Why Rose McGowan's Feminism Isn't for Me, or Other Women of Colour

*Trigger warning* This article contains references to sexual assault, rape and hate speech

Stacy Lee Kong
Rose McGowan Citizen Rose: Rose McGowan and Tarana Burke on stage at The Women's Convention at Cobo Center on October 27, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan
(Photo: Getty)

I’m having some trouble with Rose McGowan.

On one hand, I admire her bravery. She has been a loud and critical voice against sexism in Hollywood—long before The New York Times exposed Harvey Weinstein’s predatory behaviour, or the subsequent wave of people across all industries came forward with their own stories after finally feeling safe enough to speak publicly. Though she didn’t name Weinstein publicly until last year, McGowan has spoken out for years about being sexually assaulted—and when she did feel safe enough to name him, she did. McGowan is also one of the leading voices in the #MeToo movement and has called out other powerful figures, including Ben Affleck and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, as well as circulated a petition demanding the Weinstein Company dissolve its board.

For the record, these actions are brave, because speaking out often comes with a price. McGowan stands in direct opposition to the bro-culture insinuation that women who accuse men of sexual assault only do so because they have something to gain (a perception that, by now, I hope has been thoroughly debunked). She has admitted that she lost work after telling people in the industry that she had been assaulted and was “blacklisted” from ever auditioning for one of Weinstein’s films again. Less quantitatively, for years she was considered a “crazy outsider with an ax to grind,” who became known as a “loose cannon—too extreme to risk a project on,” as a recent profile in Elle put it.

But. While I can admire her bravery, she doesn’t speak for me—and she doesn’t appear to listen when she’s called out for her own behaviour. She’s a classic White Feminist™, a label that seems all the more fitting when we consider the recent news that she will now be producing and starring in a five-part documentary series for E! called Citizen Rose.

How did Rose McGowan go from risk to ratings queen?

Citizen Rose will follow McGowan as she prepares her memoir/manifesto Brave for release, and it offers some insight into McGowan’s newly-rehabilitated image. Amy Introcaso-Davis, E!’s executive vice president of development production, told Deadline that it was McGowan’s courage in addressing sexual abuse and harassment in Hollywood that “ignited a conversation and inspired other women to speak out against their abusers.” Speaking about the doc, Introcaso-Davis continued: “We look forward to taking viewers inside this talented, dynamic woman’s world as the first allegations unfold and she becomes a leading voice in a critical cultural change.” So… what I take from that is this: the deal almost certainly wouldn’t have happened without McGowan’s #MeToo activism. The movement lifted her up—even legitimized her—and brought her work.

Cool, cool. Listen, I’ll never be mad about women getting paid, but there’s just something distasteful about a white woman profiting off work a Black woman did first. Because we can’t forget who started #MeToo. Yes, Alyssa Milano may have popularized the hashtag, and yes McGowan made it her clarion call, but the campaign was created in 2007 by activist Tarana Burke, who, as far as I can tell, hasn’t been approached for a TV show or a book deal in the intervening decade.

Perhaps that’s not surprising, considering how #MeToo continues to exclude women who identify as Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC). As Alanna Vagionos wrote of the movement in the HuffPost: “[It] highlights a common problem: Feminist movements are often whitewashed when they’re brought into mainstream conversations. Women of color are often overlooked and left out of the very conversations they create.”

Where have we seen this before? Oh yes, the backlash against Pantsuit Nation founder Libby Chamberlain, who created a secret, invitation-only pro-Hillary Clinton Facebook group for fans to come together in confidence, only to negotiate a publishing deal for a book based on the real, personal stories people had shared. Chamberlain swiftly faced criticism from the very people who submitted those stories and felt betrayed that she’d monetized their safe space.

McGowan’s social media presence—and by extension, her feminism—isn’t intersectional

Of course, I don’t feel personally betrayed by McGowan’s new doc deal—because I never really felt like part of her community. Her recent social media missteps show she’s not super up on her intersectional feminism, so I’ve always known that—while she may want to be—she’s not really here for me or other women of colour.

Exhibit A: Remember when she criticized James Corden in late October for his ill-advised jokes about Weinstein at a gala he was hosting with an equally ill-advised (and now-deleted) tweet? She called out Corden’s jokes as “rich famous Hollywood white male privilege in action”—but then exercised some white privilege of her own by facetiously suggesting he, “replace ‘women’ w/the ‘N’ word” in his joke. (Somehow she missed the fact that Black women exist??)

Exhibit B: Her initial apology for that tweet, in which she blamed her wording on, “smoking a J and mak[ing] weird analogies.” (Her second apology, posted two days later, was anemic, but at least contained the words “I am profoundly sorry.”)

Exhibit C: The #WomenBoycottTwitter campaign, which came about because of McGowan, and which she later championed. The campaign asked feminists to stop using Twitter for a day to protest the actor’s suspension from the platform after she doxxed someone by posting a private phone number in one of her tweets. It’s a pretty harmless campaign, if you put aside larger questions about the effectiveness of activism on social media. But BIPOC don’t really get that kind of support, you know? After all, the internet didn’t exactly rally behind Jemele Hill after Donald Trump attacked her on that very same platform, and there was certainly no boycott for her.

And exhibit D: #RoseArmy. In a recent Vanity Fair profile pegged to the release of her upcoming memoir, McGowan is described as the “the movement’s white-hot voice of rage,” whose accusations against Weinstein helped start #MeToo (um… not really?) and who will ensure the movement’s longevity, because she’s “armed with a sizable Twitter following (literally called #RoseArmy), messianic certitude, and a sense of nothing to lose.” Soooo… we can probably skip the whitewashing in that description, as we’ve already explained that McGowan definitely did not cofound #MeToo. Instead, let’s talk about #RoseArmy, which the actor tacks onto many of her tweets about sexual harassment.

The problem with #RoseArmy

We can trace the hashtag back to 2015, after McGowan posted a photo of a super sexist casting note.

The aftermath of that tweet quickly become part of the McGowan’s feminist narrative—her agent soon fired her, but she doubled down, giving interviews about Hollywood misogyny, using the hashtag across her social platforms and even selling t-shirts in support of the East Los Angeles Women’s Center.

Since then, McGowan has launched a #RoseArmy website (the tagline: Be a thorn! Enlist), and the hashtag has become both a rallying cry and a name for her fans. Pre-#MeToo, that was commendable, and perfectly tasteful. But now? These actions feel like marketing for her own brand, and sometimes awkward marketing at that. She may just be trying to direct her followers to news that she thinks matters, but it can come off as if she’s making herself and her fanbase part of a story that’s not really about them.

Being assaulted is horrible. But it’s not the same as experiencing daily, racist microaggressions (not to mention macroaggressions) or living life on the wrong side of white privilege. And again, Black people are assaulted, too, so…

And frankly, tacking #RoseArmy onto posts about feminist movements in other countries entirely feels self-serving.

So no, no betrayal here. But I do feel frustrated that we’re still having this conversation, still seeing white women benefit first—or worse, only seeing white women benefit—from movements that should be serving all women. Especially because activism is hard work, and it’s often WOC who face the economic, emotional and physical burden of these movements. Last year, Black Lives Matter co-founder Janaya Khan told FLARE, “I’m getting paid fairly because I’m working several jobs… There’s not one singular job that’s paying me fairly. But I also want to note that no one in advocacy work is paid fairly. The type of work that people, largely women of colour, do and the ways that they put their bodies on the line is underpaid and under-valued across the board.”

So it’s not that McGowan shouldn’t make money from her activism. It’s that Black women and WOC should also be paid fairly for doing this work—and right now, that’s just not happening.

Related:
Rose McGowan, Jemele Hill & the Problem with Selective Twitter Boycotts
Why We Need to Talk About White Feminism… Like, Now
Six Women Take Legal Action Against Harvey Weinstein and His Companies

Filed under:

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

FLARE - Newsletter Signup

Subscribe to FLARE Need to Know for smart, sassy, no-filter takes on everything you're interested in—including style, culture & current events, plus special offers—sent straight to your inbox each day. Sign up here.