Chandra Jessee, Global Board Member, celebrates Jane Fonda as part of Equality Now’s 30 for 30, featuring 30 women and changemakers who have played a key role in making equality reality as part of our 30th anniversary celebrations.
By any criteria, Jane Fonda is an icon. She’s an actor, activist, author, producer, and philanthropist. As an actor, Jane has won numerous awards, including Oscars, Golden Globes, and an Emmy. For decades, Jane has prioritized making films that focus on important issues. She uses her acting to further her activism. She uses her celebrity to bring attention to injustice. And she uses her privilege to spotlight those with less. To fund her political advocacy, she created a workout video that incidentally revolutionized the fitness industry.
Jane embodies resilience. Although raised in a privileged Hollywood home, she survived numerous traumas. Instead of deterring her or defining her, these experiences galvanized her to act. She’s fought to end violence against women, for peace, and to end systemic injustice across diverse areas. Jane has been an intersectional activist since before the term existed. In addition to her work in women’s rights, she’s fought for civil rights, indigenous rights, and LGBTQ+ rights. Early on, she realized that the fight for the environment can’t be separated from the fight for economic and racial equality, and she champions them all.
Jane describes herself as a student. Living a life of continuous learning takes courage. It means acknowledging that you don’t already know everything. It carries with it the threat of being wrong. She has the bravery to dive into the fray, even if it means being disliked, spat on, or arrested (five times in 2019 alone). She doesn’t let a need for approval hold her back from challenging inequity. Jane doesn’t let the fear of unpopularity stop her from speaking up.
Personally, I know that if I’m not saying things that I’m embarrassed about five years from now, it means that I’m either not speaking up enough, or I’m not learning enough. Jane has shown me that being someone who is still learning is not an excuse for silence in the face of injustice. To not let fear of making a mistake stop me from speaking up. To listen to others and change my mind. And to take ownership of my past actions, whether I agree with them now or not. Whether it’s acknowledging her facelift or apologizing for a photo taken in Vietnam, Jane is a role model for this kind of honesty and accountability.
Now in her eighties, Jane’s boundless youthfulness is a testament to the active lifestyle she embodies. Her emphasis on strength, well-being, and fitness for all ages continues to motivate people to live healthier lives. Jane could have avoided controversy and lived an exceptionally comfortable life. Instead, she continues to fight for justice passionately. She’s an inspiration to all of us to not just watch from the sidelines but to fight for what we believe.
“Power has to come from inside,” Jane told Harper’s Bazaar in a 2021 interview. “It has to come from knowing who you are, why you’re on earth, what is the meaning of your life. That’s power.”
Like many of us, I’m still working on owning my power—Jane shows all of us the legendary life that happens when you do.
Photo Credit: Yu Tsai