Last week, while attending an event for the release of her book, Brave, Rose McGowan was confronted by a trans activist over some transphobic comments she had made. The discussion was loud and confrontational, and McGowan reacted with pure fury at being questioned over her words. The video of the moment is truly discomfiting and watching it feels almost invasive. It’s hard to watch a woman who is on the verge, one who has kept anger at bay for so long but now has it as her primary mode of communication. I won’t speculate about McGowan’s personal well-being or mental health, but it’s not hard to see why the video made so many others do so. Later, she cancelled upcoming promotional events for the book and claimed the activist was a plant. Many who called her out on Twitter over this lie were abused or accused of wanting to harm the #MeToo movement. I’ve seen critics of McGowan take to censoring her name on Twitter to avoid being harassed by her supporters, the #rosearmy. When Amber Tamblyn very eloquently called out McGowan on Twitter, she faced claims that she was smearing Rose and ‘splitting the movement’. The more McGowan claims she doesn’t give a shit about what people think, the less believable it seems.
To even talk about Rose McGowan is to take on a heavy mantle of intersectional topics. This is an abused woman who has decided not only to burn all bridges but set fire to the river too. After years of being denied her truth and becoming the subject of smears, she finally has her moment in the sunlight, not only believed but revered. She’s a leader, partly through public demand and partly through her own design. Nobody can or should deny her right to her anger. Yet, watching her evolve to a near messianic figure of the movement, untouchable and zealously protected, is something that cannot be ignored.
There’s an exceptional allure to McGowan’s anger. It’s the undistilled rage of every woman who’s been told to sit down, shut up, and look pretty. Everyone who’s ever been made to feel small in that way has had the fantasy of unleashing their pure fury into the ether. People dismiss your fears as crazy, so you want to show them how good crazy can be. McGowan, at her best, creates magic with that vibe of no fucks left to give but everything to gain. It’s easy to see why so many remain loyal to her. But the problem with rage is that it’s impotent without a distinct purpose. As cathartic as it can be — and it’s truly refreshing to see female anger be given its space to breathe — we can only go so far with anger. It focuses us, but only in brief bursts before it blinds us. We are all entitled to our anger and having the chance to get it out of your system is a necessity, but it seems that McGowan wants everyone to experience her strain of anger and nothing else.
Said rage makes McGowan an appealing de facto leader of these post-Weinstein times. For many, it feels more manageable to approach this tangle of topics with someone leading the way, someone screaming the loudest and refusing to be polite. McGowan cannot be the leader of #MeToo, because it’s a movement that should not have one dominant leader. For one thing, it would mean that the millions of women whose stories need to be told could never be truly represented. Once a movement has a figurehead, it tends to be defined by their characteristics, and no matter how earnest or skilled the leader, they’ll have their blind spots. They’ll be prone to defensiveness or ego, and it will help nobody, not even that leader. It’s also a staggering amount of emotional and mental labour to place on one pair of shoulders. That will build up and wear you down. No human is constructed to withstand such public and private pain. If that pain causes you to lash out at the most vulnerable people, those whose voices the movement should be amplifying further, how can you be trusted as the leader?
There’s a moment in McGowan’s new E! docu-series, Citizen Rose, where she sits down for a conversation with fellow Weinstein accuser Asia Argento. The Italian director, who featured prominently in Ronan Farrow’s New Yorker piece that helped to break the news, says she hates being called a victim. McGowan responds, ‘I really dislike not being allowed to be a victim. I can be many things all at once… there’s a part of me that’s a victim and I am currently mourning for her because I didn’t have time.’ McGowan now has time to mourn for what she lost, what she went through, and what she survived. Doing so in such a consciously public manner is a tough choice to make, but one that is clearly helping many women. When it starts to hurt others, there is a problem, and no amount of earnest rage can overlook that. Nobody in this movement is beyond reproach, and we cannot stay silent on problems like transphobia for fear of rocking that boat.
#MeToo is an army whose numbers may never be fully verified. It’s a wide umbrella of people whose experiences can differ as wildly as they bear striking similarities. Everyone has a story, and I don’t mean that as hyperbole. This may be the first chance most of us have had to actually tell those tales and be given space to breathe for it. Power is shifting and that happens best when we are strong. McGowan cannot, should not, and will not be the centre of this narrative. Her story is crucial, and her respect earned, but she’s not the only thing we’re fighting for. When we hurt, sometimes we want everyone else to know exactly how it feels. I understand Rose McGowan, but it’s not going to help anyone if we define these times as the explicit actions of her followers.
We are an army, but we are not Rose’s army.
(Header from Getty Images)