Why Rose McGowan is wrong for telling gay men to be feminists

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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.

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12 thoughts on “Why Rose McGowan is wrong for telling gay men to be feminists”

  1. This was horrible. Just another piece condemning one group while victimizing another and failing to see that both are oppressed. To generalize, feminism strives for equality, as does the LGBT community. It upsets me that this point is either overlooked or misconstrued. There will always be radicals, on both sides, which stems from being made to feel like they never had a voice. As long as we’re crying “poor me”, or fighting against each other, our respective issues fly under the radar. And yes, women’s rights still have a ways to go, as do LGBT. Not condoning what Ms. McGowan said out of anger, but I also can’t say that I don’t in some way see her point. I’ve heard many misogynistic slurs coming from gay men, which really hurts. Why should we not support each other? Maybe if we did, radical feminists like the ones that you mentioned above will go largely unheard.

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    1. Maria,

      Where did I say we shouldn’t support each other? Not supporting feminism isn’t the same thing as not supporting women or women’s rights. I feel like you must have been TRYING if you missed that point, since I expressed plenty of concern and support for women in my piece, just not for feminism. More gay men (and more men generally, and even more women) would involve themselves in advocacy for women if feminism was not involved. Most people don’t want to be identified as feminists. It’s not everyone else that’s to blame for that, it’s feminism and its tactics. Feminism does not HAVE to be the go-to women’s movement. There was a women’s rights movement before the term “feminism” was coined and other groups would form and advocate for women if feminism died out. Though there are plenty of well-intentioned feminists, the movement itself is corrupt and rife with misandry. It’s the mainstream, standard bearers of feminism who are reveling in misandry and spreading nonsense now, not just “extremists”.

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  2. Something about how nice you are to feminists disturbs me. I dont mean to bully you into being ant-feminists or different than how you are. But saying things like “but mainstream feminism all too often persists in talking about “men” in ways which make gay men wonder if they even remember we exist.”. Makes it sound like you dont really understand what the problem with feminism is.

    They are horrible, not to gay men but to ALL men (and to ALL women interested in building healthy, happy relationships with men). There are SO MANY men who are not gay who are NOT what feminism paints and statements like what you made..make it seem like you do not remember that THEY exists and make up the vast majority of men.

    Feminists create a horrible narrative of oppressor vs. victim of aggressor vs. victim where women are always victims. These people are sick and yes they harm women as well. You sympathize with them because they see part of all gay men as victims as well…the FEMININE part.. the part of you that makes you attracted to men.

    I know I might sound like an extremist but yea that’s my thoughts.

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    1. Too nice to feminists? It depends on the individual feminist. There was no reason to act like Rose McGowan is a terrible person or some kind of monster. She just said some stupid stuff and has some misconceptions. I wasn’t sympathizing with “feminism” I was trying to be fair to one particular person who happens to be a feminist. It’s best to always see others as people first, before considering their “groups.” Besides, we all should be capable of associating with or even being friends with people we may not agree with about much. Otherwise, it’s hard to get through life.
      It’s funny being caught between people saying I’m awful to feminists and others saying I’m too nice. All I can say is that how I treat people depends more on their level of respect in dealing with me and others than it does on whether they agree with me about most things.
      Oh, and I realize feminists are often horrible to men in general and did mention some of the things all men face which many feminists don’t care about. This article mainly dealt with gay men because we’re the ones McGowan was mainly talking about. Gay people will never be allowed to forget that straight people exist, trust me. Also, you have some misconceptions about gay men yourself. Some of us are feminine, some are masculine, some are in between. It is not our “feminine part” that makes us attracted to other men.

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      1. I see people as people before their label or at least I try to but the insanity of feminism at a basic level makes that something difficult to do. More difficult than it should be. I never understand non-religious people who debated with Christians or who cared about what religious people thought and who felt they were wrong or even bad….after all I am not religious and I have zero problems with religious people and think that they are mostly very nice. BUT now I finally understand them because I feel the same way that they do towards feminists.

        Yes it is just an idea and yes they have the right to think different based on their experiences, yes they might be nice people etc. BUT their ideology is so fucking flawed and they CAN NOT see it. They refuse to listen to reason, they refuse to step outside their box and just LISTEN to other women. HOW CAN A GROUP OF PEOPLE THAT CLAIM TO ADVOCATE FOR WOMEN NOT CARE WHAT WOMEN WANT OR SAY OR FEEL????? It would be like gay right’s advocates not caring what rights are actually important to gay people.

        Do not pander to these people they are wrong on the most basic level possible. WOMEN ARE IN NO WAY OPPRESSED RELATIVE TO MEN. Also I do not think all gay men are feminine I said that was the part of gay men that feminists care about. So they dont care about all gay men and yes for the gay men who are attracted to masculine traits..(ie the feminine parts of them) wouldnt you say that is something feminine to do?

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  3. I am so glad you made this journal. Thank you so much.

    I am so sick, as a gay male, of being expected to campaign for everyone else’s issues. I’m a privileged gay male who would like to make sure that all LGBTs can have the same privilege I’ve enjoyed. It’s human nature to take care of issues related to your demographic, then worrying about others.

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  4. Overgeneralizing is problem, but sweeping an issue under the rug also isn’t ideal. The topic of misogyny and sexist behavior from gay men isn’t new. Remember when Isaac Mizrahi groped Scarlett Johansson on the red carpet and tried to defend his actions by saying it wasn’t sexual and he felt entitled to touching her inappropriately? That is a common problem. Not all gay men do this, but I’ve been to enough clubs and events to know that this is a problem, and that excuse Mizrahi gave is one I hear myself often.

    So while I do think it was unfair to judge the entire community, I think you also erred by ignoring a topic that has come to light in the past couple of years.

    And feminism is broken up into many subsections. I wouldn’t condemn all men because of the action of MRAs or TRP, just like I wouldn’t judge all feminists by the actions of the TERFs. I think it’s unfair to judge feminism as if it were only one group that speaks for the whole. There are many, many, many branches of feminism, and the definition of feminism can even differ by the person you’re asking.

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    1. Quite frankly, everything you wrote is either offbase or didn’t need to be said. I didn’t sweep anything under the rug. I acknowledged there was an obnoxious minority of gay men who act in inappropriate ways towards women and stated that I and most other gay guys hate that. Then you came along and acted as though I said it never occurs. You disregarded whole sections of my post just so you could lecture me about ignoring something I directly addressed. However, inappropriate touching, problematic as it is, still isn’t “misogyny” if it’s not motivated by hate. Overusing the term “misogyny” is hyperbolic and robs it of any meaning. Furthermore, homophobia in feminism is a much bigger problem than misogyny among gay men is. Feminism refuses to address its rampant homophobia towards gay men yet expects gay men to become feminists. Screw that. We don’t have to sign on feminism’s dotted line in order to care about equality for women. Until feminism works to address its own bigotry it has no right to shame anyone else.
      I don’t care how many subsections feminism is broken into. I know there are many feminists with good intentions, that in no way means feminism is a produtive or beneficial thing overall. The movement has been too corrupt for too long to possibly be saved. The extremists are firmly in control. “Mainstream” feminism becomes more misandrous and absurd every day and no one in the movement does anything to address it. Rather, some feminist always just trots out to say that anything “bad” that other feminists do is because they “aren’t really feminists.” It’s pure denial of responsibility and lack of self-reflection. Feminism is to blame for every bad thing feminists have done in its name. The fact that the majority of people don’t like feminism or think it has anything to do with equality is feminists’ own fault. The rest of us are not obligated to keep thinking feminism is a good thing and give it the benefit of the doubt time and time again, despite the bigotry it perpetuates and the damage we see it doing. Trust is earned, not given, and feminism has not earned the trust of many people. Painting gay men as inherently misogynistic is just one more example of feminism’s hate. The same movement that has perpetuated so much homophobia towards the gay community for generations is simply launching another attack on us, and gay men are suddenly supposed to act like feminism has any moral authority to judge or correct us? No. Feminism needs to clean up its own bigotry before lecturing the same communities it commits that bigotry against. In closing, regardless of the good intentions some feminists have, the leaders of feminism are mostly all bigots and “feminism” itself is a supremacist term.

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