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Fonda lectures on life, poverty

Ryan Sydlik | Friday, October 6, 2006

In between lengthy personal anecdotes, actress, writer, activist and workout video star Jane Fonda spoke about poverty and women Thursday night in DeBartolo auditorium.

While her lecture was titled “The Feminization of Poverty,” her speech was focused more on child psychology processes and her own family experiences. The visit was sponsored by the Mendoza College of Business Microventuring Program, which gives students the skills and opportunities to help people in extreme poverty in several poor nations form small businesses, said Gigot Center director Jim Davis.

Fonda started by talking about her excitement for the Microventuring Program – which includes internships that send students to countries like Haiti and Mexico – and hoping for its success.

“I’ve been to these countries … I have seen firsthand how communities change when girls are educated and microloans are made to the poorest of the poor which are women and how it transforms the family, the community and hopefully … the world,” she said. “There’s never been a course like this anywhere.”

Fonda praised the fact that students in the program also put these tools to use and actually go out and secure loans and other benefits for the impoverished.

Delving into the hefty personal portion of her address, Fonda then talked about the impact of her father’s death on her life.

“This experience was a very important one for me … I learned that I wasn’t afraid of dying,” she said. “I realized that what I am afraid of instead of death is that I am afraid of getting to the end of life with regrets where I couldn’t do anything about it.

“I knew he had regrets and that he couldn’t do anything about it and I felt bad for him.”

Her crumbling marriage to multi-billionaire Ted Turner, Fonda said, brought newfound independence and self-discovery.

“I began to feel myself changing … but I knew that I made the right decision,” she said. “I was becoming who I used to be when I was when I was a little girl.”

If she had experienced hardships even with her good fortune, Fonda said, then women struggling in countries where they have no legal or social status must be far worse.

“How do they make it?” she said.

The stress of needing to be perfect hit Fonda as a little girl, and she emphasized the problem of overbearing parents.

“The child feels it must be their fault and they have to be perfect,” she said. “It doesn’t really go away when you grow up … it continues on into your relationships.”

Pursuing perfection is impossible, Fonda said. More than that, it’s counterproductive to healthy living.

“We are not meant to be perfect, we’re mortals, God is meant to be perfect,” she said. “We are meant to become complete.”

Fonda complained that cultural demands on girls to be perfect are latent until they reach puberty, when a psychological “empty space” forms. She said girls fill that space with food, drug or shopping addictions.

Boys have an even worse situation, Fonda said, because pressure hits them as soon as they start school.

“To be a real man, you can’t be a sissy, you can’t cry,” she said. “Teach our boys not to have this bifurcation between head and heart, it’s OK to be emotionally illiterate…

“We have to teach our boys to integrate head and heart, we have to understand girls are the agents of change,” she continued. “We don’t have our masculinity to prove, that gives us a great advantage.”

Fonda sits on the feminist V-Council and is a member of the Women’s Foreign Policy Advisory Committee.