Icon, activist, mentor, friend, sister. Survivor.
When the author, Kelly Oxford asked women to tweet about their very first incident of sexual harassment, I hesitated. I went to her page and I read a lot of the tweets she’d received. Women mostly tweeted about men’s hands up their skirts or on their breasts, or inappropriate advances that threatened their jobs or their safety. There were so many! Coming in at the alarming rate of 50 per minute!
Oxford also asked women to hashtag their posts with #notokay. I didn’t know if I could share mine. I knew mine was so bad, it would make me seem bad. That old fallacy of fault creeping in. (Jane Fonda said she thought the abuse and rape must have been her fault. That she hadn’t said, “No,” in the right way.) But, it couldn’t have been my fault because I was 3 years old when it happened. I’m not sure what it was because I don’t remember and I’ve had to piece it together bit by bit. I do know my mother wanted to kill herself and me. I wanted to tell other women, I wanted to tweet along with them. Some demon urged me on, some strong sense of responsibility that I should share this horror with other women, it might help somebody, maybe even me. I held my breath and wrote – but I won’t share it here. I’m afraid for other 3 year olds. I don’t want to inspire any degenerate copycats. You’ll have to read Holy Days to find out. I will tell you that the act was so NOT OKAY, that it seemed ridiculous to use that hashtag, so I hashtagged it with the name of my novel, #HolyDays. In Holy Days, you can read all about it and everything else that happens to my character Gloria Wisher, so many things that the book started to sound like a French farce and I needed a dramatic event to balance it all and so I chose a hero’s murder, the public assassination of an abuser. Not her abuser, of course, but somebody else’s. That’s how it works.
Today, all of this came rushing forward like a tidal wave.
Today, Jane Fonda came out to say that she had been abused as a child, raped and had lost a job because she wouldn’t have sex with her boss. Who abused her as a child, she did not say. As for the rape, that is also a mystery. However, what has become known to us all as “the casting couch” is no mystery. Many actresses have been asked about the casting couch. “Would you ever sleep with someone just to get a part?” The answer is always the same. “Well, I’ve heard of the casting couch, of course, but I feel that if you need to sleep with someone that doesn’t say much about your acting and I wouldn’t want to get a role that way.” Today, Jane Fonda said this: “I didn’t know how to stand up for myself. Now, I would say, “No. This is a piece of shit. I don’t like the way you’re treating me,’ and leave. If only I knew then what I do now.”
But, to think that such a thing could happen to such a person as Jane Fonda, with her lineage – her Hollywood lineage, not to mention her link of royal blood to Jane Seymour, the third and most beloved wife of Henry VIII. Considering the patriarchy in place in Hollywood at the time of her fame, this act had to have been perpetrated by someone who had no fear of Henry or Peter Fonda, someone who was more powerful than the Fondas in Hollywood, or someone so reckless he did not fear God.
There’s a lot of that going around. No fear of God.
This cavalier attitude toward God by the Catholic Church is shown in the movie “Spotlight,” named after the section of the Boston Globe that spotlights certain issues in a longer investigative piece. In this movie, the Globe focusses in on alleged child abuse by local priests. My absolutely favorite part of the movie occurs when the female reporter (played by Rachel McAdams) knocks on the door of the elder, feeble-minded priest, now retired, the one who seems to be “touched by angels” and asks if he had molested young boys while he was a priest and he says, unequivocally, “Yes!” and she replies, “You did?” incredulous at getting such a straight forward answer, and he says, cheerfully, “Yes, of course!” Well! That proved what I had long suspected, as a former Catholic following the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandals in the news. I suspected that the abuse was something the Catholic Church not only knew about, but also condoned. In addition, I knew in my heart - they were prepared for it. In fact, as the Spotlight investigation revealed, the Catholic Church had a system in place for dealing with child abuse by priests, a system with secret, written codes for moving priests around parish to parish whenever they fell from grace, and worst of all, they had the most heinous of hypocritical concepts – confession. The priests had only to confess and they would be absolved. The guarantee, as the Church calls confession and absolution: the guaranteed route into heaven and salvation, which they knew about and depended upon even before committing their crimes. The fact that these crimes were perpetrated against children had no meaning for them. They and the Church were only interested in saving their own asses and in their eyes, their own souls. How many of us believe these priests had souls to save? What about the hearts and bodies and souls of the children they were supposed to be caring for and protecting?
That brings me to a little known Indie film called “An Open Secret.” Before learning about this remarkable film, I thought Hollywood child stars went crazy because all that fame and fortune just went to their heads. Not so. Watch “An Open Secret” now, if you can, before it disappears from YouTube - again. As with everything else “they” don’t want you to see, this film disappears and reappears on YouTube from time to time. Always, there’s a brave nerd who will upload the truth.
This film blew my mind, but it was the trailer, which has also disappeared, that broke my heart. In it, a man turns to the camera and says of the issue of having sex with child stars - “This is the way it’s always been!”
The children were told “this is everyday business” this is what they needed to do in order to get a job.
I’m sure there are people in Hollywood who recognized this man. The film talks about the parties, usually at a producer’s home, pool parties, and things like “underwater blowjobs” which actually killed a young actor. The idea is that the boy gives the blowjob under water as long as he can, while the man holds his head under water. Of course, part of the abuse is that the boy’s head must be held under long after he’s given the signal to stop, I can’t breathe!
Jane Fonda has long been a symbol of strength. She is also beautiful, talented, graceful and intelligent. She has shown us with her work how amazing a woman can be from the sexy newlywed in “Barefoot in the Park” to the brave reporter in “The China Syndrome,” (released March 16, 1979 about the cover-up of a nuclear power plant accident that seemed to foretell the nuclear accident that occurred March 28, 1979 at 3 Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Dauphin County, PA). “The China Syndrome” was the first movie I saw that gave me the feeling of true activism. Later in life, Jane Fonda showed us a 70-year-old woman could be a leading lady in the hilarious, sexually-open Netflix show, “Grace and Frankie.” In the interview she gave recently with net-a-porter in which she revealed her childhood abuse and rape, she remarked that the exercise videos she’d done had been another way she tried to impart to women that they could be strong and forceful.
Just today, also, Marie Collins, the Irish Catholic survivor of the abuse scandals who led the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, resigned, saying she could not do the work any more because of “shameful resistance” by the Vatican. Collins told the Telegraph, “There are people in the Vatican who do not want to change or understand the need to change. I can’t stick with it any more. They are not co-operating with the commission.” She said it was “soul-destroying” dealing with resistance in the Curia, the Vatican administration, and church officials who did not want to co-operate.
They have that guarantee in place.
What do we do then? What do we do as women? As children?
As victims – no, as survivors – we need two things – 1) The Truth and 2) Each Other.
Speak out! Tell the truth! Tell someone you trust, someone in authority, a teacher, a parent, a friend’s parent.
Defy! Defy any authority that tries to make you do anything you question. Parents tell your children they are free to Disobey any authority that makes them uncomfortable and that you will have their back!
Tell, write, make art, make poetry, make a film, make a YouTube video, but tell your story. Let others know they are not alone and they can be strong.
Fathers, by your actions teach your sons to respect women. Tell your daughters you stand by them.
There’s Hope: Since the International Women’s March protesting the 45th administration, which has not been friendly to women’s and children’s causes and concerns, thousands of women have stepped forward to run for office.
With more women as officials, we can have hope for the future for women and children.
Take courage from Jane Fonda. If this can happen to her, it can happen to any of us. It’s not your fault!
Take heart - we have ourselves and our sisters and brothers-in-arms to fight it.
©Patricia Goodwin, 2017
Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days is her third novel, about the sexual, psychological seduction of Gloria Wisher and her subsequent transformation. Her newest book is Telling Time By Apples, And Other Poems About Life On The Remnants of Olde Humphrey Farme, illustrated by the author.