The Runaways' Jackie Fuchs on Trump, Swans and Sexism in the Music Industry
Since I interviewed Jackie Fuchs for Bitch magazine in August 2015, I have been a little a worried about her. She went through an overwhelmingly vulnerable experience, speaking out against a man who sexually assaulted her, in front of multiple witnesses, 40 years ago, when she was Jackie Fox, a teenage member of pioneering all-girl rock band The Runaways.
Fuchs' story about her 1976 rape at the hands of the band's manager, Kim Fowley, was published by the Huffington Post in July 2015 and received international attention. In the year since, numerous other women in the music industry have come forward with their own stories of sexual abuse and assault, from the many victims of former music publicist Heathcliff Berru to singer-songwriter Larkin Grimm, who was allegedly raped by Swans' Michael Gira in 2008. (I myself came out about being a survivor of sexual abuse, much more quietly, in a short bit of commentary for a piece on trigger warnings in Ms. magazine in 2014.)
Since sharing the story of her rape, Fuchs, now an accomplished entertainment lawyer and freelance writer, has continued to speak out about sexual assault and rape culture. I spoke with her via phone to see how she’s been doing, to get her thoughts on the recent disclosure of Donald Trump’s sexist and abusive behavior, and solicit her advice for young women in the music industry.
It’s safe to assume every women in the United States of America has been triggered from Donald Trump’s comments about groping women’s “pussies.”
I’ve never seen a presidential election that has devolved to this level of name-calling and ... I’m not even sure what to call it. But it’s not new in politics. When you go back to the 19th century, we had an election with one candidate who accused the other of being a “pimp” and his wife of being a “prostitute,” and that candidate responded that the other was a bigamist. Politics can get really ugly. I think that news coverage is so immediate and the opinion is so immediate that there isn’t fact-checking.
People in this country are frustrated, and when people are frustrated they tend to evolve into their worst selves, and unfortunately for a lot of people their worst selves involve unintentional gender discrimination. I don’t think people think they are being antagonistic toward women when people say the women coming forward, accusing Trump of having groped them, are lying. I think they want that to be true, out of frustration with politics. But the problem for me is that they are not aware [that] the way they are expressing it is acting as a huge trigger for thousands of women.
Has the sexism in the current election affected you personally?
When this conversation started to move forward, I found myself being horribly triggered, and I thought that I was really alone in that until I checked my Facebook feed and realized this is happening all over the place.
It wasn’t the original tapes and comments that came out, because in a way they were almost laughable, pumped up and ridiculous. And they were 10 years ago, and I think there were a lot of guys who got very heady with fame 10 years ago and did similar things. It was really Trump’s diminishing of it by calling it “locker room banter” that started setting people off. It’s not locker room banter when you’re talking about “groping,” which is illegal in most states. It is a misdemeanor crime to grab someone’s breasts, genitals or buttocks without their consent.
I think a lot of men have done this ... not serially or for a sense of entitlement but as a matter of misreading cues on a date or when they were a little drunk. We’re not upset with those guys, we’re upset about guys who go through life judging us on our looks rather than our accomplishments and think they’re entitled because of their position to take what they want because they are rich or famous.
When you were a young musician, were you attracted to men in power and rock stars?
I slept with plenty of rock stars back in the day that I probably wouldn’t have been with had they not been rock stars, but I always felt that I was free to choose them. It wasn’t just the fact that they were in rock bands. I was attracted to them in some way. There were guys in rock bands that were much [more famous] that I turned down. You ask first.
MTV just published an article called “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Swans?” after Larkin Grimm accused Swans' lead singer Michael Gira of raping her in 2008. Journalist Sasha Geffen speaks to a number of Swans fans who cite that Gira sings a lot of violent lyrics, forcing them to take note of and acknowledge the rape allegations.
You bring up a good point when you talk about lyrics that contain suggestions of violence and objectification of women. When your fame or shtick is based on objectification of women, you have to take some responsibility for how women are perceived. I stopped watching TMZ, which I thought was a fun show and an easy way to stay up on pop culture, because they talk about women in horrible ways. They’d always have these “Who’d you rather” polls, and that would be OK once in a while when it was mixed in with “Who would you rather spend the rest of your life with?” polls — that would be one thing. It’s always about how the star looks and not about the quality of their work. I think there are little things in pop culture that are subtle, that are not that important individually, but when you add up those messages over and over, women get the message that they're not as capable, that our feelings don’t matter as much and that we just need to be tough enough and suck it up.
My real problem is with all the guys who let the bad people get away with it because the bad guys are famous or popular or bring in a lot of money.
Can you give some advice to women in the music industry and what would it look like to have a balanced industry and community?
The best advice that I can give to young women starting out in the music industry is to do your research and get some people on your team that are going to fight for you and that you trust. And that’s not easy to do, because as soon as someone pays attention to you and wants to represent you, that feeling can be very heady and overwhelming. But also have some friends that you can talk to, because you’re going to encounter some sexism and some bad behavior and you’re going to feel shitty about it. Realize it’s not you, it’s the other person. Having someone to talk to, even if it’s not publicly, is really helpful.
At a certain point you have to say, “This is not OK for my career.”
When I came out with my story, I [got] tons of phone calls from people I hadn’t heard from in years. But you know how many people called me who I worked with in the industry? I can count them on one hand.
This is an industry that needs to not put up with the bad behavior. People who have [seen] bad behavior in the past need to take a good look in the mirror and just do a check on where they are now, and when they know there’s bad behavior going on, they need to stick up for the people who speak up.
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