Joan Jett — of Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and The Runaways fame — spoke with Rolling Stone in an extensive interview today, coinciding with the release of a documentary about her life, Bad Reputation. Jett was a trailblazer for women in rock, and speaks to the resilience it took to be that, which she calls “innate.”
During the interview, she was asked about the #MeToo movement and why it seems to be moving slowly when it comes to the music industry. Jett’s answers are in line with her previously expressed stance on the subject, which is very pro-Kim Fowley (the former manager of The Runaways who was accused of rape) and unsympathetic to situations like the public rape that one of her other bandmates, Jackie Fox, detailed to the Huffington Post’s Highline in 2015. When reached for comment about the alleged rape, which multiple witnesses confirmed, Jett denied seeing the event take place, and her representative went as far to refer any further questions to the rape victim, saying: “It’s a matter involving her and she can speak for herself.”
Jett says she thinks that #MeToo is slow in coming to any industry but Hollywood, that she views Kim as a good friend, and when the interviewer brings up the coercion of another of her bandmates, Cherie Currie, to pose in lingerie, claims “nobody was forced to do anything.”
Here are the key passages from the interview:
Considering what you’ve been through between that and the Runaways, why do you think the #MeToo movement has been slow in reaching the music industry?
That’s a really good question. Why has it been slow to hit all the other industries except for Hollywood? As far as I can tell, bad behavior is everywhere you look. We just saw something on the news about a Catholic priest in Pennsylvania where they just printed a bunch of [alleged molesters’] names, but I think the church has done it because they had to. And Hollywood’s done it a little because they had to. I’m sure it’s coming. I just don’t know when the shoe is gonna drop. I’m sure the people who control those mechanisms on when things drop are controlling it. But I’m not sure how that’s done.
The Runaways’ manager, Kim Fowley, exploited the group commercially, sexually and otherwise. How did you come to terms with that as you got older?
Well, I don’t really see things the way the other girls see things. I happened to get along with Kim very well. We were very good friends. He never made me feel uncomfortable. I never felt exploited by him. Maybe that’s another thing that wasn’t clear enough in the film.
Well, there’s the whole sequence where he got your singer, Cherie Currie, to pose in lingerie.
The thing is, these girls could’ve walked away any time if they were uncomfortable. Nobody was forced to do anything. Everybody wanted to be there. Including Cherie. And then with Cherie trying to blame that on Kim… well, we were all there. She did it and she could’ve easily said, “Hey, girls, Kim set up this photo shoot for me. Did he tell you about it?” No, no. She knew. And she knew we’d be upset. And she knew it would cause an issue.
I find a lot of people blame Kim, because he’s dead. So he can’t come and talk about anything. So it’s very easy for the girls to say this or that and I just don’t see it that way. All these people could’ve taken off at any point. Nobody was making anyone stay so if they were uncomfortable and didn’t like it. Why were you hanging out? I don’t get it.
These comments coming on the same day that Dr. Christine Ford Blasey is testifying about her alleged sexual assault at the hands of Supreme Court Justice nominee, Judge Cavanaugh, is a particularly jarring contrast. The way that power dynamics function between a teenage girl and her adult manager, who is exploiting her sexuality for his own financial gain, is not as simple as a question of staying or leaving. As extensive psychological research on abusive situations and abuse of power repeatedly show, victims often feel helpless and unable to break the cycle of abuse. It might now be hard for some to reconcile a film positioning Jett as a groundbreaking female icon in rock, when she’s espousing the same kind of victim-blaming rhetoric that has stood unchallenged for decades now.