“I want to have a frank conversation about an inner sickness that I see few, if any, addressing: how and why Hollywood creates a fucked-up mirror for you to look in to.”
This is how Rose McGowan revs up her memoir Brave, and it doesn’t drop a gear once.
This was a really hard book to read and a really hard book to now write about. I struggled to keep step with McGowan, she simultaneously broke my heart with what she has been through, but also frustrated the hell out of me.
I’m going to assume that you know some of Rose McGowan’s recent story by now; she was one of the first voices of the recent #metoo and #timesup campaigns and she initiated the downfall of Harvey Weinstein when she came forward as one of his many victims. She has since appeared on chat shows to talk, not always very succinctly, about her experiences, and went viral after an outburst at a Barnes & Noble book event when a transwoman loudly denounced what she sees as McGowan’s white, cis focused feminism.
I have followed Rose online and was excited to read her book, loving how she was rallying fellow survivors on the web to speak up, step out and be brave. And like most people, I was intrigued to read about her time in the Children of God cult and how this impacted on her life in Hollywood (which she very much sees as another cult). She always seemed to me to be someone with an extremely interesting life.
“Interesting” maybe isn’t the word I would use now. I would probably now go for “horrifying and confusing”.
At the quarter way mark, McGowan hasn’t even reached Hollywood. She has however escaped the Children of God, escaped an abusive step-father, been institutionalized, escaped again, dabbled in drugs, been assaulted and bullied at school and in the street, been a hitch hiking runaway and divorced her parents.
At this stage she is still only about 14.
And the emotional onslaught doesn’t stop. Every page has some new tragedy or drama to get your head around. This book doesn’t let up and McGowan is angry as all hell.
And she’s angry at EVERYONE.
And that is where she lost me.
I want to say here that I get what she has been through, her life has been one epic horror and struggle after another and it is NO WONDER she is furious at the world. However, I wish more time had been taken with this book, it feels hurriedly put together in order to ride the wave she is on. It doesn’t feel like it has been under an editor’s pen enough, at times the writing is just terrible and she appears to have had free reign to attach her theories with whomever she chooses to blame. I believe she deserved more time to write a much better, calmer, more logical book.
She throws around blame at everyone, completely unfiltered and unchecked, without any concern for consequence. She reminds the reader relentlessly that this is all about her, something happened to her, and anyone remotely connected to whatever happens to her is to blame. Just take a look at how she responded after the Barnes & Noble incident – apparently the punters who had come to see her were to blame for not rushing to her aid, when they can clearly be heard defending her. This book is like that, only about much more damaging subject matters.
This week we have begun to see the consequences of this unchecked shaming in the suicide of Jill Messick, McGowan’s manager at the time of her assault by Weinstein. In the passages where McGowan describes the assault, she all but lists everyone in the industry at the time who was working with her, as complicit in the actual physical act.
I am sure that some people knew what was going on and said nothing, but I am also sure there are others that genuinely did not know, that now have to deal with a lot of public shaming.
McGowan’s book challenged my feminism that is for sure, I was having hugely negative feelings about a woman who was coming out about sexual assault and hoping to do something about it – I should have been punching the air with pride, whether I liked her or not…
…But I found her awful, horrible company.
I know! I know!
She isn’t here to be entertaining company for me, she has something to say and she’s going to say it however she wants, but I just found myself getting so annoyed by her, she seems hell bent on creating more issues and dragging feminism back to a place of bitterness and man-hating. Her world view is also extremely narrow, and I found it very hard to spend time with a woman who only seems angry about the things in this world that affect her.
I turned at one point and said: “McGowan’s that friend you go to when you have broken up with someone, and you can tell she is waiting for the beat between your tears, when she can jump in and tell you about the much worse break up she had, at the same time as all her arms and legs fell off.”
McGowan has been accused in the past of being a transphobe and racist. I don’t know about that, but having read her book I can say that she does seem to hate all men and doesn’t seem to even like women that much.
During her time with Marilyn Manson she discusses “groupies” that would wait for his fellow bandmates:
“[they] were lining up to submit themselves to abuse…in the face of that, to keep my pro-woman stance alive was a bit of a challenge, but I did. I didn’t know enough yet to know the system is flawed by men.”
Girl please, you VERY MUCH knew by this time how the system was flawed by men – you just had your issues with a certain group of women that wanted to get their rocks of with rock stars.
It was also during her relationship with Manson that she infamously appeared on a red carpet, naked from the waist up, dressed only in a thong and a draping of beads. Her intention, she writes, was to:
“…challenge the media to see how they would deal with it. You want me to be a show pony, I’ll be your show pony”.
She goes on to state that she hadn’t anticipated the “slut-shaming” she would receive afterwards.
And this is one of many issues I have with McGowan – if you are a woman wanting to sleep with a rock star you are submitting yourself to abuse, if you question McGowan’s nudity on a red carpet – you are slut-shaming. When McGowan pushes the boundaries of public attire she is “punk as fuck“, when other woman “copy her” they have “gotten it wrong…they do it to be sexy and turn people on“.
There are no grey areas.
How the hell is anyone meant to know this? McGowan believes she is working on some higher plain than the rest of us, and it is our fault if we cannot see the tiny subtitles between being “punk” and “sexy“. Where punk is good, and sexy is bad.
It is hard not to interpret what she says and does without concluding that for her, you are either a clever artist being subversive (her) or a “dumb actress” giving men what they want (everyone else).
Oh! And it’s totally OK to produce “salacious female-exploitation flicks” where women die in horribly gratuitous ways, so long as, like Death Proof, she is either in them, or deems them to be “pretty great art.” This by the way is the same film in which her then boyfriend, Robert Rodriguez, had written a scene where Quentin Tarantino’s character tries to rape her character. But hey, she [still] couldn’t articulate why it was wrong at the time (having spent the entire book so far telling us how she hated everything about Hollywood, and how fucking punk she was) so, you know, “didn’t.”
Later on in the book she describes a female co-star as “screech-talking in her baby-talk voice. I put my earplugs in to block the cringe-inducing sound, but I can still hear her squawk.” Classy.
As for acting, and the industry she clearly despises, not once in the book do you ever get any sense that she actually cared about doing it. For her, acting seemed sort of an annoying thing she did to pay bills: “my career was something I did, something I was, frankly, embarrassed about“. I couldn’t help wondering why she was sticking around in it and why she didn’t just leave to pursue things she actually cared about and was interested in.
McGowan frames herself throughout this books as a victim of a Hollywood machine of misogyny and assault, demanding vengeance on those she has ever felt slighted by. She continually tells us that she was a “badass” a “punk” , so why the FUCK did she not say anything about an industry, or art form, she didn’t even appear to give a shit about? She excuses her own silence on “brainwashing” or “not knowing enough”. Again, its OK for McGowan to be silent and ignorant, to not warn younger actresses coming up through the ranks, but get to hell anyone else who does the same.
I will give her the two final chapters, where she finally shows some warmth and compassion to anyone who may be suffering as she has, and where she writes passionately about the need for change.
However it isn’t long before she snatches the rug again. I had anticipated her postscript to be a list of numbers and website where survivors of sexual abuse and assault could seek some help and take those first, brave steps towards recovery. What McGowan does instead is use her closing pages to hawk her new skin care range and album. It leaves a very sour taste.