Rose McGowan on Feminism, Sex Appeal, and Being Un-Fireable

Rose McGowan skyrocketed to fame as the super-hot bombshell that men loved to love and women loved to hate. Despite stellar performances in the films of greats, like Wes Craven and Quentin Tarantino, the world was most fascinated by McGowan’s steamy romance with the ever-provocative Marilyn Manson.

A decade later, this sharp-tongued, quick-witted feminist is using her fame to push back against the very institution that prioritized her beauty over her remarkable brain. Despite her busy schedule as a burgeoning film director and equal rights activist, Rose found time to sit down to chat with us about artistry, bravery, and the galvanizing power of the female voice. 

You don’t take shit from anyone. Teach me your ways.

I think it’s incredibly important to stand up for yourself, and I didn’t do that for myself for a long time in Hollywood. I always said “fuck you” to the rules, but it took me awhile to realize that the rules don’t exist. And for women, also, it’s scary. But know your value. Ask for twice as much as you think you’re worth, and you’ll probably break even. 

You’re a badass feminist. How has that been received in Hollywood?

In all the years I have been doing this, I have never had a single male writer say, “Would a woman say this? Would a girl say this? Could this cause damage to young girls in the world?” Mainly because they don’t give a shit. They have these outsider ideas of what it means to be a girl, and then girls go see their films and that idea sticks in their head. And they play that part. What I’m positing is the idea that you don’t have to play a part. You don’t have to do what they say. I was the pixel that was put through a satellite to come steal your boyfriend. Why? I’m not sure. And I had no voice. There was no Twitter. There was no way for me to speak for myself. I have an inherent sexuality, which is kind of funny, because it’s completely at odds with my brain. But it was vilified, it was shamed.

So how do you navigate your sexuality and your feminism?

They are united. There should be no schism. Feminism is a pretty easy concept. I want equal rights, equal pay. Get out of my body. I would just like to be left the fuck alone to do what I want to do when I want to do it—just like a man. Sexuality fits in that spectrum. It’s deeply embedded misogyny in men that starts at an incredibly young age, and women eventually are brainwashed and go along with it.

I was in Miami recently and I was seeing these girls with the bandage dresses and the fake Jimmy Choos, fake nails, fake tans, fake hair, fake eyelashes. And I just thought, Oh my God. Look at America’s bullshit idea of what sexiness is. You are in drag, as a woman. You are doing woman-drag.

Are you done acting?

I quit, basically, acting. I did a couple jobs. I did one this summer that was just whatever. My brother was going to lose his house, so I needed money. I was like, OK, I’ll make some money and then give it away. But by and large, I just refuse to be abused. I refuse to be put down. I refuse to be put in a box or a category by somebody that frankly is not as smart as I am. I never liked it, actually. I was really good at it…I kind of felt like I was Cindy Sherman that talked. I disappeared into every role I did. And that was one of the problems. I put up with so much shit. 

Do you want to tackle these issues with your directing, or is your art a separate thing?

One can’t exist without the other. Every role I got as an actress was underwritten and pretty two-dimensional. I was undersold and undervalued. People prioritized my body over my brain, which was funny because I grew up largely without mirrors for the first 10 years of my life. I was not raised as a boy or a girl. I was raised as a mind. 3 1/2 years later, I developed breasts. All of the sudden, the world is very loud.

You’ve discussed this idea of being unfire-able as an artist. Can you expand on that?

That’s the thing. I got fired by my agency, which was really quite funny. At first, I was really mad. I thought, Oh, my God. I’m being blacklisted. And I had a moment of total terror, because I thought, How will I make a living? And then I realized I didn’t give a shit. Then I realized I am an artist and I cannot be fired. Being well known and having a platform, I do think it is a social responsibility to use that platform. And why not say something meaningful? Why not?

I just want to start a conversation. Once people start thinking about something, it can’t go back to the way it was. It’s just like once you’ve gone to AA. People say that if they go to AA, and get sober for awhile, they can never again have a peaceful high. It’s always in the back of their mind. I want to do that. 

You know you’re brave, right?

Always have been. When I was four, in the commune, they would say, “Have you let Jesus in your heart today?” And I would say, “Nope, but ask me tomorrow.” And then I lit a wall of their bibles on fire. And then I burnt a barn down. I was pissed off, but I had a right to be pissed off. None of what they were doing was matching up with what they were preaching.

Being brave doesn’t mean you don’t feel scared. It means your ankles shake and you still stand there. Being brave is pushing through it.

Yes, your childhood was certainly unique. How has that formed who you are today?

I grew up under fire. It was very artistic. It was kind of like growing up in the Tudor court, where you have to basically fight to survive through all these weird trials and tribulations. I was not having it, so I fought. I’ve been a fighter my whole life, and there was a point where I got really tired of fighting. I don’t fight anymore. I’m not fighting. I’m pushing. 

I’m curious, how did growing up in a commune shape your spirituality?

I have a hard time in nature imagining that there isn’t some force. I find a very positive energy that I can vibe with. I don’t quite feel that the earth is my home. I kind of feel that I belong outside of time and exist in that way. But I think there is a greater question. People are so concerned with, “What is God?” I think the greater question is, “What are we?”

Lastly, I just want to thank you for everything you do.

It’s not me. I just represent something. I am actually just a representative of an alternative option. Be present. Be a force in your own life. Stand up. Don’t wait for a man to help you out with anything. Don’t think a man is going to save you, because you’ve been saving yourself all along. And it’s all you. And know your power, know your worth. It’s very formidable. If girls banded together…Oh, my God. They could crush things. 

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Photography and Creative Direction by Prince + Jacob

Styling by Alexandra Mandelkorn

Makeup by Cherish Brooke Hill

Interview by Caroline Pires

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