By Maria Saporta
Twenty years ago, actress and activist Jane Fonda and feminist Gloria Steinem kicked off the first annual Numbers Too Big to Ignore – a major fundraiser for the Atlanta Women’s Foundation.
On Thursday, they returned for the 20th anniversary – held only two days after the Presidential election.
While the Atlanta Women’s Foundation is a non-partisan nonprofit, it had been prepared to play on the theme of a woman breaking through a glass ceiling – the ultimate ceiling – the election of the first woman president of the United States.
But Hillary Clinton lost her bid for the nation’s top office top office to Republican Donald Trump, who had run a campaign that often was critical of women and people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
“It’s confusing and difficult to be here two days after the election,” Fonda said while sitting on a couch next to her friend – Steinem. “As women, we have to have each other’s back no matter who we voted for. I feel like I was hit by a truck. I’m scared as a woman with a daughter and grand-daughters. How can we move forward together? I’m always optimistic. We have to have each other’s back.”
Fonda recalled living in Atlanta when she was married to media mogul Ted Turner.
“Georgia was my home for 20 years,” she said. “It’s very moving to be in a room with Gloria and so many women and several good men. I’m very grateful for the time I lived in Georgia. I learned about the importance of listening to the people (with whom) you don’t agree with an open heart. It taught me to listen to other people’s narratives.”
Then Steinem chimed in. “All social change comes from listening to people’s stories. We are communal animals.”
Fonda then proceeded to ask a series of questions.
“Why do we often vote against our own self-interest? We have got to ask ourselves a lot of questions. Why did it happen? Was it because women needed to support a powerful man who does not respect women?” she asked before saying women needed to “stand independently and authentically as women.”
Then she brought it home.
“We also need to be able to raise our sons differently,” Fonda said. “We have to redefine masculinity so it’s not toxic.” Instead, she added that men and women should both be able to demonstrate “strength, sensitivity, empathy and compassion.”
Steinem talked about the challenges women and girls face around the world – with several countries favoring the birth of boys over girls.
“For the first time that we know of, there are fewer females on Mother Earth than males,” Steinem said, adding that women need to control their own wombs and bodies. “It’s not possible to be a feminist without being anti-racist.”
Fonda then quoted her “favorite ex-husband” Ted Turner, who said men already have had their chance at running the world, and they’ve screwed it up. Now is the time for women to be in charge.
But that did not happen Tuesday – despite polls that showed Hillary Clinton would win and become the first woman president in the United States.
In fact, her loss seemed to embolden some men. Fonda talked about her friend, Pat Mitchell, who flying from Atlanta to New York on Wednesday in first class. Two men sitting in the row in front of her spoke in voice loud enough to be heard by the female flight attendants: “Now women know where their place is.”
When asked what advice they had for the 1,600 women (and a few men) at the Georgia World Congress Center’s Thomas Murphy ballroom, Steinem turned it back on the audience.
“You should do what you feel. You can do things, know things and accomplish things that no one else can,” she said. “Women are the biggest unpaid and underpaid labor force in the world. Solutions are both deep and simple. Raise our daughters like we raise our sons. And we have to raise our sons like they’re our daughters. We will never have a democracy until we have a democratic family.”
Toward the end of their conversation, Fonda sounded an alarm.
“We don’t have time,” she said. “If we started yesterday to do everything right according to the Paris Climate Agreement, things would get worse before it got better. But it would get better. In four years, we will be beyond the tipping point.”
Fonda then left the crowd hanging. “If we don’t hold the president-elect’s feet to the fire on climate change…,” said Fonda, without finishing the thought.
Earlier during the event, Kelly Dolan, executive director of the Atlanta Women’s Foundation, said the nonprofit had donated a total of $14 million in programs and services.
The goal was for the lunch to raise $1 million for the foundation. Paula Goodman, chair of the foundation said they were only $75,000 short.
Then Helen Smith Price, president of the Coca-Cola Foundation announced a $50,000 grant to AWF, and they she said her foundation would match any donation made at the lunch – up to another $50,000.