If Jane Fonda could zip back in time and read at age twenty the portions about bulimia in her memoir My Life So Far (Random House, $16.95), published at age 68, she would've stopped ralphing sooner. Those nights when her first husband, the late threesome-loving French director Roger Vadim, stayed away from their monumental Paris apartment and she would eat his untouched dinner and hers, then "go out and buy pastries and French glacé ... devour all of it, throw it all up, and collapse into bed" now she calls it an addiction, "a secret demon." But that was then. The famous often have problems with then.
"Agh, the North Vietnamese gun emplacement," Fonda groans. "Everyone asks me about the North Vietnamese gun emplacement." That's the antiaircraft gun on which she posed with smiling NVA soldiers in 1972. In a Hanoi radio broadcast during that trip, Fonda told listeners, "I cherish the memory of the blushing militia girls on the roof of their factory." She praised the NVA's "songs of resistance" and an "unforgettable ballet about the guerrillas training bees in the south to attack enemy soldiers." It's in her government file. She told Oprah it was a terrible thing to have done. But elephants never forget. "The right wing works very assiduously to keep the myth of Hanoi Jane alive," Fonda sighs.
Before visiting Vietnam her chapter in the book about that trip is titled "Bamboo" Fonda lived for a while in Berkeley, filming Steelyard Blues, a wacky spoof in which she plays a prostitute leery of her ex-lover's scheme to wreck schoolbuses in a megademolition derby. "I love Berkeley," she says of the town where her radical cred was honed and her daughter Vanessa attended Blue Fairyland preschool, run by Fonda's friends in the Red Family commune, whose founders included Tom Hayden and whose militant allegiance to Kim Il Sung has been noted in Salon and beyond. Around the same time, Fonda filmed F.T.A. short for "Fuck the Army," based on her touring ensemble act with Donald Sutherland and Holly Near which included antiwar songs, dances, and gags about fragging. Withdrawn within a week of its 1972 release, F.T.A. virtually vanished off the face of the earth, although excerpts appear in the new film Sir No Sir! Nobody asks about F.T.A. anymore, she says, "except in Berkeley."
"I'm glad I live in Atlanta now," she sighs. "As a social activist, I'm more in touch with the heartland." Today she works with nonprofits aimed at reducing domestic violence and teen pregnancies.
"The older I get," she says, "the more I feel that the core of the sickness that inhabits our civilization is this androcentric hierarchical notion that men matter more than women." That "sickness" is a "toxic masculinity which is inevitable in a patriarchy and makes men very vulnerable to shaming. Whether it's about the little lady getting the meal to the table late or [men] feeling dissed by who knows what, this vulnerability to shaming is what creates violence, so a nonpatriarchal society would foster a kind of masculinity that was not vulnerable to shaming." Crime rates can sink, she says, "when you help a violent criminal understand why he has acted upon his shaming and how that's not really who he is." If Jesus came back today, she suspects people would call him effeminate.
She's also taking theology courses, trying to discern "what it means for me as a feminist to be part of a religion that genders God as male." She draws flak for the religious awakening she describes as a risen phoenix, and which came after what her memoir characterizes as a life lived inauthentically, without intimacy, spent trying to please men. "Becoming whole was a somatic experience," she says. "Our societies should be geared toward people becoming whole. Maybe that's what God is, and I've chosen to call it Christianity." But among liberals, "it's hard to say you're a Christian in America today. Just because the fundamentalists have tried to claim Christianity as Republican, that doesn't mean we have to let them get away with it."
While researching the book, she came back West. At one Berkeley restaurant, "nobody gave a fuzzy rat's ass who I was. That's the great thing about Berkeley."
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