EVENT: AN EVENING WITH ROSE MCGOWAN
I’m sitting in an auditorium at South Bank with a beautifully eclectic crowd, in particular of ages. There is nothing that would tie these people together if you saw them all out on the street, other than their shared excitement. We are all here to listen to Rose McGowan speak about ‘Brave’ a memoir of her childhood with the Children of God and life in Hollywood.
The evening begins, chaired by Sam Baker, with a reading from Brave. Rose reads from a chapter referencing an actor who at the height of her fame tried to speak up about the blatant sexism and abuse happening in Hollywood, she was later sectioned and given shock treatment. A well-known tactic to silence ‘manic’ women at the time. Rose is stoic and punk throughout, her anecdotes and comparisons about her experience growing up in a controlled and cult like environment, how similar it was with her experience of fame. Her answers are a warning to us all, not to cut out Hollywood movies, to turn off our TVs and delete our Instagram accounts, but to be aware of the messages, the secret signals that these shows, films, celebrities are constantly sending us. To remember that our time to turn off and relax while enjoying our favourite series or scrolling through pages is a billion dollar industry built on turning that time into some sort of financial gain. From the obvious things like product placements to the less obvious psychology of what seeing these manicured lives and bodies leaves us wanted for our own lives and bodies. The conversation between Rose and Sam is serious but still uplifting and at times, hilarious. Rose jokes about her life living in a cult and the positive things that has brought her, as well as the challenges.
“I didn’t see myself in a mirror for my first 10 years and I think that was a really positive thing, it let me decide who I was.”
The first time I had heard of Rose McGowan was in 2001 when she joined the Charmed TV show, which I watched obsessively. I can vividly remember being jealous of her and Alyssa Milano, in particular their perfectly plucked eyebrows, which I later copied. Even in my 11-year-old mind she was a sex symbol, I knew that she was attractive in that way that I so desperately wanted to be. This is something Rose brings up almost straight away. Her time in Hollywood constantly being presented to the world as a seemingly perfect woman, she jokes about the hours it takes going through hair, make up, styling, getting the exact lighting to become this person, who isn’t really her. That perfect woman doesn’t exist without all the people it takes create the appearance, the illusion of perfect. Rose tells us about the response to shaving off her hair, that for the first time she felt that the public was actually listening to her.
“If you fuck with what people expect you to look like as a woman and throw them off, they might not like what you’re saying but they’re more likely to listen.”
Jumping forward to 2015 and Rose appears again on my screen, this time I’m looking at her as a human. Not an unattainable character or a mannequin like figure on a magazine cover. This time she is sharing her story, a message and in many ways, a warning. We all know the story that follows, or maybe we don’t really, but we know the vague outline, the birth of #metoo. The spotlight of Hollywood that has for so long been endlessly pointed at its stars suddenly seemed like a whole new light. “The world wasn’t getting very far with baby steps.” In some ways it seems hard to remember a world before the ‘me too’ movement, and I think in many ways that’s because we all know deep down that these industries have sexist and racist foundations.
Rose brings up the reaction to her saying she is a humanist rather than a feminist, that feminism and all equality is included. “When I think about feminism I think we need to realign who are we trying to be equal to. Is it a 1950s white male? Because that’s not who I want to be equal with” As Rose says this I am immediately thrown back to one of her earlier answers, where she references that 96% of ‘Hollywood’ the producers and directors who really have a say, are white cis men. This isn’t to say that white cis men are inherently bad, but rather that nothing, especially an industry that is exported world wide and has such a wide reach in most societies, should be controlled and curated by just one small portion of society. We’ve seen how the world has reacted to hearing the voices of women standing up and calling out the abusers in their industry. Something you think would be internationally applauded. But sadly it’s not the case. Rose tells us about the abuse she has faced on a global scale, endless emotional abuse and threats. A bounty placed on her book, pages stolen by her abuser, legal battles and surveillance. It feels ensuring to know that even someone like Rose, her career and activism known worldwide, has the same response as many of us to feeling overwhelmed, sleep. “I think we can all grow ourselves by 10%, like we all know who that good person is that we want to be, so if we all just tried to be that person more often then we would achieve so much more.” What a beautiful message, especially to survivors and those who have been hurt by the world.
“Being a survivor is only one thing that I am, one part of me and like many survivors it isn’t the biggest part.“
When I arrived at South Bank I can admit my idea of Rose McGowan was an sexual abuse activist, a witch who’s looks I envied through my TV screen and the ex partner of Marilyn Manson, another thing that my younger self envied. I left empowered, having seen an author, a musician, an activist and a relatable human being speaking so bluntly and passionately about her achievements and challenges. We got to see a preview of Rose’s new music release, a magically ethereal song and video, that captures the beauty and sadness of her story as a formidable kind soul.
So what has an evening with Rose McGowan given me? Inspiration, I left feeling inspired to really look at the good and bad in my life and where my 10% can be. I’m just at the start of ‘Brave’ but it feels like more than a memoir, it feels like a guide book to becoming more aware of the bigger picture.
“You start at 10% but that doesn’t mean you have to stop there.”