‘BRAVE’ BY ROSE McGOWAN
NEW YORK TIMES
If I had read Rose McGowan’s new memoir, in a vacuum, absent the feats of investigative reporting that took down Harvey Weinstein, I would have thought it overwrought and paranoid. McGowan describes a life of almost ceaseless abuse, of falling into the clutches of one sadistic ogre after another as powerful forces conspired to crush her rogue spirit. “My life was infiltrated by Israeli spies and harassing lawyers, some of the most formidable on earth,” she writes on the first page. Come on – Israeli spies? Of course, we now know: Yes, Israeli spies. One of the greatest tricks that the patriarchy plays on women is to deliberately destabilise them, then use their instability as a reason to disbelieve them. Much of
Brave reads like the diary of a woman driven half-mad by abusive men who assume no one will listen to her. In this case, the truth was finally – and, for McGowan, triumphantly – exposed, but reading Brave, I kept thinking about how many more women must be written off as crazy and crushed under the weight of secrets no one wants to hear.
That McGowan has turned out to be an avenging warrior, determined to expose Hollywood’s toxic lies and cover-ups, would have once seemed as improbable as the most ludicrous superhero movie. For almost two decades, she was seen as a good if underused actor, one whose career was hampered by her reputation for being, as the saying goes, “difficult”. But it turns out both of these sides to her public image – underused and difficult – may have had less to do with her and more with Weinstein. This reads like a book written by a woman driven to near derangement by decades of abuse and gaslighting. At times I wished McGowan could filter her anger, highlighting the real abuses as opposed to folding them in among the generalised sexist garbage. But if she had been able do that she probably wouldn’t have written this book: self-control isn’t helpful when you are kicking down doors. McGowan set out to write a book that examines abuse, and she has done just that. She has also, inadvertently, shown how much damage abuse can wreak in even the toughest of women.
Using a brash tone that will be familiar to the millions who follow her on Twitter, McGowan describes her life, starting with the girlhood years she spent in a religious cult (“I was told I was worth nothing in the eyes of God”), the eating disorder she suffered as a teen (“I was never able to get below 92 pounds”), and her decision to legally emancipate herself from her parents at 15. Still, it is clear that McGowan, 44, has always viewed herself as a defiant spirit and still takes pride in the fact that she grew angry over being made to wear a pink smock at school while the boys got blue ones. “I’m sure I was unnerving as a child because of my intensity. I know I was because I basically was the same as I am now, and I tend to unnerve people to this day.” Brave is in part an exploration and explanation of the rage constantly leaking out of McGowan’s pores. But her aim is not to engender sympathy – rather it’s to encourage those feeling disempowered to channel some of her plentiful anger. “Being angry is okay,” she advises, “no one is going to die if we women let our anger out in healthy ways.”
Rose McGowan’s book tour for her new memoir was cancelled only two days after release, following an incident during which she engaged in a shouting match with a trans activist over what was perceived as her lack of support for trans women and women of colour. At their best, the critical discussions around McGowan and her responsibilities challenge the role of a feminist leader and need for inclusivity in this era of #MeToo.
Brave may not reflect these broader conversations, but it is a valuable and damning insider view of an industry that has violated women for way too long. Brave is just one weapon in McGowan’s multi-pronged plan of attack for her Rose Army, which was born out of the #MeToo movement. Although there are enough shocking details to satisfy the gossip-hungry, the book transcends the typical celebrity tell-all. It is a Hollywood takedown. Although Brave is framed as a call to arms, when McGowan addresses readers with her manifesto, the message feels superfluous.
Brave’s real power is the shouting voice of a woman whose stories have been silenced for way too long.