies thing meant, and she explained to me that it was the difference between living in your mind and cutting yourself off from your deeper emotions and feelings.
Hey, you’ve heard of a good date movie: well, this is a good date book.
All three of Fonda’s marriages made her suffer—a remarkable admission from a very strong woman, whose public life certainly never showed her as a victim of patriarchy.
This was a woman who grew up in a world of men, and yet produced her own movies, classics like Coming Home and 9 to 5. A woman who won two Oscars as best actress. A woman who bravely launched herself into years of protest against the Vietnam War on behalf of soldiers and war veterans, earning the nickname “Hanoi Jane” for her efforts. A woman who started the whole exercise business in the U.S., as well as kicking off the video business, with her Jane Fonda Workout tapes—the first one of which is still the biggest videoseller ever, at 17 million copies. A woman who was married to three remarkable men: the French director Roger Vadim, who introduced Brigitte Bardot to the world in his films; the political activist Tom Hayden, one of the founders of the sixties student movement and a lifelong liberal icon; and the mega-mogul Ted Turner, the brash innovator from Atlanta who created the 24-hour news channel with CNN.
Fonda had a brilliant public career, yet she lived a life of subjection to these men. With Vadim it was putting up with his womanizing. With Hayden it was putting up with him putting her down all the time and cutting her off from her woman friends. And with Turner it was giving up her career and becoming a corporate wife who was not allowed to share true intimacy with him, because he wasn’t capable of it.
Her relationship with her famous father, Henry Fonda, whom she helped win an Oscar by producing On Golden Pond for him, is at the heart of the book. He was the cold and distant first man in her life, who birthed in her ‘the disease to please.’ He also caused her to hold on to her husbands longer than she needed to, because she wanted to beat him at being good at marriage, something Hank wasn’t too terrific at himself.
What’s great about Fonda’s book is that she not only describes the doings of a most remarkable life, but also what drove her psychologically. It’s an account of an inner journey, and it will give you an opportunity to acquaint yourself with your own woman’s inner life if you discuss the book with her.
There are two very moving moments in the book which delve into Fonda’s inner journey. One is when she tells her father shortly before he dies that she’s always loved him, and gives him quite a speech about their relationship. He starts to cry and she leaves. Later she finds out from his wife that he sobbed all day after she left him.
The other moment is when she has her breast implants taken out after many surgeons tell her it’s too dangerous. Fonda, of all people, felt her body was not good enough. She suffered from bulemia all her life. The body that was good enough for womanizer Vadim, who put her in his sci-fi comic book movie, Barbarella, was not good enough for her.
It’s amusing how she relates that Army soldiers were angry with her because she didn’t live up to her sexy image when she performed without makeup and sexy clothes in the anti-Vietnam Army show she developed with Donald Sutherland. One soldier was so disappointed, he tore all her posters off his wall.
If the woman in your life has issues with her body—and let me tell you, all women have—this book will lead to a fruitful discussion between you and her.
The funniest and most entertaining part of the book is Fonda’s relationship with Ted Turner. He’s a great character: a man who always says what’s on his mind, with no sense of the effect the emptying of his mind at all times to anyone listening may have. A scene where he gives a speech at a time when he is in tough negotiations with Time Warner is priceless. On this occasion, speak-his-mind Ted says to a big, glittering audience that through the centuries, women have always suffered from having their clitorises cut off in Africa and Egypt, which has been done to deprive them of pleasure. A terrible thing. The audience nods, suitably impressed. Well, says Ted, he feels like he is being clitorized—by Time-Warner. The audience cannot believe their ears. Neither can Jane. She tries to hide in her seat behind the dias: “Hey, it wasn’t my idea.”
If you’re a woman, read this book. There’s a lot to learn about how an incredibly successful woman still suffered as a sexist victim in her private life, and finally overcame all her fears and hang-ups at the ripe age of sixty, to enter what she calls her third act.
If you’re a man, be thoughtful for once and give it to the women in your life as a present. I swear, it can do for you what it did for me: help deepen your relationship with your lady.
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