Astride the intersection of politics and culture stands Jane Fonda like a female colossus. Or at least a nicely aging Barbarella. Her new memoir, "My Life So Far," documents how the personal became political over four of her seven decades - and the sexual revolution, the Vietnam war, the Black Panthers, the Native American movement, the cult of celebrity, thinness and fitness are all twisted into her body "like a pretzel." But she still can't straighten out the pretzel.
She joins a group of celebrity women who expose, without meaning to, the raw hypocrisy and naivete of feminist dogma. Like Simone de Beauvoir, the grandmother of modern feminism, she pimped for her man. Jane Fonda found hookers to form threesomes with Roger Vadim, the director who was her first husband. She pretended to revel in the orgies, all the while lying to him and to herself: "So adept was I at burying my real feelings and compartmentalizing myself that I eventually had myself convinced that I enjoyed it." Young women on college campuses who celebrate their "hookups" can do a little reality testing against Jane's sexual illusions.
Jane didn't stay home to bake cookies, but like the famous former first lady she indulged in heavy masochism standing by her man after he cheated on her. She caught Ted Turner, her rich and powerful third husband, enjoying a "nooner" only a month after they were married. "I've always needed a backup in case something happens to us," he told her. Eventually another woman would be waiting in the wings as her wifely understudy, but it took years for her to leave him. So intimidated was Jane by her No. 3 man that when she discovered religion she was afraid to tell him for fear "he would have either asked me to choose between him and it, or bullied me out of it."
What helped Jane finally find her voice was an invitation to be a presenter at the Academy Awards in 2000, a Vera Wang dress and a chic haircut by an expensive stylist. She got "new hair" to go with "new thinking." Such renewal coincided with her "vaginal epiphany" in seeing Eve Ensler's play "The Vagina Monologues."
Jane's childhood - a mother's suicide and a father's coldness - provides sympathy for the grown-up woman, but she stretches her personal life on a narrow frame of feminist attitudinizing. She came late to feminism because she didn't want to bash men, but in her enlightened "gender-grounded narrative" she discovers she can love them more "because I see how patriarchy's toxic cloistering has dehumanized them as well." So that explains why Henry Fonda was such a terrible father.
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