Maybe you don’t know her, maybe you’ve only heard her name, but if you’re a fan of classic rock music, you definitely know who she is. Joan Jett is on of the most iconic women in music history, a creator of many rock anthems, and a fabulous musician. She’s even been named the best female guitarist ever.
That’s not all, as a girl who fought to built her career as a female rockstar in the 70’s, she was then and still is today, a feminist role model that many girls look up to. There are a number of reasons why she’s embodied the role of a feminist icon and for International Women’s Day we wanted to focus on a few of them.
“Being told that girls can’t play rock ‘n’ roll-I mean, even as a kid, it was so illogical to me-it’s like, what do you mean? That girls can’t master the instruments? I’m in school with girls playing cello and violin and Beethoven and Bach. You don’t mean they can’t master the instrument. What you mean is they’re not allowed, socially-it’s a societal thing.” -Joan Jett to Interview Magazine, 2010.
3. She made a name for herself in a man’s world.
Joan Marie Larkin was born in 1958 in the U.S. and lived her childhood in a world already taken by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Some believed that girls had zero chances of making it big in the rock industry. Only a few women had the guts to take an instrument and step on a stage and one of them was Suzi Quatro, Joan’s biggest idol. She knew that’s what she wanted to do, so she took a guitar at age 14 and started taking lessons. However, after her teacher ignored her petition to learn how to play rock and roll because she said a woman couldn’t play electric guitar as good as a man, Joan quit.
By that time there were already some rock bands that included women in their formation, but Joan wanted more. She held onto her electric guitar and started the biggest all-girl rockband: The Runaways. Made up of Sandy West, Jackie Fox, Lita Ford, and Cherie Currie, Joan and The Runaways quickly made a name for themselves. After Cherrie left the band, Joan took the lead for two years before The Runaways split up.
“The Runaways was so special to me and meant so much, beyond just girls playing rock ‘n’ roll. I think it represented a lot to me about following your dreams, about not being dictated to about what your life is going to be. Girls see these defined roles they’re supposed to follow in life, but when I was a young child, my parents told me I could be anything.”
2. She proved that a girl can do anything she sets her mind to do
“A girl can do what she wants to do, and that’s what I’m gonna do”
The Runaways’ split didn’t stop Joan, instead, she took her guitar once again and started writing. With the help of producer Kenny Laguna, her first solo material was ready a short time later. This album, simply titled “Joan Jett”, was rejected by 23 labels, so she launched her own record label: Blackheart Records, becoming the first female artist to own an independent record company.
The album was released again later under the name of “Bad Reputation”, the song with the same name was a major hit for Joan. She said, “Bad Reputation” referred to the bad girl image she gained with The Runaways. She kept that image with her highly successful new band: Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. Their cover of The Arrows’ song “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” reached #1 on Billboard and remained there for seven weeks. She also performed with punk legends like the Sex Pistols.
1. She left a lasting impression for future generations to look up to
“Not just in music, not just about rock ‘n’ roll and girls in rock ‘n’ roll, but across the board about how women are looked at and how, if they try to be sexual or use their sexuality in a powerful way, they’re judged much differently than men.”
We can still see it today: all too often girlbands are never deemed as successful as boybands. If a girl sings about sex the same way a boy does, she’ll be shamed immediately, it seems like male rock singers can have a big fanbase just by their talent, but a girl has to be pretty to be successful. Sadly, those are just a few examples of sexism in the music industry. This was even more difficult in the middle of the 20th century when women had to fight even harder to prove their worth. In the 80’s the police could arrest you in some countries just for attend to punk concerts, imagine how hard it was for a woman in the 70’s to build a career in rock and roll.
After all the times she was told as a teenager that she could never be as good as men rockers, Joan Jett is now known as “The Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “The Godmother of Punk”. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 and still motivates little girls to ask for guitar lessons. Joan stands as an inspiration for teen girls all across the world when starting their own bands.
Joan Jett is one of the women who made it big, alongside Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson – just to name a few. Being part of the movement that opened doors for young women in rock n roll made Joan a legend in her own time. For this, Joan remains a feminist icon and a fighter that helped raise girl power with strident notes to the beat of a headbang.