An Open Letter to Rose McGowan About Discussion in the #MeToo Movement

I have been a fan of Rose McGowan for a long time. Even before the #metoo movement began.

From Scream to Charmed, I considered her to be an actress who typically played strong characters who weren’t afraid to own their voice and their sexuality. Heck, to this day, I still have a poster of her in Planet Terror on my wall!

And when the #metoo movement began, and McGowan stepped forward to be a leading voice for it, I was proud of her. I was watching someone who I admired become the character that I had always perceived her to be – the strong, outspoken woman who demanded to be heard. I loved it. And I still firmly and unabashedly respect what she is trying to do, so I mean absolutely no offence to her or to her message when I write this.

But, lately, I’ve been noticing a few points worthy of criticism about the way that McGowan is presenting her message.

The first time I noticed this, it was in an interview McGowan did with Nightline, where she describes her sexual assault in great detail (and, yes, consider this a trigger warning: watch the interview at your own discretion). In the interview, the point was raised that some people have been asking why victims of sexual assault didn’t just fight their attacker off, and McGowan was asked what she thought about that. “A lot of people are also stupid. That would be my response,” McGowan said.

As a feminist who writes about feminism on the internet, I… cringed. I mean, I completely and fully understand why McGowan would say this – 100 percent. If you watch the video, you can tell that McGowan is extremely hurt by the sexual assault, and has been for years. And, not only that, she has had to deal with frustrating comments from hundreds of inconsiderate people who are incapable of understanding what happened to her, and as McGowan continues on to say, “it’s not [her] fault you can’t put yourself in the shoes of someone who’s been terrorized repeatedly”. I understand that, and I’m not saying that McGowan should feel any differently than she does.

But this is an emotional response, first and foremost. And she has presented this emotional response in a public forum, in connection to an issue that many people have strong feelings about. And from my personal experience, I know that you need to be downright strategic to do that properly.

You cannot start a discussion with, “yeah, well, you’re stupid”. That closes people with different opinions off from your argument. They won’t care what you say next, because they’ll be so lost in their own insult that they won’t understand the rest. And that’s a problem when your purpose is to try to change the world. People won’t hear what you have to say if they’re so busy being offended by it.

But, like I said, I understood McGowan’s feelings, and I understood why she said what she did. So I was willing to shrug it off.

Until I heard something else that bothered me so much more.

In a recent book event that McGowan did at a Barnes & Noble in New York City, McGowan entered into a screaming match with a transgender woman who didn’t approve of McGowan’s focus when it came to this issue. Specifically, she wanted to know how transgender women fit into McGowan’s take on the #metoo movement.

This is not the first time that McGowan has been criticized for her views on transgender women. In an episode of RuPaul’s podcast “What’s the Tee”, McGowan made a few comments that many perceived to be transphobic, and McGowan has also made several transphobic comments toward Caitlyn Jenner. And this, naturally, concerned the transgender woman at McGowan’s book event – because, as I stated before, McGowan is a leading figure in the #metoo movement right now.

“I have a suggestion. Talk about what you said on RuPaul. Trans women are dying and you said that we, as trans women, are not like regular women. We get raped more often. We go through domestic violence more often. There was a trans woman killed here a few blocks [away],” the woman said.

And this is true. Trans women do get raped at an alarming rate. One in two transgender women are sexually abused or assaulted at some point in their life, compared to one in four women in the general population.

So, yes, transgender women do deserve a voice in this movement. McGowan, however, denied this woman her voice. The two women screamed at one another for some time until the transgender woman was forced out of the building by security. McGowan then continued to rage about what happened on stage for a long while, getting her final word in that, “I might have information you want. I might know shit that you don’t. So f*cking shut up. Please systemically. For once. In the world.”

But the problem, Rose McGowan, is that transgender women are forced to ‘shut up’ all the time in our society. That’s part of the problem.

And that’s part of what I’m beginning to take issue with when it comes to Rose McGowan’s approach to the #metoo movement: she isn’t willing to create a discussion. Not when the discussion is difficult and frustrating and seemingly endless, and not when the discussion makes sense either. She’s just too hurt and too defensive to do it.

And I get it – I do, I understand and respect her pain. But cutting off discussion could have massive negative implications for the #metoo movement as a whole.

If you aren’t willing to answer the tedious questions, then those who ask them will never receive the answer, and they’ll never be forced to consider the question. They’ll just stalk off, angry at being called ‘stupid’, and they’ll cut themselves off from the movement altogether. They won’t help. They won’t contribute. That’s a whole demographic that has simply been lost, because a discussion wasn’t allowed.

And if you aren’t willing to consider the possibility that there might be more sides to this issue than the one you have experienced, then you cut out even more people from the movement – people who would be guaranteed allies if you’d just let them. But if you won’t talk to them, or see things from their perspective, then you alienate them. You cast them out. You make this movement smaller than it needs to be, while simultaneously allowing trans women to continue to be abused.

And, Rose McGowan, please hear me when I say: just because transgender women are, statistically, sexually abused more often than cis gendered women are, that doesn’t invalidate what happened to you. What happened to you remains atrocious and unacceptable, and I applaud you for fighting against it. But you can’t just fight for yourself, not when you’ve taken on the mantle of leading the #metoo movement. You need to fight for all women – regardless of the genitalia they were born with. You need to help us create a world where all women are safe from this.

And part of creating that world is through discussion. Tedious, difficult, and sometimes humbling discussion. I understand that you are hurting, and I’m sorry for that, but this can’t be a black-and-white, us-versus-them issue. You can’t just silence and disregard everyone who doesn’t agree with you. You need to hear them out, and if you still stand by what you believe, then you need to explain to them why you believe that.

Imagine how different the Barnes & Noble event would have gone if, instead of screaming at the woman in question, you listened to what she had to say, and then you spoke to her as an equal? You tried to understand her. You tried to be understood. No one right and no one wrong – just two women who had both been hurt by an unfair society that needs to be challenged.

That’s what needs to happen. That’s how the #metoo movement is going to begin doing some real, lasting good in the world. Because I still believe it can. But not if we don’t allow discussion.

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Why You Can’t Give Up On the #MeToo Movement

Dear women and men everywhere: please, please, please do not give up on the #metoo movement.

I think that most of us can at least agree that the #metoo movement started out with great intentions: to discuss and challenge sexual harassment and sexual assault. Something that a shocking and, quite frankly, disgusting amount of women deal with in their everyday life, if the amount of women who shared their story with the hashtag says anything.

But since the #metoo movement’s formation, it has gone on to challenge other, more abstract ideas, like, for example, rape culture. The first time that this was brought up was in an allegation about Aziz Ansari, wherein a woman by the name of Grace accused him of pushing for sex well passed her comfort zone and taking no heed of her attempts to dissuade him.

This seemed to be the beginning of the breaking point for many people who previously supported the #metoo movement.

Because what Aziz Ansari did is not illegal. It’s just creepy, and entitled, and generally not okay. But not illegal.

This prompted some to take the opinion that the #metoo movement is turning into a ‘witch hunt’, wherein any innocent man at any moment can be accused of sexual assault, and his entire life will immediately be ruined because of it.

I have seen some bring up the question of whether or not accusations like this should even be allowed to enter into the #metoo movement, or if it cheapens the whole discussion.

I have even seen some who once agreed with the #metoo movement try to distance themselves from it, even call it disgusting. Heck, Wendy Williams recently went on television to say that she was “sick of it”.

But I still think that the #metoo movement is very important. And not just because of what it started out as (although that is a crucial part of it). I think that the later discussions surrounding rape culture are also hugely important.

Please. Hear me out.

Because what Aziz Ansari did is not illegal. He should not go to jail for it. He should not be persecuted or fired or whatever else people are worried will happen to him because Grace dared to speak out. But what Aziz Ansari did does speak to a larger issue that exists in our society, one that I have mentioned twice now: rape culture.

This accusation that Grace put forth fits perfectly into our society’s idea that men are supposed to pursue sex, at all costs, while women are supposed to withhold it. Men are told, essentially before puberty, that their masculinity is connected with how many women they manage to sleep with. And if a woman says that she doesn’t want to – well then, that’s all part of the script, isn’t it? The script that’s been put forth by every romantic comedy and love story that’s ever been written. Men chase. Women ‘protect their virtue’. It’s a tale as old as time.

But the problem with this tale is that it isn’t romantic. It’s sexual harassment. It normalizes something that’s actually really disturbing, and we just accept it as the common, everyday narrative. Because it is that engrained in our society.

Do I think that Aziz Ansari is a garbage human being who deserves to be crucified? No, of course not. But I do think that he has become an example of something that is shockingly prevalent in our society – so prevalent that it has happened to literally every women. And this is something that we need to talk about. We need to challenge the script and write a new one. There’s a better love story to be told, and it’s dependant on mutual consent and enthusiasm.

But I’ve also heard many people worry about what will happen to these men who are told that their behaviour is creepy and needs to be challenged. Isn’t it scary to think that any well-meaning man can, at any moment, be told that he’s making a woman feel uncomfortable and he needs to stop?

Well, no. No, it isn’t. Because voicing discomfort is something that’s normal in most other facets of society. In fact, it’s important, so that the other party can then correct their behaviour and no longer be creepy.

Let’s give an example: if I were having a conversation with a man, and he was standing too close to me, then I would not hesitate at all to say, “hey, man, you’re standing too close to me”, and hopefully his response would be to say, “oh, sorry” and take a step back. If the man’s response was to say, “oh my god, I can’t believe you think I’m standing too close to you, I’m just trying to talk to you, jeeze, men can’t even talk to women anymore, can they?” then that is weird. That is not fair to me. That is forcing me to endure discomfort for the simple reason that he doesn’t like being told to correct his behaviour.

Of course, this isn’t a perfect analogy, because standing too close to someone is not the same thing as sexual harassment. So maybe let’s try something a little more direct.

I am a queer woman. I occasionally flirt with and check out women. And if I were to do this, and make the woman that I am checking out or flirting with feel uncomfortable, then I sincerely, genuinely hope that she would tell me. Seriously. I’m not just saying this for the point of my argument. Because, end of day, when I am flirting with a woman, my purpose is not to make her feel uncomfortable. Quite the opposite, in fact. And if she tells me that she doesn’t like what I’m doing, then I like to think that I will stop doing it immediately, because I know she doesn’t like it. And maybe I will be a little bit disappointed if this means flat-out rejection, but you know what? My disappointment doesn’t matter more than her autonomy.

So, personally, I like the direction that the #metoo movement is going in. I think that it has the potential to, quite literally, change the entire world if we let it. Because rape culture is a disease that has infected literally every aspect of our society. It’s in our movies. It’s in the way that we speak to our children. It’s in the way that we dismiss victims of sexual assault when they come forward. So, as much as it saddens me that this seems to be the breaking point for many supporters of the #metoo movement, it also doesn’t surprise me: rape culture is so engrained into our culture that it’s deemed normal at this point.

But, even after everything I’ve said, you still might not agree with me. You might still think that the #metoo movement is moving into dangerous, vigilante territory. And if that’s the case, then I still beg you not to give up on the movement as a whole. Because the movement still has incredible value, even if the only thing you want to focus on is the cases where actual laws are broken.

And if you don’t like the way the movement is going – then change it. Add your voice to the discussion, supporting the things that you believe in. Movements like these change all the time. They shift and they mutate, all depending on the issues that the majority want to focus on at the time. Feminism is a good example of this; if it hadn’t changed over time, we’d still be fighting for the rights of white, straight, cisgender women alone (I mean, there are still sections of feminism that do this, but you get my point). A lot of voices mean a lot of different opinions. And we are going to need a lot of voices in a movement like this.

And while you stand up for what you believe in, I’ll stand up for my own beliefs. We all need to keep talking, and keep fighting for this, because as I said, so long as we do, we quite literally have the chance to change the world.

Why Toxic Masculinity Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

I’ve used the term ‘toxic masculinity’ now and again when discussing feminism, and I’m always slightly surprised by the reaction that I get.

It doesn’t seem to matter the context in which I use the term. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I explain what the term means. Every single time I bring it up, there is always at least one person who hears what I’m saying and they think that I mean that men are toxic. They assume that I am saying that men are all evil, and they are to blame for all the negative things that exist in this world.

Which isn’t what I mean. At all. Honestly, some of my best friends are men.

No? Not buying that blatant excuse? Okay, I guess I’ll have to explain a little further then.

So, in order to understand what I mean when I say ‘toxic masculinity’, you’re going to need to understand the feminist theory that gender is performative. First put forth by feminist scholar Judith Butler, this theory essentially states that gender is not what’s between your legs or what comes naturally to you as a human being – gender is a performance, and we are all given the script from infancy. And by the time that we’re adults, we are so accustomed to performing our parts that we don’t even realize we’re performing them anymore.

So a lot of the ways that we perform our gender – the way we dress, the things we say, the thoughts that cross our minds – they are all learned behaviour. Women aren’t more emotional by nature; women are perceived as more emotional because women are encouraged to discuss their feelings whereas men are discouraged from doing the same.

You may agree with this. You may not. But this is the theory that toxic masculinity rests on.

Because what the theory of toxic masculinity argues is that some of the behaviours that men are taught to engage in to prove their masculinity are, in fact, toxic.

And I don’t only mean toxic to other people – although it is certainly that. From a very young age, men are told that violence and domination are two surefire ways to prove that they are men. In our media, you are much more likely to see men solve their problems by punching them than by discussing them, and you are much more likely to see men respond to rejection with harassment than with genuine understanding. And this has contributed to a society where 99 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence are men. Men are also responsible for 98 percent of mass shootings and 90 percent of murders.

And women are not the only ones who are victimized by male violence (although that fact shouldn’t make you care any more or less about the fact that this is happening). Although one in four women will face domestic violence at some point in her life, 68 percent of homicide victims are men.

So, yeah, violence and domination is a real-life problem that affects all of us for the worst. And yet, that doesn’t seem to stop our media and our society from telling boys that violence and domination is one way to prove that you are a man.

But this is just one form of toxic behaviour that men might engage in to prove their masculinity. There are so many more.

For example, men are told from a young age that “real men don’t cry”. They’re told that nobody cares about their emotions, so “toughen up” and “be a man”. So, of course, to prove their masculinity, men will suppress their emotions and avoid talking about them. And perhaps because of this, depression in men goes woefully under diagnosed, despite the fact that men are four times more likely to die by suicide than women.

Men are also told from a young age that “real men” are “players” and “lady-killers”. They get all the women, all the time, and women love them. This contributes to this idea of women as conquests and trophies, yes, but it also contributes to this idea that a “real man” is heterosexual, and intensely interested in sex.

Men are told that “real men” have big penises, despite the fact that trans-men are not born with penises.

Men are told that “real men” are muscular, which contributes to poor body image for men who do not feel that they fit that image.

Men are told that “real men” are white – in fact, Asian-American men are frequently emasculated in our media.

This is what I am referring to when I say ‘toxic masculinity’. I am not saying that men are evil. I am not saying that men are toxic. I am saying that society has put in place certain methods by which men are expected to prove their masculinity, and many of these methods are toxic – to the men who do not live up to these expectations, to the men who do, and to everyone else around them.

And this is part of why I believe that it is important for us to talk about toxic masculinity, even despite the negative connotation that many have ascribed to the discussion. Because in recent news, we have had multiple movements that discuss some of the unfortunate side-effects of toxic masculinity, such as the #metoo movement and Bell Let’s Talk Day, but we haven’t been discussing the matter directly.

And if we are going to make some actual, lasting changes, we need to talk about it. We need to stop telling boys to bottle up their emotions, or to fix problems through violence. We as a society – men and women alike – need to change the definition of what a “real man” is, and we start by changing the way that we talk to men and boys about their masculinity.

Because there are so many ways to be a “real man”. Real men identify as men – that’s literally the end of it. And that means that real men do whatever the hell they want, so long as what they do doesn’t hurt others or themselves.

“Why Didn’t She Just Say No?”

“Why didn’t she just say no?”

I’ve heard this question come up, again and again, especially in the wake of the #metoo movement.

I’ve heard this question come up in response to the allegations against Aziz Ansari. A woman going by the name of Grace explained going on a date and engaging in a sexual encounter with him, which left her feeling ignored and violated. This story was quickly picked up by the #metoo movement as an example of rape culture, and has since faced plenty of criticism by people who think that this story devalues the #metoo movement.

After all, why didn’t she just say no?

And when this question is asked, I find myself going back to all those stories that I’ve heard about the women who did say no.

I think of Raelynn Vincent, who did not respond to a man when he began catcalling her. At this point, the man got out of his car and punched her in the face, breaking her jaw and her teeth.

I think of Lisa and Anna Trubnikova, who were both shot by Adrian Loya, Lisa’s coworker who became obsessed with her and began pursuing her romantically. When Lisa showed no interest in him, he murdered her and seriously wounded her wife, Anna.

I think of Mary Spears, who was shot and killed when she refused to give a man her phone number.

And, yes, I know that not all men will respond with violence to the word “no”, but that doesn’t erase the fact that we have all heard these stories. That doesn’t erase the fact that women are socialized to not say no to men, especially if they don’t know him all that well. Because it is an all-too common narrative for men to respond with violence, and no woman wants to be the one who says “no” to the wrong man.

But maybe that’s sexist of me, right? I mean, not all men beat women, and some would argue that it’s misandry for me to assume that he might. “Stop assuming that every man is a rapist,” they say, in the same breath that they blame my sisters for being raped because they should have taken precautions against it.

So let’s forget the threat of violence for a second. Let’s talk about the role of women.

“Why didn’t she just say no?”

Could she? Is that allowed? I honestly don’t know anymore.

Because if she says no, then she’s a friend-zoning bitch, isn’t she? She’s a tease who led him on. And, I mean, come on, he’s such a nice guy. But I guess women don’t like nice guys. They like bad boys, the ones who treat them poorly, the ones who ignore them when they say “no”, the ones who put them in their place. Those are the guys that really get the ladies, aren’t they? Or, at least, that’s what I hear.

When I was in elementary school, girls would be scolded by the teachers if she let the boys touch her, because what sort of message was she sending to him? Obviously, she wanted to be treated badly. But if she didn’t let the boys touch her, then, come on, it’s just a joke, don’t be so stuck-up, you need to relax a little bit!

When I was in high school, a girl friend of mine told me that if a boy spent any money on me while we were on a date, then I was obligated to sleep with him, whether I wanted it or not, because he expected it.

I guess what he expects is more important than what I want. I guess sex really isn’t about me at all, is it?

“Why didn’t she just say no?”

She couldn’t. Society has taken that word away from her. Society has made ‘no’ a dirty word, so we’ve invented other ways of saying it. Instead, we say, “I have a boyfriend”, because a man will respect another man before he’ll respect our freedom of choice. Instead, we say, “I have a headache,” because physical illness is the only appropriate reason to not want sex right now. Instead, we give out fake phone numbers and fake smiles and fake interest until we’re far enough away to be safe. Safe from violence. Safe from judgement. Safe from expectation.

“Why didn’t she just say no?”

Well, the thing is, she did. She said no with her body language, with her subtle little hints. She said no in all the ways that society has allowed her to say no – she said, “next time.” She said, “I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you.” She tried to physically remove herself from the room, and she stopped moving when he touched her. But apparently, one would need to be a mind reader to notice all of that.

“Why didn’t she say no?”

But that isn’t quite the right question, is it? Instead of blaming her for not saying the word “no” precisely, we should ask why she didn’t feel comfortable saying no. We should ask how we can change our society so that women can say no directly, so that they don’t have to dance around the subject.

And we begin by listening for the word “no”, presented in all the forms that it comes. Because the absence of a direct “no” does not mean “yes”.

Is the #MeToo Movement Leading to Vigilante Justice?

Canadian author Margaret Atwood, best known for her novel the Handmaid’s Tale, has recently gotten herself in trouble for comments that she made opposing the #metoo movement.

Primarily, Atwood’s concerns focused on where the #metoo movement is going, and how the accused will be treated by the general public. She cites a recent incident, involving professor and fellow author Steve Galloway, as a reason for her concern.

In 2015, Galloway was accused bullying and sexual harassment. This prompted members of the Canadian literary community, including Margaret Atwood, to stand behind him in support. Many then retracted this support, however, when further allegations came out – including bullying, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. Galloway was dismissed from the University of British Columbia, where he taught, but is facing no criminal charges.

Margaret Atwood claims that Galloway’s dismissal was unfair, and she fears that the #metoo movement will lead to vigilante justice.

Galloway, however, is not the only man to be dismissed from his job due to claims of sexual assault. In the media, we have seen this happen time and time again. Harvey Weinstein was fired from the Weinstein Company following allegations of sexual assault. Kevin Spacey was fired from television series House of Cards following similar allegations, and Louis C.K. was fired from Secret Life of Pets 2. So is this also unfair? Is this also an example of vigilante justice?

There have been some who would say so; who would say that, yes, these are bad men, but they are good at their job. They are talented artists (or, in Galloway’s case, professors), and they should be allowed to continue doing their jobs.

I disagree.

In Weinstein’s case, I feel the reason why he should be let go is fairly obvious; Weinstein’s job put him in a position of power, and a sexual predator can and will abuse that power – as Weinstein did again and again. His job is directly connected to his being a sexual predator – he wasn’t the right one for the role. He wasn’t the sort of person who would do that job without abusing it. He was, quite frankly, bad at his job.

And in the case of Louis C.K. and Kevin Spacey, who were similarly put in a place of power and adoration and then abused that power, they are both part of industries that have no shortage of competition. There are hundreds of talented comedians and actors in this world who deserve their shot at the job – comedians and actors who don’t happen to be sexual predators.

But let’s talk about Galloway for a moment, because the thing that I find interesting about this particular story is that this is a profession that isn’t part of the media. This is a more everyday profession, and while Galloway most certainly does have a system of support and adoring fans, this is to a lesser extent than what a Hollywood celebrity has. This is moving more into the mundane.

And was Galloway’s dismissal from his job unfair? Was this an instance of vigilante justice?

Well, quite frankly, no. I don’t think it is. I think that, if a person is poorly qualified for their job, then they should not have their job. And a bullying sexual predator is not the right candidate for a professor.

There is another story that came out of Canada recently, this one focusing on George Brown college in Toronto, where several former students of the acting program have come forward to discuss suffering abuse, humiliation, and harassment from the faculty of the school. These are people who wanted nothing more than to pursue their dreams, to become qualified in the job that they so desperately wanted, and instead, they were belittled, picked apart, and abused to such an extent that it affected both their mental and physical health – and all of this was caused by the very people who were supposed to help them. This was caused by their professors.

Professors have a huge task to fulfill – as all teachers do. Professors are there to teach people. They are in control of their students’ grades and education and, yes, even their lives, to a certain extent. A bad professor can very easily hurt a person’s chance at getting the job that they are working so hard to get, or they can kill a person’s self-esteem and motivation.

And, yes, Galloway’s first victim to break her silence was, in fact, a former student.

But what about the fact that Galloway faced no criminal charges? Is he being punished for a crime that the law hasn’t recognized that he committed? Well, this is where the argument gets complicated.

Just because Galloway hasn’t been charged with anything, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he isn’t guilty. Out of every 1000 rape cases, after all, only 7 will lead to a felony conviction, and this is not because the majority of allegations are false. It is estimated that somewhere between 2% and 6% of allegations are false. So, yes, that does mean that the majority of sexual predators will go without any legal punishment for their crime.

Does that mean that we should turn to vigilante justice to fix this problem? No, that isn’t what I am trying to say here (although we do desperately need to fix a legal system that allows the vast majority of sexual predators to walk free and go unpunished). What I am trying to say is that the University of British Columbia is under no obligation to keep a man under their employ when all evidence points to the fact that he is not good at his job and should not be allowed to keep it – especially not when allowing him to keep his job would send a message to his victims that what he did to them was okay. And sexual assault is already a rampant problem in colleges and universities.

So, no, from what I have observed thus far, the #metoo movement is not leading toward vigilante justice. What the #metoo movement is creating is a society where sexual assault and sexual harassment is taken more seriously and discussed more prominently. There was once a time when a man like Galloway might have been allowed to keep his job, and continue to harass, assault, and bully students that are simply seeking an education. But times are changing, and we are no longer willing to accept these things. We are creating a world where a woman might be allowed to seek an education without fear of being treated differently or unfairly by her teacher.

And, hopefully, this influence can continue to spread to all industries.