There are flies in the ointment right now who are irritated by Rose McGowan. There are flies out there who are saying to one another: “Can’t she just pipe down for five freakin’ minutes and let us enjoy the ointment?” That’s how annoying Rose McGowan is. And long may she continue.
Her latest target is the actor Natalie Portman, who attended the Oscars ceremony on Sunday in a dress embroidered with the names of female film-makers overlooked in this year’s awards nominations, among them Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Mati Diop (Atlantics) and Alma Har’el (Honey Boy). The usual questions on the red carpet gave Portman the chance to explain her particular fashion choice: “I wanted to recognise the women who were not recognised for their incredible work this year in my subtle way.”
That display of solidarity really got McGowan’s goat. In a Facebook post she called it “the kind of protest that gets rave reviews from the mainstream media” but was “more like an actress acting the part of someone who cares. As so many of them do.” She went on: “I find Portman’s type of activism deeply offensive to those of us who actually do the work.” Now the target of McGowan’s ire has responded, brushing aside any suggestions that the protest-by-needlework was brave (“Brave is a term I more strongly associate with actions like those of the women who have been testifying against Harvey Weinstein the last few weeks, under incredible pressure”) and answering accusations that she has rarely emboldened female film-makers in her own career choices: “Unfortunately, the unmade films I have tried to make are a ghost history.”
For me to judge whether Portman’s actions amounted to “lip service”, as McGowan suggested, would be to set new standards for mansplaining. What I do believe is that McGowan’s attacks on the complacency of celebrity culture are more necessary than ever now that #MeToo has become a normalised part of our collective vocabulary. Her anger was vital two years ago, when she accused Meryl Streep of hypocrisy, claiming that the multiple Oscar-winner knew about Harvey Weinstein’s predatory behaviour, an accusation Streep vehemently denied – though whether it was true or not was less relevant than the conversation it started about complicity and collusion in Hollywood. There were plenty of people, women among them, who did know about Weinstein, even if Streep wasn’t one of them.
McGowan’s anger is just as vital now. It is deeply uncomfortable to hear – as uncomfortable as Joaquin Phoenix using his Oscar win to raise the subject of forced bovine insemination – and many people will want to dismiss it, as well as dismissing the actor herself as a crank or a troublemaker. If she has proved anything since her allegations against Weinstein turbo-boosted the #MeToo movement (she alleged that he raped her, and then destroyed her career: he responded with an out-of-court settlement) then it is that she will not merely speak truth to power, but that she will keep on speaking it long after the world is trying its best not to listen.
Feminism cuts a little deeper than the assertion made on stage at the Oscars by Sigourney Weaver, Brie Larson and Gal Gadot that “all women are superheroes”. (What, all women? Katie Hopkins? Asma al-Assad?) If we want to feel warm and snuggly there are spas for that. For reality checks, there’s Rose McGowan.