March 3, 2001
Fonda Donates $12.5 Million for Gender Center at Harvard
By KATE ZERNIKE
CAMBRIDGE, Mass., March 1
Jane Fonda's off-screen passions have been as varied as the antiwar
movement and aerobics. Now, she has a new cause: education, in particular
how boys and girls learn differently.
To that end, Ms. Fonda came here today to announce that she was giving
$12.5 million to the Harvard Graduate School of Education to set up the
Center on Gender and Education, dedicated to examining how children's
development and learning are influenced by gender.
In an interview at the Harvard Faculty Club, Ms. Fonda said she had come to
believe that traditional sex roles affected a variety of educational
questions including why boys are twice as likely to be on Ritalin and why
middle school girls stop speaking up in class.
"For too long, it's been 'Boys will be boys,' and 'It's just a hormonal
thing' for girls," Ms. Fonda said. "It's much more than that, and that's
what we want to get at."
"I believe of all the things Harvard has researched conflict resolution,
racism this is the hardest, because it is so intimate," Ms. Fonda said.
A two-time Academy Award winner, Ms. Fonda said she realized how many
public policy issues had to be viewed through the lens of sex after
attending United Nations conferences on population growth, in Cairo, and on
women, in Beijing.
Last year, Timothy E. Wirth, a former United States senator with whom Ms.
Fonda had attended the conferences and who was then organizing policy
seminars for Harvard, asked her to speak at the education school. Before
she did, she reread Carol Gilligan's "In a Different Voice," which in 1982
established as psychological credo the notion that girls who were, as Ms.
Fonda said, "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed" at age 9, began to censor
themselves by age 13. In that speech, she challenged the education school
to do something about the problem.
"The old fuddy-duddies just stood up and raved," said Jerome T. Murphy,
dean of the education school, referring to Ms. Fonda's speech last year.
"She just really wowed a lot of people more than they anticipated."
By last week, Ms. Fonda had come up with the money to pay for her
challenge. The center at Harvard will bring together researchers,
psychologists and educators to develop strategies for strengthening the
resilience of both boys and girls against the pressures of traditional sex
roles. Part of the Fonda gift will set up an endowed professorship in the
name of Dr. Gilligan, who is the school's first endowed chair of gender
The study of sex and education has traditionally focused on girls. But the
new focus is on boys. Ms. Fonda, in fact, was here today to attend a
conference on boys and education. As much as girls are taught in
adolescence to be docile and to look for a man, she said, boys are taught
by age 5 to be unemotional, "manly and strong."
"I don't think women suffer any more than men do," Ms. Fonda said. "In some
ways I think men suffer more. The damage done to boys and men as a result
of these gender strictures is very profound."
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