McGowan resisted; she always does. She turned her eye to directing and her debut short film Dawn picked up a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2014, followed by media speculation of an Oscars nomination, which never came to fruition. Still, the film revealed her talent and passion as a cinephile, which still persists today. Following the Weinstein revelations in 2017, McGowan has found herself at the forefront of the #MeToo movement, in which she has championed voices fighting against sexual harassment and assault, but also became one of the movement’s best critics – she openly called out the all black dress code at the Golden Globes in 2018 as “Hollywood fakery.”
Now, as we enter a new decade, McGowan hopes to see more change. She is newly in love, passionate about gender diversity (she identifies as “non-binary”) and like the title of her memoir, believes we should be “Brave”. How? By “working on being better humans”, she says. Over a glass of wine and cigarette, she shares her thoughts on the upcoming decade – why #MeToo doesn’t mean men can no longer flirt, why American masculinity is still trapped in the hunter-gatherer complex, and her hopes for the future of gender.
I’ll start with the simplest sounding question but perhaps the most complicated: What does the word ‘masculinity’ mean to you?
The word masculinity to me means “trapped”. In a really unfair way by an unfair system. My heart breaks for boys when I see them being moulded into men. If we could get back to understanding that we’re human before we’re a gender, then we could solve a lot of problems. Boys get stolen really early and put in this tight-fitting jacket – “here’s what you can be” and “here’s what you are”. Society does the same thing to girls, in a totally different way. But for men so much gets repressed so you can be the idea of what a man is supposed to be. How can you not help but have an inner rage?
How can you not want to smash things? I would.
You’ve described a lot of gender relationships as still being locked into a hunter-gatherer complex.
We’ve stuck to the old model for men and women for so long and it’s just not working. It’s brought us to a crisis point where there are so many women being hurt and so many men being stolen so young. The idea that men have to be the hunter – well, not everyone is equipped to be that way and not everyone wants to be that. Women hunt too and that needs to be recognised. So much of the dialogue about gender, to me, is missing the human point. The media has pitted us against each other for so long, because the media is controlled and dominated by an older set of men.
And these men have a superiority illusion. They’re very comfortable in it. But they inherently know it’s an illusion, so it makes them uncomfortable.
You’ve talked about how male fragility can play into imposter syndrome, and how this imposter syndrome can lead to violence.
When you are benefitting through privilege because of your illusion, a lot of people don’t want to quit that illusion. But is it really a benefit? The highest rate of suicide is 40-year-old white men. There’s a reason for that. I think that that illusion is a trap. If they can break through that, and see themselves as they are, faults and all and work on being better humans, maybe they could be free. I think that’s what we all want.
How do we work on being better humans?
When I was homeless, I was 13 years old and I had nobody raising me and I didn’t know how to grow up. So, I would imagine the 10% better version of myself and imitate that until it became real. Ask yourself: “In any given situation, what would the better version of myself do?” And then act like that until it becomes second nature.
Do you believe in the power of magical thinking to escape these media trappings we find ourselves in?
Totally. I was lucky I didn’t get told I was a boy or girl until I was 10 years old. There were no mirrors where I grew up and the windows were covered so we didn’t have any reflections. There was not supposed to be any external emphasis on gender or race. When I got to America, I found they were really interested in telling me “you’re a girl and this is what you can’t do”. And I was really interested in telling them to “fuck off”.
What do you think makes American masculinity different from masculinity in other countries? Especially white American masculinity. Do you think the American psyche makes the hunter-gatherer complex more acute?
American masculinity is really toxic and really dangerous. It’s dangerous to the world. This idea that America is number one and each man there is number one and superior – that’s a load of bullshit everybody knows it. But they continue with this mass conformity and cult-like way of thinking.
way of thinking is exactly like the cult I grew up in. There’s no difference. It’s just on a bigger scale. Especially now with Trump, he repeats the same things – that’s brainwashing. He instils fear of others in people – that’s brainwashing.
I wanted to ask you about the Incel phenomenon as well. You’ve been directly attacked by the Incel community. How do you see their impact on American masculinity?
I see the Incel man as being terrified. They’re terrified of change, they’re terrified of others, they’re terrified of losing this idea of superiority. I was at a dinner with my ex-boyfriend, who is Black, and a guy at dinner said: “I wish it was the 1950s again”. My ex said: “Only white men say that”. That’s what an Incel is to me. They wish their life was still like that. They didn’t have to be scared then. Without that power structure feeding them every day, they’re taking it upon themselves to feed themselves. Ultimately, why would you want to live a life that angry? Why would you want to live that way?
As we’re entering a new decade – the 2020s – what do you see as the future of gender?
I think gender will keep getting broken down more and more. And we’re going to see older people fighting it more and more. Probably most of the older generation will give up. But I hope, before they give up fighting, they will see that they themselves can be different and no one has to live according to any invisible rules. None of the rules are real – it’s all an illusion. The system is a complete fallacy. We all know it’s built on lies.
Do you remember those moments of awakening in your own life?
Completely. When I’d been in Hollywood for a long time, there were tons of sets towards the end of my acting career where I was like “wake up Rose, wake up, why are you here, you hate this”. I got so lost in the machine. There were so many levels of wrong I couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong. Then I shaved my head and I got really mad.
Tell us more about your short hair.
I always had short hair growing up. Then when I was in Hollywood, they told me I had to have long hair otherwise the men wouldn’t want to fuck me. If they didn’t want to fuck me, they wouldn’t hire me. A woman told me that. It always felt like it was enticing. It’s weird, the longer my hair is, the less powerful I feel. The side effect I noticed when I shaved my head is that men could hear the words coming out of my mouth for the first time. They couldn’t hear me before. I had not expected that.
How do you hope the future of beauty looks like over this next decade?
I would love for people to stop being told what they need to look like. I personally like the French term “jolie laide”, which is like “pretty-ugly”. It shows both sides of people’s personalities. I would like to see more boundaries being pushed. We should be asking ourselves: what is beautiful?