Her manner of speaking out veers from the traditional, poised approach taken by, for example, those leading the Time’s Up initiative, and the ensuing backlash appeared to be too much to handle. McGowan tweeted Friday that she had “given enough” and canceled the tour.
“Brave” deals in part with McGowan’s quick and tumultuous rise to stardom, rocked by heightened public attention and sexualization. Known for starring in a number of indie films and the WB’s “Charmed,” her public persona shifted dramatically in October when she accused film executive Harvey Weinstein of raping her in a hotel room during the 1997 Sundance Film Festival. Her book, dedicated to “all of us survivors,” refers to Weinstein as “my monster.” (Weinstein’s lawyer recently denied the allegations by cited emails from Ben Affleck and McGowan’s former manager.)
McGowan drew the ire of social media following an incident Wednesday night deemed “transphobic” by many Twitter users. During a book tour stop at a Barnes & Noble in New York, Variety reported, a trans woman in the audience stood up to confront McGowan on comments she made on RuPaul’s podcast “What’s the Tee?” in July.
“Talk about what you said on RuPaul,” the woman said. “Trans women are dying and you said that we, as trans women, are not like regular women. We get raped more often. We go through domestic violence more often. There was a trans woman killed here a few blocks [away].”
After McGowan responded that she and the questioner “are the same,” the audience member retorted that the actress-turned-activist does nothing for trans women. The exchange escalated into a shouting match, ending with McGowan yelling into the microphone as the audience member, taken away by security, chanted “white cis feminism.”
“Shut the f— up,” McGowan said. “Get off my back. What have you done? I know what I’ve done, god dammit. … I’m not crying, I’m f—ing mad with the lies. I’m mad that you put s— on me because I have a f—ing vagina and I’m white or I’m black or I’m yellow or I’m purple.”
She ended the rant with, “I didn’t agree to your cis f—ing world. OK? F— off.”
The crowd cheered McGowan on, which further irritated Twitter users:
McGowan cited the incident as the reason for abruptly canceling her tour, claiming the trans woman was an actor “paid to verbally assault a woman who has been terrorized by your system.” (It’s unclear to whom the “your” refers.) She went so far as to call out “my publicists … assistants, managers and every person sitting in their chairs” on their “COMPLICITY,” apparently exhibited by their failure to respond to the chaos in a desirable fashion.
Later Wednesday night, McGowan made an exceedingly uncomfortable appearance on CBS’s “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” As Colbert brought up the Weinstein allegations and McGowan’s fellow survivors, she interrupted him to claim she was “the architect” behind the producer’s demise. Colbert, brushing the comment aside, asked if she had ever doubted “her picture of reality” amid others’ disbelief.
“No, I see things,” she responded. “Yeah, that’s not my issue. Don’t make your khaki-pants mind my problem.”
McGowan seemed to avoid Colbert’s line of questioning, instead criticizing the unpleasant feel of wearing a suit and the blandness of aforementioned khaki pants. The closest she came to cohesively addressing systemic sexism in Hollywood was when she told viewers to “shake it up, because otherwise we’re all maybe going to die sooner than we think.”
While the appearance inspired confusion more than anything else, McGowan characteristically took to Twitter to defend herself the next morning: “I am unusual, that IS the point. I do not care for formats or traditional thought. Every interview of mine is different, just like a mood.”
The growing consensus seems to be that while McGowan is incredibly brave for speaking out, she might not be the best spokeswoman for the sensitive movement. And it’s not clear whether that’s what she even aspires to be, as she seems content to cut her own path. (She declined to speak to The Washington Post.) Though introduced at the inaugural Women’s Convention in late October by #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, McGowan has been incredibly critical of Meryl Streep and former “Charmed” castmate Alyssa Milano, two vocal supporters of the movement.
In a now-deleted tweet from December, McGowan criticized the decision of actresses like Streep, who have worked with Weinstein in the past, to wear black to the Golden Globes in support of the Time’s Up initiative.
“Actresses, like Meryl Streep, who happily worked for The Pig Monster, are wearing black @goldenglobes in a silent protest,” McGowan wrote, according to CNN. “YOUR SILENCE is THE problem. You’ll accept a fake award breathlessly & affect no real chance. I despise your hypocrisy. Maybe you should all wear Marchesa.”
Streep addressed McGowan’s criticism on Christiane Amanpour’s show in January, claiming she had no knowledge of Weinstein’s predatory behavior. On Wednesday, McGowan appeared on the CNN show and thanked Streep for her support. But that same day, she appeared on “Nightline” and said of Milano, who is credited with helping the #MeToo hashtag go viral, “I don’t like her … ’cause I think she’s a lie.”
Twitter users called out the lack of intersectionality — an acknowledgment of other marginalized groups within a movement — in McGowan’s activism after the argument at Barnes & Noble, and also after an incident in October. Responding to an ill-timed Weinstein joke that late-night host James Corden made at the Amfar Gala, McGowan tweeted: “THIS IS RICH FAMOUS HOLLYWOOD WHITE MALE PRIVILEGE IN ACTION. REPLACE THE WORD ‘WOMEN’ w/ the ‘N’ word. How does it feel?”
While McGowan eventually apologized for the tweet, it remains to be seen whether she will walk back her so-called transphobic comments.
When it comes to speaking out on her own struggles, she’s not standing down anytime soon. In a 90-minute interview Thursday night with Ronan Farrow, who wrote the Weinstein expose in the New Yorker, McGowan discussed another “very famous” Hollywood predator. She declined to name him — though indicated that she would in the future — and chose to drive home her opinion on critics.
“I’m not here to defend myself to people,” she said. “Don’t believe me, you don’t have to, you just have to think. I survived. I have had to protect myself. I live between worlds, not in yours and not in theirs. There is no soft spot right now. There is no soft space to land.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of #MeToo founder Tarana Burke.