By Liz Brazile
When it was first announced that Rose McGowan would be starring in a docu-series centered around the #MeToo movement, I was immediately skeptical and had questions that needed answers: Did Tarana Burke sign off on this? Will she be getting paid? And will she receive proper credit?
As staunch of a critic as I am of white feminists, I still find myself trying to give them the benefit of the doubt so I decided to tune in to “Citizen Rose” when it premiered on E! earlier this week. I won’t be writing a full-length review of the show, considering how I could only bring myself to suffer through the first 30 minutes before I resolved to turn it off, lest I accidentally eye-roll myself into another dimension. But McGowan’s self-serving motivations became apparent to me within the first eight minutes of the show, and I have some reactions to share.
There’s a scene that intercuts between McGowan talking into a camera about the fallout of the Harvey Weinstein allegations and her, in a bathroom, buzzing her own hair off with a pair of clippers. The scene ends with her twirling around her bathroom, in what reads as an attempt to symbolize McGowan’s quest for self-empowerment. She habitually pats herself on the back for her own bravery and refers to herself as a “beast” that is coming to take down the Hollywood machine.
Throughout the show, McGowan delivers dramatic monologues while reclined in an empty bathtub in a black turtleneck. As a whole, the show seems more committed to maintaining its overblown, artsy aesthetic than fostering a sincere dialogue about sexual assault and patriarchy. “Citizen Rose” is not the cathartic, awareness-bringing project it pretends to be. It’s all theater; a giant skit in which McGowan is acting out her fantasy of being a martyr for women’s rights. She caricaturizes herself and it’s secondhand embarrassing to witness.
Make no mistake—I am not questioning Rose’s trauma or her allegations against Weinstein. But I am most definitely questioning the intent behind the platform she’s built. About 20 minutes into the first episode of “Citizen Rose”, we get a clip of McGowan speaking at the Women’s Convention last October–the same month allegations against Weinstein began making headlines. In her speech, she criticizes the sexist lens through which most stories are told in Hollywood.
“This is what you are as a woman. This is what you are as a man. This is what you are as a boy, girl—gay, straight, transgender, but it’s all told through 96 percent males in the Director’s Guild of America.” I can’t say I’m surprised she leaves people of color out of her list, but at least she acknowledges queer and trans folks, right? At least until it’s time to unpack her own privilege.
A video of McGowan’s appearance at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in Manhattan Wednesday has surfaced, showing McGowan in a shouting match with a transgender woman. McGowan came to the bookstore to read selected passages from her new memoir “Brave”, which was released earlier this week. As the event is underway, the audience member suddenly confronts McGowan, demanding that she address transphobic statements she made in 2017.
Instead of taking the opportunity to unpack and apologize, McGowan—in typical white feminist fashion—erases the experiences of a more marginalized woman by saying that they “are the same”. As if things couldn’t get more problematic, McGowan proceeds to command the woman to “sit down” and then makes the “bras d’honneur” gesture (the European equivalent of the middle finger) at the woman, as she is removed by security. Before exiting, McGowan’s challenger calls her out for practicing “white cis feminism”.
McGowan responds, “Do not put your label on me, I don’t come from your planet. Leave me alone.“ The crowd suddenly erupts in applause as McGowan continues.
“I do not subscribe to your rules. I do not subscribe to your language. You do not put labels on me or anybody. Step the fuck back. What I do is for the fucking world and you should be fucking grateful. So shut the fuck up.”
Her audience continues to co-sign on her transphobic belligerence by expressing how grateful they are for her work and how much they love her. But McGowan isn’t finished just yet.
“I’m mad that you put shit on me because I have a fucking vagina and I’m white, or I’m black, or I’m yellow, or I’m purple. Fuck off.”
Woah, woah, woah, woah, woah.
McGowan had no problem acknowledging that trans people have their own stories to tell in her speech at the Women’s Convention just three months ago. And if transgender people exist, that means people who aren’t trans have to exist too, right? Hence, we use the term “cisgender” to refer to people who identify with their assigned gender. In compliance with ordinance number 1309-16 of White feminism, McGowan managed to spin herself into the victim after antagonizing someone she wields privilege over.
Furthermore, she insults women of color in her tirade by writing off our cultural identities as gratuitous “labels”. She ignores the historical context and present-day social implications for people of color by adding imaginary purple and (assuming she didn’t mean “yellow” as a slur in reference to people of Asian origin) yellow people to her colorblind list. For someone claiming to be a distinguished feminist, she sure lacks intersectional awareness.
McGowan’s brand of feminism is all about having a vagina and raging against the white patriarchal establishment for the benefit of white cisgender women. It’s also about wearing the identity of a hero for “all” women while doing the bare minimum for anybody who isn’t Rose McGowan. The jig is up, cis. We see right through you and your narcissistic slacktivism and we’re not here for it.