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.