How did we get from #MeToo to #SheKnew?
It’s a question I’d like to ask Rose McGowan, who has gone from calling out powerful men in Hollywood like Ben Affleck to tweeting that Meryl Streep should wear Marchesa, the fashion line from Harvey Weinstein’s wife. If Alyssa Milano is the de-facto social media initiator of the #MeToo movement, then McGowan is the bombardier, unleashing crippling attacks on individuals and groups alike. Of course, as bombs are want to do, some of these attacks have blown up in her face - like when she tried to instill a hierarchy of trauma by introducing a racial slur as if Black women don’t exist - but lately it feels like every move she makes is backfiring.
I believe the moment when McGowan took aim at Meryl Streep was the one where her critiques turned from pushes for institutional growth to seemingly irrational beefs. She has shifted from an outspoken critic of male power to a figure seemingly obsessed by individual, personal grievances.
Certainly the push to create gender equality that is lasting and institutional is an important one. Moreover, the idea of simply wearing a black dress as a statement is admittedly superficial and worth critiquing. But what McGowan is doing seems less like an attempt to challenge a system and more like a public tailspin framed around her personal vendettas.
What is so frustrating and painful about watching McGowan lash out in this way is that she’s very clearly hurting and in pain. I had similar trauma-driven meltdowns before, and they’re not healthy manifestations of anger and resentment. I was lashing out at everyone around me, random strangers - anyone except the person I was truly mad at: myself. I’m not attempting to define McGowan’s experience for her, but to say that it bears enough resemblance to my own that I can empathize.
“You can’t tell a traumatized person how to behave,” one might say. “You’re gaslighting.” But trauma is not an excuse to mistreat other people. You don’t get a free pass just because you’ve been through tough things (Kevin Spacey, I’m talking to you). No matter the circumstances, people have a responsibility to behave ethically and respectfully towards others. Traumatized people cannot use their trauma as an excuse after a certain point.
And McGowan’s decision to come after Meryl Streep, repeatedly and with a kind of dogged determination, doesn’t make much sense. She’s certainly a Hollywood powerbroker, but it’s dubious that she worked to cover up sexual abuse, much less abuse others.
The artist who produced the #SheKnows posters seems to think so, however. He believes Streep may have provided Weinstein with “fresh meat” for him to abuse. The fact that McGowan seems unbothered by this insinuation and continues to use a hashtag that has been hijacked by misogynistic right wing activists is an irresponsible use of her platform. She is outraged that Streep once gave a standing ovation to Roman Polanski but not that conservative guerrilla artists have launched a campaign of character assassination against another woman?
I would imagine that decades of being ignored, lied to, and mistreated by an institution in which you operate would make a person paranoid. No one is above suspicion, and anyone can be out to get you. But thanks to McGowan’s bravery, many of those manipulators have been exposed and held to account. This is not to say everyone has been rooted out, but coming at other women for having been in Weinstein’s circles is a confusing pivot to make.
What is most distressing, however, is the way in which McGowan is steering the #MeToo ship away from holding men accountable and toward punishing (white) women for being tangential accessories to a culture. If Streep had been paying settlements or threatening up and coming actresses, then she would be due for criticism. But applauding for a convicted rapist at an awards ceremony and calling Harvey Weinstein “God”? Yes, it was the wrong thing to do, and Streep has apologized for doing so. But there is a broad spectrum of problems to address, and a celebrity’s behavior at award ceremonies seems hardly the most pressing.
Perhaps the better question is this: What is the end goal of shaming Meryl Streep specifically, and other women in general for associating with abusive men? Does it change the power difference between men and women, or simply put added pressure on women to stay silent? Is there any benefit to Weinstein’s victims that can be gained from these attacks? How is this making the movement more responsible?
Ultimately, I believe McGowan has no answers for these questions - just as she has no answers for why her work consistently excludes and dismisses the trauma suffered by black women and LGBTQ people. She seems uninterested in pursuing an end to sexual violence outside of the bubble of Hollywood, or standing up for women like those at Chicago Ford plants profiled in The New York Times (all women of color). She appears so intent to destroy the abusive systems in Hollywood that she cannot recognize when her efforts end up harming other women - and herself - more than the men in power.
I hope McGowan is able to work through her pain and suffering with someone. I wish her peace and a sense of contentment in her life. But I caution her, from experience, that rage is an emotion which ends up damaging you more than it damages others. If one is not careful, the inferno you create will consume you before you know it.