Rose McGowan is not a perfect rape victim; no woman is

We claim to be ready for women’s anger, as a society, but we clearly still expect women to express it in ways we are comfortable with.

 

One of the first lessons you learn when you do shelter work is that women’s pain and trauma manifests differently from individual to individual. Women are incredibly resilient, but experiencing male violence can lead to months of intense emotional instability or deep depression. Some never recover.

Sometimes victims make decisions you wouldn’t recommend. Sometimes they can be difficult to work with, which can be frustrating. Sometimes they do or say things that you wouldn’t say or do. That is ok. When trying to grapple with the pain and trauma that comes from male violence, it is not your role as a front line worker to prioritize your own feelings and assumptions. You have to understand that it’s not about you, that women will find their own ways to cope, and that the best you can do is to support victims in finding ways to survive, escape, and recover from male violence.

Understanding the impact of male violence on women also means understanding that there is no perfect victim, and that sometimes women speak out or fight back in imperfect ways.

Last month, Rose McGowan’s reading at Barnes and Noble was hijacked by Andi Dier, who identifies as a transwoman and has been accused by multiple women of being a sexual predator. Dier undermined not only McGowan’s experiences of assault and harassment under patriarchy, but the experiences of all women, suggesting that transwomen face more danger than women. Going even further, Dier claimed that that women like McGowan were complicit in committing “genocide” against trans-identified people.

In the aftermath, mainstream media coverage and commentary online not only distorted the reality of what happened, but reinforced the myth that there can be such a thing as a perfect rape victim — that there are some victims of male violence who deserve our compassion, and others who do not.

Variety described the incident as “a verbal altercation” and a “heated dispute,” as though McGowan had been walking down the street and got into an argument with a stranger. In truth, Dier admitted to deliberately planning to confront McGowan at her book launch. The media referred to McGowan as “bizarre” and “a white feminist.” Headlines said she “had a meltdown” and described her as “problematic.” Almost every article read as dog whistling, invoking tropes of the “hysteric,” “emotional,” “crazy” woman. The Huffington Post stooped so low as to ask Harvey Weinstein, McGowan’s rapist, for comment on the incident with Dier. Weinstein’s lawyer took the opportunity to reprimand McGowan for “choosing to marginalize a community.”

But how should McGowan have responded? The only appropriate response, according to many, would have been for her to not speak at all and to cede the floor to Dier.

There is something about McGowan standing her ground that is deeply unsettling to many people.

Too many people online have responded by centering what what they want from McGowan — as a woman, an activist, a victim, and a survivor. “I want her to be a good ally,” says one twitter user. She is “undeserving” of people’s support, argues another.

We seem to have decided  that society is ready for women to be “brave enough to be angry” and that, thanks to the Weinstein scandal, “fury is no longer a cause for shame” in women. But what this incident demonstrates is that, as always, Dier’s fury is justified and coddled while McGowan’s anger becomes a useful alibi for society to ostracize her.

McGowan’s anger has been represented not only as less valid than Dier’s, but as simply wrong. If society truly cared about victims of violence, we wouldn’t impose our expectations on them. And we would understand that a woman like McGowan has every right to be angry at someone who came to her book launch specifically to interrupt and silence her while she is recounting her story of trauma and recovery. Why shouldn’t she be upset?

The subtext of media coverage of the incident reveals that people assume and demand that McGowan should behave in “a proper way.” She went off script, in other words; and commentary shows that people believe that if McGowan changed, she would be worthy, or more deserving of people’s sympathy and support.

Society may have been forced to reckon the ubiquity of male violence, but it is by no means ready to confront the reality of women’s pain and trauma.

There appears to be something more sinister at play, as well. In the backlash against McGowan, I see many people breathing a sigh of relief, as if they are finally able to say, “See, it’s not that we didn’t like her because she was loud and vocal and angry and uncontrollable; the real problem is that she is a TERF/a transphobe/a bad ally.”

It’s the perfect cover for people who prefer their rape victims docile and quiet in their empowerment. In a patriarchy, it is far easier to read about men’s sexual abuse of women when we know the story has a happy ending. It’s easier to digest women’s pain when we learn that it all ended up working out well for her because now she is married and has kids — when we’re told that she got over it and is all better now.

Rose McGowan shatters that “perfect victim” narrative. Not only is she not “over it,” but she refuses to hide or control her anger. She encourages all women to be angry and to use that anger to challenge the system that enables the kind of abuse perpetrated against her.

What happened at McGowan’s book event is not an indictment of her, it’s an expose of people who present themselves as allies to and supporters of victims of male violence, but who will jump at the chance to tear that same woman down for “acting out of order.” As if there is order in trauma…

What the Barnes and Noble incident reveals is that there are an awful lot of people who were waiting for an opportunity to pounce on women like McGowan and put them back in their place. When the allegations against Harvey Weinstein came out, back in October, McGowan was among the first few actresses to stick her neck out and tell her story of abuse. It is deeply unfair that so many people celebrate superficial demonstrations of empowerment, like wearing white roses or black dresses on the red carpet at award ceremonies (and only once the tide had turned), yet women like McGowan who put everything on the line by speaking out when they were lone voices are sidelined…

We may be ready for women’s anger when it comes in the form of an inspiring Oprah speech at a glamorous awards ceremony, but not in the form of a victim of male violence whose pain is very much still raw and palpable, and who wants people to bear witness to that.

McGowan is not unaware that her honesty is unsettling to many people. On Twitter, she wrote:

“I am unusual, that IS the point. I do not care for formats or traditional thought. Every interview of mine is different, just like a mood. A lot of you are meeting me for the first time. Don’t compare me to what you would do or be. Be free.”

Indeed.

It is not up to the media or the online armchair commentariat to decide whether McGowan “deserves” our support. If your support for victims and survivors of male violence depends on them behaving in a way you consider acceptable, you care more about yourself and your “social justice” persona than about women’s genuine well-being. Women who have been abused by men and dare to speak out deserve better than that.

There is a patriarchy-approved way for women to deal with the trauma of male violence and Rose McGowan is doing it wrong.

More power to her.

Raquel Rosario Sanchez
Raquel Rosario Sanchez

Raquel Rosario Sanchez is a writer from the Dominican Republic. Her utmost priority in her work and as a feminist is to end violence against girls and women. Her work has appeared in several print and digital publications both in English and Spanish, including: Feminist Current, El Grillo, La Replica, Tribuna Feminista, El Caribe and La Marea. You can follow her @8rosariosanchez where she rambles about feminism, politics, and poetry.

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  • FierceMild

    This piece reminds me of Stanford University wanting to use the out-of-context quote, “I’m okay,” as part of the contemplative garden memorializing Brock Turner’s rape of Emily Doe.

    • Sashimi73

      There should instead be a rack of taser guns that can only be used by women, to taser TF out of rapists like Brock.

  • AnotherOor

    As McGowan said, the only perfect rape victim is a dead one.

  • Cassandra

    Every woman needs to read this piece, but especially every female victim of male violence. Anger is a normal, healthy reaction. Rose McGowan is only “unusual” because she doesn’t repress what is normal and healthy. Isn’t that so very sad?

    Solidarity, sisters, and FUCK all you phonies who have criticized and attacked Rose—every motherfucking one of you.

    Thank you as always, Ms. Sanchez, but with this piece you absolutely nailed a journalistic triple axel.

  • northernTNT

    Excellent Raquel.

  • Robert Gonzalez

    Rose McGowan is doing something right if she is angering so many indoctrinated people. She is relentless and persistent. And in my opinion, there is nothing that scares men more than sustained and organized female rage.

    I sincerely hope that she never stops her brave pushing. She does not need to alter or soften her approach in any way. Fuck that rapist, Andi Dier. How dare he do that to a rape victim.

    • Elara

      I think you’re right about sustained and organized female rage being something scary to men. Them spending so much time trying to convince everyone that female rage is hysteria or that angry women are irrational just proves it. They have to make female rage something that can be laughed at and not taken seriously.

  • sdfafz

    I totally agree with your perspective on McGowan’s reaction to the verbal attack at her book event. The fact that her anger and outrage towards such an outburst by the individual was considered to be “crazy” and “emotional,” illustrates the societal oppression on women and how we are confined by society’s definition of being a woman. Since McGowan expressed strong and somewhat “negative” feelings than people would consider “acceptable,” she was targeted with criticism and her feelings were disvalued towards the encounter. I believe this really coincides with the idea of reducing the power of a woman’s anger to proof her insanity (Frye, 1983), and how women are characterized to behave in a certain way despite what difficulties they may have gone through. I think this also brings up the idea of the “double bind,” which basically explains that no matter how a women behaves, she will be denounced for it. Therefore, showcasing the constraint women face in society and how we are essentially “caged” in by a society.

    • Jani

      Last week we saw Rose McGowan derailed by two events —by the trans activist who turned up at her book launch with the deliberate intent of sabotaging it, and then by the suicide of her former manager Jill Messick. So not only was she attacked on the current crime against fashion known as “transphobia” (which just isn’t true anyway), she was more or less accused of pushing Jill Messick over the edge rather than calling out Weinstein, who is the serial rapist at the centre of all of this.

      The #MeToo campaign appears to be losing its traction. It’s like all the reputation laundering is taking place in advance with the likes of James Franco posing in his TimesUp t shirt despite several accounts of his own questionable conduct towards women. But what do we get? It’s the women who are “falsely accusing” him and trying to “ruin his career” and all this “innocent until proven guilty” rhetoric. It’s like no woman can ever say she has ever been raped or sexually assaulted unless a court finds the man/men guilty. Yeah, the white flower/black dress thing sums up where our movement is heading. All that seen-and-not-heard crap all over again. The black party frock gesture annoyed me. The white flower gesture even more so now that it’s been announced that nominees for the Brits music awards will be posing on the red carpet with their white flowers. I just wonder how many music biz predators will be wearing white flowers, and how many see-no-evil witnesses will be wearing white flowers, and how many victims who are staying silent for fear of losing their careers will turn up with their white flowers. “Oh, if she really was a victim then why did she pose for the cameras wearing her white flower 5/10/20 years ago?” We need to take back our voice from those who seek to silence us.

  • Midori

    See, it’s not that we didn’t like her because she was loud and vocal and angry and uncontrollable; the real problem is that she is a TERF/a transphobe/a bad ally.

    WHAT? McGowan is supersupportive of the trans community. She literally agrees that trans women are women and that trans people suffer abuse. The problem with McGowan is that she doesn’t cuddle the feelings of EVERY trans person she meets, like the trans community wants people to do, because according to them EVERY trans person is an angel (well, trans women are angels, nobody cares about trans men! xd).

    Like I said in another comment, trans activism is the perfect cover for misogynistic and homophobic (especially lesbophobic) men. They can be as violent as they want to be, they can abuse, rape and kill women (and have done so), but because they call themselves women and make everybody believe that they’re the MOST oppressed, people will flock to their defence no matter what they do. That’s the reason why people defend Andi Dier – a disgusting pedophile – while screaming done Rose McGowan – an actual rape victim.

    • Wren

      The trans activists will never see her as a supporter because she won’t allow them to eclipse her. I’m hoping this experience may compel her to rethink her position.

  • BVS

    Right on!

  • Wren

    I love this article, but I have one point I want to make, which many may disagree.
    I don’t think her reaction was a “traumatic response.” I don’t think this was about her trauma. Of course, I do think McGowan has extensive trauma, but I think her response and tone met the tone of the attack, and I think she was responding as a woman who has self-respect combined with an ability and a willingness to defend herself against an aggressor. She can fight fire with fire, so to speak. I’d hate to think that every time we defend ourselves with vigor and spirit and intelligence that we would be forgiven because we acted that way because of our trauma. Attributing her response to trauma makes me feel like we’ re apologizing for her, and I don’t it’s necessary.

    • Rachael

      Thank you, Wren. Beautifully articulated. This was how I felt too. She doesnt need her trauma as an “excuse” for her reaction; it was perfectly justifiable in and of itself.

  • fluffywhitedog fluffy

    I’m so, so proud of Rose – she’s one of the few genuine feminists in Hollywood. I think that she was reacting not just in response to her rape, but to her overall experience in the chauvinist cesspit of the industry, which must be soul-crushing for a strong-spirited woman.

  • fragglerock

    If I had a nickel for every time a woman’s pain was characterized as a “meltdown” and she was dismissed as “bizarre”. Patriarchal society absolutely prefers rape victims to hide their pain and humanity. Patriarchy prefers WOMEN to hide their pain and humanity. That’s the whole point of objectifying women and fetishizing rape and abuse–so there are no victims anymore. So women can be abused as much as men like and nobody ever has to answer for it.

    What’s so brilliant about gaslighting is that ANYTHING THAT YOU SAY OR DO AFTER BEING CALLED CRAZY REINFORCES THE VIEW THAT YOU’RE CRAZY! And what’s so brilliant about patriarchy is that “woman” is synonymous with “crazy” and “stupid” and “liar” and “bitch” and “whore”. All we have to do is be born and we are already discredited, not believed, and demonized. In fact, you could replace all the adjectives used to defame McGowan with “woman” and the statements would retain their meaning.

  • corvid

    Can you cite examples of McGowan’s “bizarre, strange” commentary and explain why you call it so?

  • Alienigena

    You have a problem with Rose McGowan’s supposedly bizarre behaviour. Can’t say I care. Do you have a problem with violent males who behave pretty bizarrely (beat each other soundly with societal sanction in professional sports, have sex with their three year old children and film it, watch child porn, watch violent porn, have sex with prostitutes), kill others en masse and in the domestic sphere? Does Ms McGowan’s so-called bizarre behaviour actually physically harm anyone or just the feelz of some special snowflakes of the trans universe?

    I don’t disagree that if someone needs mental health care they should get it. But acting as if you have some ability as a diagnostician of mental wellness doesn’t seem appropriate. You don’t know Ms. McGowan, you have not met her, and you don’t seem to have the credentials to assess her mental health.

    • Sashimi73

      I couldn’t agree more with this whole article and this comment. Let’s just put it this way. If Andi Dier was a woman and was shouting at Rose McGowan, she would have been vilified and shut down when she spoke. And if Rose claimed to be trans-identified, everyone would be clapping her on the back and praising her for being angry at being heckled. I listened to the clip and I thought she was perfectly within her rights to shout down a heckler.

    • VLCampbell

      Your comments don’t in any way reflect anything I said – and unless and until they do, STFU in relation to me, because you’ve willfully misrepresented what I said a lot. I have neither acted “as if I have some ability as a diagnostician” or had “a problem” with her behavior. What I said was simply that I have found her behavior and comments bizarre and/or not terribly coherent sometimes, on multiple occasions actually (as have many others who have expressed concern about her recently), and that many peoples’ response to her is about that and comes from a place of concern, not denigration about or because of her anger.

  • Sashimi73

    Jezebel is just clickbait and endless narcissism. Started a few years ago.