“I feel like I was hit by a truck, frankly,” Jane Fonda said Thursday. “I’m scared.”
As the two-time Academy Award winning actress and former Atlanta resident spoke, understanding murmurs and even some applause rippled across a ballroom at the Georgia World Congress Center. She hadn’t mentioned the words “presidential election;” but many of the 1,600 people attending the Atlanta Women’s Foundation’s 20th annual “Numbers Too Big to Ignore” fundraising luncheon clearly knew what she meant.
So did Gloria Steinem, who supportively leaned in even closer on the couch the pair shared onstage as Fonda continued:
“As a woman that has daughters and granddaughters, I’m scared. But I know that we need to understand why this happened, what it means and how do we move forward together?”
In what qualified as an exquisite case of timing, the annual luncheon took place just two days after political newcomer Donald J. Trump had confounded nearly every expert by winning the presidential election over former senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton. The sold-out, record-breaking gathering was a celebration for AWF, which funds programs and services that help women and girls gain education and life skills. It also featured the Sue Wieland Embracing Possibility award, which went to Veterans Empowerment Organization of Georgia, and welcoming remarks from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
“I need this today,” Reed said, to some knowing laughter. “I was hoping to be here celebrating another great women’s accomplishment today — that of Hillary Clinton being elected president of the United States. That said, we knew that whoever won Tuesday’s election, the fight for women’s equality would not be over.”
The luncheon was also a grand reunion of sorts for friends Fonda and Steinem with AWF. Twenty years ago, the icons of feminism and social justice causes had appeared together at the first ever “Numbers Too Big to Ignore” luncheon.
If they thought they’d be back here talking about the newly elected first female president of the United States, Fonda and Steinem didn’t come right out and say so. Trump’s name never came up as the moderator, former Atlanta city council president and current WNBA commissioner Lisa Borders asked them a series of questions about the status of women and girls today, barriers to progress and what the situation might be like 20 years in the future.
But every response eventually seemed to come back to Tuesday night’s result.
“I think we can’t not talk about the election, because I find myself so immersed in it,” said Steinem, who has a theory about why the Hillary Clinton she knows is not the same suspicious figure many in the media and electorate viewed her as. “I think because women and men are still mostly raised by women, that we associate female authority with childhood. And when we see an authoritative, powerful woman, we feel regressed to childhood. Some women feel it, too, but I think men feel demasculinized and rendered children again by seeing a powerful woman in charge.”
Shorter version from Fonda, who related her conversation with a female friend who’d sat nearby two men while flying first class from New York to Atlanta Wednesday night:
“They were saying very loudly so people could hear it, including the female flight attendant: ‘Well now women know what their place is.’”
Still, Fonda took comfort from being in a room filled primarily with women, including many business and civic leaders, and even some WNBA players who’d accompanied Borders.
“It’s kind of wonderful, but it’s also confusing and difficult to be here right now two days after the election,” said Fonda, who moved to Atlanta in the early 1990s when she married CNN founder Ted Turner and later started a statewide nonprofit group to reduce the rates of adolescent pregnancy. “I know that we didn’t all vote for the same people, but as women, we have to have each other’s backs. No matter who we voted for, we have to listen to each other carefully.”
Shorter version, this time from Turner:
“As my favorite ex-husband, Ted Turner, said,” Fonda, who’s been married and divorced three times, said as the ballroom erupted in laughter, “‘Men have had their chance, and they screwed it up. It’s time for women to have their chance.”