Culture / Film

Jane Fonda, Rebecca Solnit, and the patriarchy

This morning, I received my daily edition of The Broadsheet, a newsletter that outlines important news about women in leadership roles across the country and around the globe. The title of today’s newsletter was “Jane Fonda, it’s not your fault”.

Because the newsletter has been plagued with subjects lines about Kellyanne Conway, Ivanka Trump, and other politically motivated women, I was interested in what Jane Fonda had to say.

As I continued to read, I learned that Fonda had been a victim of child abuse and rape, and had been fired for not sleeping with her boss in the past. She revealed this in an interview with Brie Larson, the star of the movie Room, and an advocate for sexual assault and rape victims.

Around the same time articles about the interview were being published last night, I was finishing feminist author Rebecca Solnit’s most recent collection of essays, The Mother of All Questions. The book, as well as much of Solnit’s other published works, focuses on the patriarchy, feminism, and violence against women.

In The Mother of All Questions, Solnit spends much of her time explaining and elaborating on how women are repeatedly silenced throughout their lives. She states,

“Violence against women is often against our voices and our stories. It is a refusal of our voices, and of what a voice means: the right to self-determination, to participation, to consent or dissent, to live and participate, to interpret and narrate. A husband hits his wife to silence her; a date rapist or acquaintance rapist refuses to let the ‘no’ of his victim mean what it should, that she alone has jurisdiction over her body; rape culture asserts that women’s testimony is worthless, untrustworthy…”

Many articles that report on the interview label Fonda as an “outspoken” actress who has spent her entire life in the public eye. The irony is not lost, seeing as she was silenced for an assumed half century.

Fonda continued to speak on feminism, stating that “a patriarchy takes a toll on females.” In an essay titled “Men Explain Lolita to Me”, Solnit explains that, as a woman, she tends to identify with Lolita, and how her male colleagues repeatedly remind her that Lolita is a child who is repeatedly raped by Humbert Humbert while, it is implied, that Solnit is not.

She ends the essay saying, “You read enough books in which people like you are disposable, or are dirt, or are silent, absent, or worthless, and it makes an impact on you. Because art makes the world, because it matters, because it makes us. Or breaks us.”

This essay follows another about Esquire‘s list titled, “80 Books Every Man Should Read”, which was published years ago. The list includes only one work by a female author. With these two essays, Solnit proves the notion that the patriarchy oppresses and influences women their entire lives, and Fonda’s revelation is only an echo that’s been repeated, implicitly or explicitly, in recent decades.

Tweets and Facebook posts about the interview are already peppered with comments, mostly from men, that try to silence Fonda.

With the publishing of this interview, Fonda is succeeding in giving other women agency. Agency to speak out about the abuses and rapes that were inflicted upon them. She encouraged Larson and other highly visible women to keep speaking and having conversations about sexual assault and the consequences of upholding a patriarchal society.

With the help of Solnit, Fonda and Larson, perhaps victims will be encouraged to step out of their silences and into a culture that, eventually, won’t shun or shame them.

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