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Jane Fonda: Don't lose yourself to keep a man

Jane Fonda and her co-star and friend Lily Tomlin talk to Caroline Overington, about feminism, friendships and finding yourself in your 70s.

By Caroline Overington
For years, Jane Fonda pretended to be somebody she wasn't, all to hold onto a man.
For years, she pretended to like things she didn't, just to impress her husbands.
For years, she thought she needed an alpha-male in her life, just to feel, in her words, 'valid.'
She shouldn't have bothered. Turns out, she was happier alone.
In a strange case of art imitating life, Jane, who is now 77, will from this week be starring in a new Netflix series, with much the same message.
Grace and Frankie is about two women who get the shock of their lives when their husbands decide they want a divorce so they can get re-married - to each other.
It's a comedy, but it touches on serious issues, particularly for women.
"One of the tenets of feminism [is] we shouldn't give up who we are," Jane tells aww.com.au at an event to launch the show in Hollywood. "We shouldn't feel that in order to be okay in life we have to be attached to a certain kind of man.
"I can say that because that is how I lived for a long time [thinking]: 'Oh my god if I am not married to some alpha male, I'm not valid'."
Jane (who plays Grace) stars in the show opposite her real-life friend, Lily Tomlin, 75, (Frankie).
"Grace is a woman who was defined by externals: by being married to the right man," says Jane.
Jane Fonda and her friend and co-star Lily Tomlin.
"Frankie begins to teach me to stop lying about who I am to try to keep a guy. I get a boyfriend [in the show] and I start repeating these behaviours, so I can hold onto him.
"It's a big issue for women. I'm not the only one who tied myself in pretzels so I wouldn't be alone."
Lily adds: "You can be committed in a marriage but you have to have enough of your own freedom, so you can step away and save yourself."
Jane nods: "And all of us should be encouraging our daughters to be capable of earning money because you never know. What happens to Grace and Frankie in their old age, it can happen at any age. You can find yourself female with no job skills. All females should grow up with job skills."
The problem, of course, is that many women have to leave work to have and raise children, and given that women almost never earn as much as men, it's difficult for them to earn enough to support themselves.
Lily says she would support a plan by which "wives that stay home, who are homemakers, they should be paid. It's a big job to do that". Jane agrees, saying: "It's hard to think of a harder job than being a mother, raising adolescents, taking care of the house and your elderly parents, and your husband. Are they paid [jobs?] No. People should be paid for that."
The program brings Jane and Lily together 35 years after they appeared in the iconic working woman's movie, 9 To 5. The show was written for them, after the writers heard on the grapevine that the two women wanted to work together again.
"We’ve always had a good time [together]" says Jane. "We are both activists. We show up for each other's causes." Jane is particularly passionate about "stopping violence against women". Lily is active in the area of animal rights, such as moving elephants out of zoos.
"Our friendship, female friendships, they are important," says Lily. "Very important. A lot of women have no idea how important their friendships are."
Jane, Lily and co-star, Dolly Parton, in their 80s hit, '9 to 5'.
Jane agrees: "There is notion out there, partly fostered by mass media, that women are always competing and backbiting. Women, much more than men, can have extremely intense, profound relationships, and you really realise as you get older how important those friendships are."
As to whether the US is now ready to elect a woman president, Jane says: "We both think it's perfectly possible, and maybe even probable, but it's not good to make it look like it's inevitable. We need to show up and vote. But it would be good. Maybe that would even lead to equal pay, and wouldn't that be nice?"
Both agree that it's good to see so many young women now identifying as feminists. The word was on the nose for a while there.
"That's because there was this idea that feminism means that you're against men, and that you're some angry, bra-burning woman," Jane says. "[Girls who say they are not feminists] don't understand what feminism really it. It's saying: I want to be a whole human being, with equal rights, and equal opportunities."
Lily adds: "And you want to to be about men as well. It's about the whole species."
Jane: "Yes. Most of our male friends are feminists, right?" Laughing, she adds: "Not my ex-husbands [who include the billionaire Ted Turner] but most men."
Besides female empowerment, the show addresses gay marriage – the husbands are played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterson – and ageing. It was, they agree, great to see Netflix get behind a program where the two leads are women in their 70s.
"Yes, we were thrilled," says Lily, to which Jane adds: "We were thrilled that they were so smart, that they could see how it would work."
Jane and Lily in 'Grace and Frankie'.
‘Grace and Frankie’ will premiere on Netflix on May 8.

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