Rose McGowan is facing criticism over comments she made on a recent podcast with Bret Easton Ellis, which she herself admits is warranted. She’s owned up to making overgeneralizations and apologized, including in this recent op-ed for Advocate.com.
I believe that all human beings make mistakes, and for most of us, that includes saying something stupid every now and then. There’s not really much point in continuing to harp on unfortunate comments that have already been apologized for by the source, especially when there’s no reason to think the apology is insincere. Ms. McGowan has strived to be an ally and activist for the LGBT community, so I believe her offensive stereotyping of gay men truly was unintentional and something that she regrets. I can’t speak for gay men at large, but for my part, I accept her apology completely and without reservation. Water under the bridge.
As such, I will not be addressing or even mentioning her most offensive statements, which are the ones she apologized for. She’s taken her lumps and we can move on. I will instead be addressing new and troubling remarks made by McGowan in the op-ed linked to above, in which she stands by some of the same misconceptions she already revealed. My intent is not to further vilify a celebrity already under fire. Although Rose McGowan still doesn’t seem to realize exactly how offbase her views are in regards to gay men and why many of us aren’t more invested in feminism, those views are common among feminists, and that’s a problem that doesn’t begin or end with her.
Frankly, there are too many inaccuracies in McGowan’s short op to address all of them in depth without typing up one epic, unwieldy monster of a blog post. No one has time for all that, so let’s just skim over the fact that she indicates feeling like she’s not allowed to criticize the gay community now that she’s taken flak for overgeneralizing us (she is, it’s just that we’re allowed to criticize her right back.) Let’s also give short thrift to her obvious belief that the smaller-than-feminists-will-admit pay gap between men and women has been proven to be symptomatic of anti-woman discrimination, since that has been debunked repeatedly and hasn’t much to do with the matter at hand.
We’ll start here instead, with her third paragraph: “Misogyny infuriates me and it endangers me as a human. It also endangers the LGBT community. Empathy for the plight of women isn’t making it better. Your voice will.”
There’s nothing wrong with those remarks in and of themselves, though we could nitpick that empathy alone can often make a difference to someone experiencing a plight. Sometimes it comes at just the right time to help a person locked in struggle hold on for another day. That is huge and those moments of human connection can often be more beneficial, in immediate and non-abstract ways, even than committed activism. They help us sustain one another long enough to become activists.
What’s problematic about McGowan making this remark in the context of how she perceives gay men is that she’s obviously making a lot of uncharitable, unsupported assumptions about us. 1) Misogyny doesn’t infuriate gay men unless we proclaim ourselves feminists and channel any activism we do through feminism-approved channels. 2) Gay men need Rose McGowan to remind us that bigotry is dangerous. 3) Gay men universally agree that feminism is a benevolent movement which helps women and/or anyone else. There’s no valid reasons for gay men to oppose feminism.
These views are incredibly simplistic and McGowan doesn’t seem to realize what she’s asking of gay men. The feminist movement has hurt our community repeatedly in the past. This is something that remains largely unexplored by the media and is swept under the rug when feminists deal with the general public or newbies to their movement. McGowan may not have ever heard of the redstockings, a feminist group which was founded in 1969 and advanced the view that gay men are misogynists who only form relationships with other men as a means of rejecting women.
She may also be ignorant of the fact that, at least as far back as the 1970’s, many gay men have felt that feminists have worked to the detriment of pro-homosexual advocacy (and harmed women in the process, to boot.) John Lauritsen‘s Dangerous Trends in Feminism couches that criticism of feminism in terms consistent with how many other gay men, including myself, feel about it: “Self-proclaimed feminists have acted in ways that were harmful to both gay liberation and women’s liberation, and reactionary ideas have been advanced under the banner of feminism.”
Lauritsen goes on to note that: “Although criticism of male homosexuality and gay liberation has issued freely from the feminist camp, there has been almost no reciprocal criticism from gay men, not even in self defence.”
Even if McGowan is unaware of this sentiment among gay men, it’s hard to believe she’s never encountered the awful ways in which feminists still often speak to and about us (especially now that she’s said similar things herself.) Either way, there’s no excuse for McGowan to be ridiculing gay men for not doing more to support a movement that continues to belittle us after a history of anti-gay discrimination and hostility. She should just count herself lucky that more gay men aren’t aware of this history, and that more of us aren’t out there every day taking feminists to task for daring to paint their movement as a stalwart ally of gay rights this late in the game.
A typical feminist reaction to all this might be: “But wait, feminists often advocate for the rights of gay men now, so why make a big deal about stuff that happened in the 70’s?” I’ll tell you why. For one thing, the 70’s is when manifestations of feminist homophobia first became undeniable, but the sentiments themselves likely go back even further and persist to this day. For another, feminists still pat themselves on the back for women getting the right to vote, which has been a reality since 1920. If they can still constantly bring up something awesome from the 20’s, terrible stuff the movement did in the 70’s is fair game for gay men, especially since it did lasting damage to how we’re perceived and slowed down progress for our entire community. Perhaps gay men should be scolding McGowan because she does support feminism, instead of her accusing us of not caring about women simply for not using a homophobic movement to advocate for them.
A number of feminists advocate for gay rights, including those who are homosexual themselves, but mainstream feminism all too often persists in talking about “men” in ways which make gay men wonder if they even remember we exist. Being forgotten is often the best we can hope for from feminists, who often see everything with a kind of tunnel vision that can only see how any particular bit of information affects women.
Later in the op, McGowan says: “What I want is for gay rights activists to help other disenfranchised groups.These activists are experts while so many other groups flounder. It’s time to share the wealth and knowledge…..gay men certainly aren’t more misogynistic than heteros, but I’ve met some who have come damn close.”
It’s unclear whether the bulk of McGowan’s op is targeted at gay male activists, or gay men in general. Whether or not each member of any minority group has an obligation to spend X amount of time as an activist for that group – or indeed, whether they can help acting as an activist just to get through their day even if they care nothing for political action of any kind – is something McGowan might have bothered to address. That way, gay men would know exactly how many of us she’s holding to a higher standard than straight people.
As for gay men and misogyny, of course some gay men act in misogynistic ways sometimes. Just like some straight men do. Just like some women do – many of them feminists, who often conduct themselves with ghastly disrespect in interactions with any other woman who has freely chosen not to sign on feminism’s dotted line. The vast majority of gay men are not misogynistic in the least, though the small minority of gay men who feel perfectly entitled to bat women’s breasts to-and-fro without asking permission, or touch women they just met in strangely intimate ways are obnoxious enough to draw quite a lot of attention. If McGowan thinks most other gay men approve of this behavior, or that most of us don’t intervene when we see it happening to someone of any gender, she’s mistaken on both counts. For the record, straight women do often act in much the same, unacceptable ways towards gay men. Who hasn’t encountered the type of heterosexual woman who goes hysterical every time she meets a gay man, proclaiming him her new-BFF, whether he likes it or not, hugging him tightly, feeling his butt and his muscles without invitation, commenting on how the “hot ones are always gay” as he wriggles to escape her and looks around for help? No one typically provides any help to these men, both because men of every sexual orientation are stereotyped as loving any attention we get and because it’s pretty much culturally acceptable for women to act that way. Maybe Rose McGowan could encourage feminists to make addressing that a priority, since men already step up when a woman is in distress more often than women do for men.
McGowan’s disdainful assumptions about gay men don’t end there, sadly: “Do I think the LGBT community needs to address and combat the misogyny in its midst? Absolutely. I’ve lived and breathed gay rights for as long as I can remember. I’ve seen so much change, and now I want more. Women, myself included, have given blood, sweat, and tears to the gay rights movement. I’m asking for help in return. Casual and accepted misogyny no longer works for me, and it shouldn’t work for you.”
Misogyny should be addressed and combatted anywhere it exists. Gay people don’t need Rose McGowan to tell us this. Again, most gay men hate it when we see another gay man taking liberties with women’s bodies or disrespecting them with either language or action, but we’re not always going to be able to stop that kind of thing before it happens. Our gay superpowers of precognition are notoriously unreliable. Sometimes if we’re tired or distracted by a cute guy, we can barely peer into the future at all. We can’t intervene in anything before we know it’s happening. This doesn’t mean we’ve ever supported casual misogyny. As for the broader matter of activism, which is randomly injected again, asking for help in supporting women is one thing. I don’t think there’s any lack of support among gay men for women’s rights, though. In fact, I’d be surprised if we don’t support them in much stronger numbers than most men. Beyond that, McGowan comes across here a little more like she’s arguing that gay men owe her for previous activism in our name. Kind of a low blow. I appreciate anything McGowan has done on behalf of the gay community, but does she not realize how unseemly it is to lord your activism over the people you engaged in it for and use it to guilt them into supporting a movement many of them feel harbors animus towards them? I’m calling it unseemly, anyway. Someone less willing to give the benefit of the doubt might use the word “immoral.”
Ask yourself: is McGowan agitating for even more support from gay men for women, or is she demanding even more support from gay men for feminism? I think it’s the latter, and she’s doing this just as many of us are coming to grips with the sordid truth about feminism and the dismissive, insulting and oppressive ways it has treated us, both recently and throughout its history. I doubt she means to do so, but it’s not inaccurate to say that McGowan is using guilt and illogical appeals to our emotions in an attempt to chain gay men directly to our oppressors.
Was that hyperbolic? Not in any way that even compares to what McGowan has said. Feminists are big on a story of oppression always being valid if someone feels oppressed, right? Well, I feel strongly that feminism has been oppressive to gay men, to all other men, to anyone with any masculine traits, and, in many ways, even to women (sometimes especially to women.) Casual and accepted deference to feminism no longer works for me, and it shouldn’t work for McGowan.
In the remainder of her op, she details a productive conversation she had with a gay man who used the word “slut” in reference to women and says she was able to open his eyes to how offensive that is. She then reiterates her strong support for the gay community, compares the entire squabble to a family fight, and expresses a desire for all of us to do better in the future, including her. So at least she ended strong, expressing sentiments you’d have to be an a-hole to disagree with. She’s correct about this much: families fight, no matter how much people in them care about each other. However, the angriest and most outraged member of the family isn’t always the one who’s seeing things the clearest. If Rose McGowan truly considers gay men to be family, and wants us to think the same of her, she needs to get as good at learning things from us as she claims to be at teaching us things.
I don’t say it to be mean, Rose, I really don’t. I loved you in Scream.