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TEDWomen 2015

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin: A hilarious celebration of lifelong female friendship

Filmed:

Legendary duo Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin have been friends for decades. In a raw, tender and wide-ranging conversation hosted by Pat Mitchell, the three discuss longevity, feminism, the differences between male and female friendship, what it means to live well and women's role in future of our planet. "I don't even know what I would do without my women friends," Fonda says. "I exist because I have my women friends."

- Actor and activist
Jane Fonda has had three extraordinary careers (so far): Oscar-winning actor, fitness guru, impassioned activist. Full bio

- Comedian and actor
Lily Tomlin has been honored by the Kennedy Center and awarded the Mark Twain Prize -- and she's still making vital, hilarious comedy. Full bio

Pat Mitchell: So I was thinking
about female friendship a lot,
00:12
and by the way, these two women,
00:15
I'm very honored to say,
00:18
have been my friends
for a very long time, too.
00:19
Jane Fonda: Yes we have.
00:22
PM: And one of the things
that I read about female friendship
00:23
is something that Cervantes said.
00:27
He said, "You can tell
a lot about someone,"
00:28
in this case a woman,
00:32
"by the company that she keeps."
00:33
So let's start with --
00:35
(Laughter)
00:37
JF: We're in big trouble.
00:40
Lily Tomlin: Hand me one of those waters,
00:41
I'm extremely dry.
00:43
(Laughter)
00:45
JF: You're taking up our time.
00:53
We have a very limited --
00:55
LT: Just being with her
sucks the life out of me.
00:56
(Laughter)
00:59
JF: You ain't seen nothing yet.
01:02
Anyway -- sorry.
01:03
PM: So tell me, what do you
look for in a friend?
01:05
LT: I look for someone
who has a sense of fun,
01:09
who's audacious,
01:12
who's forthcoming, who has politics,
01:15
who has even a small scrap
of passion for the planet,
01:18
someone who's decent,
has a sense of justice
01:23
and who thinks I'm worthwhile.
01:26
(Laughter)
01:28
(Applause)
01:30
JF: You know, I was thinking this morning,
01:34
I don't even know what I would do
without my women friends.
01:36
I mean it's, "I have my friends,
therefore I am."
01:39
LT: (Laughter)
01:42
JF: No, it's true.
01:43
I exist because I have
my women friends. They --
01:45
You're one of them.
01:48
I don't know about you. But anyway --
01:49
(Laughter)
01:51
You know, they make me stronger,
they make me smarter,
01:52
they make me braver.
01:55
They tap me on the shoulder when I might
be in need of course-correcting.
01:56
And most of them are
a good deal younger than me, too.
02:01
You know? I mean, it's nice --
LT: Thank you.
02:04
(Laughter)
02:06
JF: No, I do, I include you in that,
because listen, you know --
02:09
it's nice to have somebody still around
to play with and learn from
02:12
when you're getting toward the end.
02:15
I'm approaching --
I'll be there sooner than you.
02:17
LT: No, I'm glad to have you
parallel aging alongside me.
02:19
(Laughter)
02:22
JF: I'm showing you the way.
02:24
(Laughter)
02:26
LT: Well, you are and you have.
02:27
PM: Well, as we grow older,
02:29
and as we go through
different kinds of life's journeys,
02:30
what do you do to keep
your friendships vital and alive?
02:33
LT: Well you have to use a lot of --
02:38
JF: She doesn't invite me over much,
I'll tell you that.
02:39
LT: I have to use a lot of social media --
02:42
You be quiet now. And so --
02:44
(Laughter)
02:46
LT: And I look through my emails,
I look through my texts
02:48
to find my friends,
02:51
so I can answer them
as quickly as possible,
02:52
because I know they need my counsel.
02:54
(Laughter)
02:57
They need my support,
03:00
because most of my friends
are writers, or activists, or actors,
03:01
and you're all three ...
03:04
and a long string
of other descriptive phrases,
03:05
and I want to get to you
as soon as possible,
03:09
I want you to know that I'm there for you.
03:13
JF: Do you do emojis?
03:15
LT: Oh ...
JF: No?
03:17
LT: That's embarrassing.
JF: I'm really into emojis.
03:19
LT: No, I spell out my --
03:21
I spell out my words of happiness
and congratulations,
03:23
and sadness.
03:27
JF: You spell it right out --
03:29
LT: I spell it, every letter.
03:30
(Laughter)
03:32
JF: Such a purist.
03:33
You know, as I've gotten older,
03:35
I've understood more
the importance of friendships,
03:37
and so, I really make an effort
03:40
to reach out and make play dates --
not let too much time go by.
03:42
I read a lot
03:46
so, as Lily knows all too well,
03:48
my books that I like,
I send to my friends.
03:50
LT: When we knew we would be here today
03:52
you sent me a lot of books
about women, female friendships,
03:54
and I was so surprised
to see how many books,
03:56
how much research
has been done recently --
04:00
JF: And were you grateful?
LT: I was grateful.
04:02
(Laughter)
04:05
PM: And --
04:10
LT: Wait, no, it's really important
because this is another example
04:11
of how women are overlooked,
put aside, marginalized.
04:14
There's been very little
research done on us,
04:18
even though we volunteered lots of times.
04:21
JF: That's for sure.
04:23
(Laughter)
04:24
LT: This is really exciting,
and you all will be interested in this.
04:26
The Harvard Medical School study has shown
04:30
that women who have
close female friendships
04:32
are less likely to develop impairments --
04:37
physical impairments as they age,
04:40
and they are likely to be seen
to be living much more vital, exciting --
04:42
JF: And longer --
04:48
LT: Joyful lives.
04:49
JF: We live five years longer than men.
04:50
LT: I think I'd trade the years for joy.
04:52
(Laughter)
04:54
LT: But the most important
part is they found --
04:58
the results were so exciting
and so conclusive --
05:01
the researchers found
05:04
that not having close female friends
is detrimental to your health,
05:06
as much as smoking or being overweight.
05:12
JF: And there's something else, too --
05:15
LT: I've said my part, so ...
05:17
(Laughter)
05:18
JF: OK, well, listen to my part,
because there's an additional thing.
05:19
Because they only --
for years, decades --
05:23
they only researched men when they
were trying to understand stress,
05:25
only very recently have they researched
what happens to women when we're stressed,
05:30
and it turns out
that when we're stressed -- women,
05:34
our bodies get flooded by oxytocin.
05:38
Which is a feel-good, calming,
stress-reducing hormone.
05:42
Which is also increased
when we're with our women friends.
05:45
And I do think that's one reason
why we live longer.
05:50
And I feel so bad for men
because they don't have that.
05:54
Testosterone in men
diminishes the effects of oxytocin.
05:56
LT: Well, when you and I
and Dolly made "9 to 5" ...
06:01
JF: Oh --
06:04
LT: We laughed, we did,
we laughed so much,
06:05
we found we had so much in common
and we're so different.
06:07
Here she is, like Hollywood royalty,
06:10
I'm like a tough kid from Detroit,
06:12
[Dolly's] a Southern kid
from a poor town in Tennessee,
06:14
and we found we were so in sync as women,
06:18
and we must have --
06:22
we laughed -- we must have added
at least a decade onto our lifespans.
06:23
JF: I think -- we sure
crossed our legs a lot.
06:29
(Laughter)
06:32
If you know what I mean.
06:34
LT: I think we all know what you mean.
06:37
(Laughter)
06:39
PM: You're adding decades
to our lives right now.
06:41
So among the books that Jane
sent us both to read on female friendship
06:44
was one by a woman we admire greatly,
Sister Joan Chittister,
06:49
who said about female friendship
06:53
that women friends
are not just a social act,
06:55
they're a spiritual act.
06:59
Do you think of your friends as spiritual?
07:01
Do they add something
spiritual to your lives?
07:03
LT: Spiritual -- I absolutely think that.
07:06
Because -- especially people
you've known a long time,
07:10
people you've spent time with --
07:13
I can see the spiritual
essence inside them,
07:14
the tenderness, the vulnerability.
07:17
There's actually kind of a love,
an element of love in the relationship.
07:22
I just see deeply into your soul.
07:26
PM: Do you think that, Jane --
07:30
LT: But I have special powers.
07:31
JF: Well, there's all kinds of friends.
07:34
There's business friends,
and party friends,
07:36
I've got a lot of those.
07:38
(Laughter)
07:40
But the oxytocin-producing
friendships have ...
07:42
They feel spiritual
because it's a heart opening, right?
07:47
You know, we go deep. And --
07:51
I find that I shed tears a lot
with my intimate friends.
07:54
Not because I'm sad but because
I'm so touched and inspired by them.
08:01
LT: And you know one of you
is going to go soon.
08:06
(Laughter)
08:09
PM: Well, two of us are sitting here,
Lily, which one are you talking about?
08:14
(Laughter)
08:19
And I always think, when women
talk about their friendships,
08:20
that men always look a little mystified.
08:23
What are the differences, in your opinion,
08:26
between men friendships
and women friendships?
08:29
JF: There's a lot of difference,
08:32
and I think we have to have
a lot of empathy for men --
08:34
(Laughter)
08:37
that they don't have what we have.
08:38
Which I think may be why they die sooner.
08:43
(Laughter)
08:45
I have a lot of compassion for men,
08:47
because women, no kidding, we --
08:49
women's relationships, our friendships
are full disclosure, we go deep.
08:53
They're revelatory.
08:59
We risk vulnerability --
this is something men don't do.
09:01
I mean how many times
have I asked you, "Am I doing OK?"
09:06
"Did I really screw up there?"
09:09
PM: You're doing great.
09:11
(Laughter)
09:13
JF: But I mean, we ask questions like that
09:14
of our women friends,
09:17
and men don't.
09:18
You know, people describe women's
relationships as face-to-face,
09:20
whereas men's friendships
are more side-by-side.
09:24
LT: I mean most of the time
men don't want to reveal their emotions,
09:27
they want to bury deeper feelings.
09:31
I mean, that's the general,
conventional thought.
09:33
They would rather go off in their man cave
and watch a game or hit golf balls,
09:36
or talk about sports,
or hunting, or cars or have sex.
09:40
I mean, it's just the kind of --
it's a more manly behavior.
09:45
JF: You meant --
LT: They talk about sex.
09:48
I meant they might have sex
09:51
if they could get somebody
in their man cave to --
09:52
(Laughter)
09:55
JF: You know something, though,
that I find very interesting --
09:58
and again, psychologists didn't know this
until relatively recently --
10:01
is that men are born every bit
as relational as women are.
10:06
If you look at films
of newborn baby boys and girls,
10:09
you'll see the baby boys
just like the girls,
10:13
gazing into their mother's eyes,
10:15
you know, needing that relational
exchange of energy.
10:18
When the mother looks away,
they could see the dismay on the child,
10:22
even the boy would cry.
10:27
They need relationship.
10:28
So the question is why,
as they grow older, does that change?
10:30
And the answer is patriarchal culture,
10:34
which says to boys and young men
10:37
that to be needing of relationship,
to be emotional with someone is girly.
10:40
That a real man doesn't ask
directions or express a need,
10:45
they don't go to doctors if they feel bad.
10:51
They don't ask for help.
10:53
There's a quote that I really like,
10:55
"Men fear that becoming 'we'
will erase his 'I'."
10:56
You know, his sense of self.
11:01
Whereas women's sense of self
has always been kind of porous.
11:03
But our "we" is our saving grace,
11:07
it's what makes us strong.
11:11
It's not that we're better than men,
11:14
we just don't have
our masculinity to prove.
11:15
LT: And, well --
11:18
JF: That's a Gloria Steinem quote.
11:19
So we can express our humanity --
LT: I know who Gloria Steinem is.
11:21
JF: I know you know who she is,
but I think it's a --
11:24
(Laughter)
11:27
No, but it's a great quote, I think.
11:29
We're not better than men, we just
don't have our masculinity to prove.
11:31
And that's really important.
11:35
LT: But men are
so inculcated in the culture
11:36
to be comfortable in the patriarchy.
11:39
And we've got to make
something different happen.
11:42
JF: Women's friendships
are like a renewable source of power.
11:45
LT: Well, that's what's exciting
about this subject.
11:49
It's because our friendships --
11:52
female friendships
are just a hop to our sisterhood,
11:53
and sisterhood can be
a very powerful force,
11:58
to give the world --
12:01
to make it what it should be --
12:03
the things that humans desperately need.
12:05
PM: It is why we're talking about it,
12:08
because women's friendships are,
12:10
as you said, Jane,
12:12
a renewable source of power.
12:13
So how do we use that power?
12:15
JF: Well, women are the fastest growing
demographic in the world,
12:17
especially older women.
12:21
And if we harness our power,
we can change the world.
12:22
And guess what? We need to.
12:26
(Applause)
12:28
And we need to do it soon.
12:30
And one of the things
that we need to do --
12:31
and we can do it as women --
12:34
for one thing, we kind of set
the consumer standards.
12:35
We need to consume less.
12:38
We in the Western world
need to consume less
12:41
and when we buy things, we need to
buy things that are made locally,
12:44
when we buy food, we need to buy food
that's grown locally.
12:47
We are the ones
that need to get off the grid.
12:50
We need to make ourselves
independent from fossil fuels.
12:53
And the fossil fuel companies --
12:59
the Exxons and the Shell Oils
and those bad guys --
13:01
cause they are --
13:04
are going to tell us that we can't do it
without going back to the Stone Age.
13:05
You know, that the alternatives
just aren't quite there yet,
13:09
and that's not true.
13:12
There are countries in the world right now
13:14
that are living mostly on renewable
energy and doing just fine.
13:16
And they tell us that if we do
wean ourselves from fossil fuel
13:19
that we're going to be
back in the Stone Age,
13:23
and in fact, if we begin
to use renewable energy,
13:25
and not drill in the Arctic,
and not drill --
13:30
LT: Oh, boy.
13:32
JF: And not drill
in the Alberta tar sands --
13:33
Right.
13:35
That we will be --
13:36
there will be more democracy
and more jobs and more well-being,
13:38
and it's women that are
going to lead the way.
13:41
LT: Maybe we have the momentum
to start a third-wave feminist movement
13:43
with our sisterhood around the world,
13:48
with women we don't see,
women we may never meet,
13:50
but we join together that way,
13:53
because --
13:56
Aristotle said --
13:57
most people --
13:59
people would die without male friendships.
14:01
And the operative word here was "male."
14:04
Because they thought that friendships
should be between equals
14:07
and women were not considered equal --
14:10
JF: They didn't think
we had souls even, the Greeks.
14:12
LT: No, exactly. That shows you
just how limited Aristotle was.
14:15
(Laughter)
14:18
And wait, no, here's the best part.
14:21
It's like, you know,
men do need women now.
14:23
The planet needs women.
14:27
The US Constitution needs women.
14:29
We are not even in the Constitution.
14:31
JF: You're talking about
the Equal Rights Amendment.
14:34
LT: Right.
14:37
Justice Ginsberg said something like --
14:38
every constitution that's been written
since the end of World War II
14:43
included a provision that made women
citizens of equal stature,
14:47
but ours does not.
14:52
So that would be a good place to start.
14:54
Very, very mild --
14:56
JF: Right.
14:58
(Applause)
14:59
And gender equality, it's like a tide,
15:02
it would lift all boats, not just women.
15:04
PM: Needing new role models
on how to do that.
15:06
How to be friends,
15:09
how to think about our power
in different ways,
15:10
as consumers,
15:13
as citizens of the world,
15:15
and this is what makes Jane and Lily
15:16
a role model of how
women can be friends --
15:19
for a very long time,
15:21
and even if they occasionally disagree.
15:23
Thank you.
15:25
Thank you both.
15:28
(Applause)
15:29
JF: Thanks.
15:30
LT: Thank you.
15:35
JF: Thank you.
15:36
(Applause)
15:38

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About the speakers:

Jane Fonda - Actor and activist
Jane Fonda has had three extraordinary careers (so far): Oscar-winning actor, fitness guru, impassioned activist.

Why you should listen

Jane Fonda is an actor, author, producer and activist supporting environmental issues, peace and female empowerment. She founded the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, and established the Jane Fonda Center for Adolescent Reproductive Health at  Emory. She cofounded the Women’s Media Center, and sits on the board of V-Day, a global effort to stop violence against women and girls.

Fonda's remarkable screen and stage career includes two Best Actress Oscars, an Emmy, a Tony Award nomination and an Honorary Palme d’Or from the Cannes Film Festival. Offstage, she revolutionized the fitness industry in the 1980s with Jane Fonda’s Workout — the all-time top-grossing home video. She has written a best-selling memoir, My Life So Far, and Prime Time, a comprehensive guide to living life to the fullest.

More profile about the speaker
Jane Fonda | Speaker | TED.com
Lily Tomlin - Comedian and actor
Lily Tomlin has been honored by the Kennedy Center and awarded the Mark Twain Prize -- and she's still making vital, hilarious comedy.

Why you should listen

Throughout her extraordinary career, Lily Tomlin has won seven Emmys; a Tony for her one-woman Broadway show, Appearing Nitely; a second Tony for Best Actress; a Drama Desk Award and an Outer Critics' Circle Award for her one-woman performance in Jane Wagner’s The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe; a Grammy for her comedy album, This Is a Recording; and two Peabody Awards, the first for the ABC television special, Edith Ann’s Christmas: Just Say Noël, and the second for narrating and executive producing the HBO film, The Celluloid Closet. In 2003, she received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, and in December 2014 she was the recipient of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors in Washington DC.

She made her film debut in Robert Altman's Nashville, and gave a generation-defining performance alongside Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda in the workplace revenge comedy 9 to 5.

More profile about the speaker
Lily Tomlin | Speaker | TED.com