Icons Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda help women make sense of election

Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem spoke to a group of 1,600 mostly women on Thursday, two days after the 2016 eleciton. (Credit: Cassie Connelly)

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Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem spoke to a group of 1,600 mostly women on Thursday, two days after the 2016 eleciton. (Credit: Cassie Connelly)

Sam Shaffer just voted in her first election. A luncheon with feminist icons Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem as the keynote speakers could not have come at a better time, she said.

Since Tuesday, the senior at the Atlanta Girls School has felt a sad energy sweep across her friends. At school on Wednesday, she said the vibes weren’t very good.

She was most excited to see Fonda, whom she knows from the recent Netflix show “Grace and Frankie” rather than her “Barbarella” days, and to hear from other women that everything was going to be O.K.

Fonda and Steinem spoke to a crowd of 1,600 people, mostly women of all ages, at the Atlanta Women’s Foundation luncheon at the World Congress Center on Thursday.

Shaffer’s classmate, Frances Kelly, 17, was eager to hear from Steinem, a figure her grandmother loved.

The diverse group of students was happy to spend a few hours away from class listening to the consoling words of women who have spent decades working to shatter glass ceilings, the highest of which is still left to crack.

Many women in the audience still wore their “H” and arrow buttons for Hillary Clinton.

The frustration expressed by a number of attendees, like retired professor Anne Harper, was reflected in the straightforward tone of the two speakers.

Harper wore a yellow taffeta blazer decorated with two Hillary buttons and a Georgia Peach “I’m a Georgia Voter” sticker. She said she still felt proud of her candidate.

“But we will have to up our political activism,” she said. “There’s no perfect candidate. There’s no perfect woman candidate.”

She’s been involved with the foundation for over a decade, and she said she hopes groups like it can continue to bring people together, for the sake of her two daughters and three grandchildren.

“For them we have to build a better future,” she said. For Harper, the issue starts with education.

For Fonda and Steinem, the issue starts with raising sons to be sensitive and daughters to be empowered. The two women were the first speakers at the annual event 20 years ago.

“We have to understand why this has happened by talking to people who we don’t agree with,” Fonda said. “It also means we have to raise our sons differently. We have to redefine masculinity so that it’s not toxic.”

Reproductive rights, which Steinem has championed for over 50 years, was another.

“If we didn’t have wombs, we’d be fine,” Steinem said.

Having spoken at the event a generation ago, the two agreed a society that allows women to make their own choices is still not a given. The results of Tuesday’s election confirm the work is far from over.

“There are a lot of people in this country who believe women should not be in power,” Fonda said.

Equality starts with family and community.

“I hope we never again say ‘women can do it all,’” Steinem said. “Because no, nobody can do it all.”

The key to continuously moving forward is to be realistic and not burn out, she said.

“We are trying to overthrow or humanize — depending on the state of your patience — patriarchy, racism, hierarchies of all kind so let’s not expect that it’s going to be fast,” Steinem said.

But the solutions are deep and simple, and need to be implemented at an early age.

“We have to raise not just our daughters more like our sons, but our sons more like our daughters,” Steinem said.

Fonda, who spent about 20 years of her life in Georgia, said a part of their activism going forward will be to work on understanding others.

“I’m always optimistic,” Fonda said. “I think we’re going to be O.K.”