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Jane Fonda: ‘It took me 30 years to get feminism’

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Actor, who is a prominent women’s rights advocate, says she once saw women’s issues as a distraction from other problems.

Actor and activist Jane Fonda has admitted that she was “a late bloomer” when it came to feminism and that it took her until her 60s to really understand the movement.

Writing in Lenny , Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s online newsletter, Fonda – who is a prominent women’s rights campaigner – said she had gone from viewing women’s issues as a distraction from more important problems to the realisation that “women are the issue, the core issue”.

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“It took me 30 years to get it, but it’s OK to be a late bloomer, as long as you don’t miss the flower show,” she said.

Related: Jane Fonda: five best moments

Fonda wrote: “In 1970, when I was 33, I learned that 5,000 women in New York City were demonstrating for legalised abortion. I wrote in my journal: ‘Don’t understand the Women’s Liberation Movement. There are more important things to have a movement for, it seems to me.’”

The actor, who is a two-time Academy Award winner, was a prominent opponent to the Vietnam war and civil rights activist before becoming a supporter of feminist causes. “I began to identify myself publicly as a feminist, although it would be many years before I would look within myself and locate the multiple ways in which I had internalised sexism and the profound damage that it had done to me,” she wrote.

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Fonda said that although she supported female candidates, brought gender issues into her film roles, produced women-centred films, and made exercise videos to help women get strong physically, her feminism was theoretical: “in my head, not my blood and bones”.

“For me to really confront sexism would have required doing something about my relationships with men, and I couldn’t. That was too scary,” she said. Fonda revealed that her father, actor Henry Fonda, would send her stepmother to instruct her to lose weight and wear longer skirts. “One of my stepmothers told me all the ways I’d have to change physically if I wanted a boyfriend,” she said.

Fonda has been heavily involved in the V-Day movement, which works to stop violence against women and girls and was inspired by the Broadway show The Vagina Monologues. In 2001, she established the Jane Fonda Center for Adolescent Reproductive Health at Emory University in Atlanta, which aims to help prevent adolescent pregnancy. “When I turned 60 and entered my third and final act, I decided that I needed to heal the wounds patriarchy had dealt me,” she wrote. “I didn’t want to come to the end of my life without doing all I could to become a whole, full-voiced woman.”

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