A Conversation with Rose McGowan, Activist, Artist and Agent of Change.

While writing her memoir/manifesto ‘Brave’, Rose McGowan was hacked, stalked, spied-on and had parts of her manuscript stolen.  As she notes, “My life was infiltrated by Israeli spies and harassing lawyers, some of the most formidable on earth. These evil people hounded me at every turn while I went about resurrecting the ghosts that have made up my time on earth. I can only say it was extraordinarily stressful, an incredible high-wire act that required great strategy. There was never any other choice. Justice would be served…

You would be forgiven for thinking that was the opening line to the memoirs of someone who had broken-cover and blown the whistle on deep government corruption, or escaped dictatorial regime to tell their story, but in fact this is a story of one woman’s fight to be herself, to assert her individuality, in a world where arbitrary factors such as your gender, your skin colour, or your sexuality can determine so much of your life.

Rose McGowan gained global recognition as a leading actress and is now best known as a feminist whistle-blower, activist and agent of change.

A writer, director, music artist, icon, entrepreneur, and feminist whistle-blower, she focused a spotlight on injustice and inequality in the entertainment industry and beyond. As an activist, she led a movement to break the silence and became a leading voice in the fight to disrupt the status quo. By creating the social justice platform #ROSEARMY, she has signalled to the world that it is time to think differently and be better. Her directorial debut, ‘Dawn’, was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

I caught up with Rose to learn more about why our world still hasn’t moved-past sexism, and how we can fight the power imbalance with bravery, intelligence, creativity and individualism.

Q: Why are our power structures so scared of people who speak the truth?

[Rose McGowan] Those in power can react in vicious ways; I’ve been stalked, hacked, abused – it’s been an insane journey, and something so far beyond the pale that I think people sometimes have a hard time relating to it.

People in power live in fear of their power being taken away, and they fight like bears in a cage that are being backed into a corner.  I had no idea how hard those in power would fight me, and it’s an extraordinarily difficult thing to be on the receiving end of.

Society needs to push back at those abusing power; why should anyone be allowed to abuse, whether they have power or not – it just doesn’t make sense.  

Q:  Are we all culpable in today’s power imbalance?

[Rose McGowan] You, me, society and people in general are culpable, and let’s not forget that people in power are people!

So many of us think that we don’t have power as individuals; and that makes us unwittingly complicit.  Every time someone doesn’t do the right thing in any given situation, it allows that situation to go on longer, and in that way, there’s complicity – and that’s dangerous culturally, and dangerous to our forward momentum as we try to move towards being the free people we’re meant to be.

Q: How has social media impacted our conversations around power?

[Rose McGowan] Social media doesn’t give a lot of chance for nuanced conversations; and we’re dealing with complex issues that need nuance to sort.  When you only have the opportunity to present a binary view, or are limited to 140 characters, you don’t really have the latitude to have a conversation of any depth.  The behaviours we see aren’t new – in the past, if there was a someone the local community had branded a witch, there would be a mob outside her door with flaming torches – that mob is now on social media.

That’s why having these conversations, like the one you and I are having, are so important.  Just to get a bit more dimension to what’s going on.

However; social media has been both incredibly frustrating and a huge gift for people who previously didn’t have a voice.

Q:  How do you create a narrative of individuality in a world that doesn’t seem to celebrate individualism?

[Rose McGowan] Individuality is my biggest fight, not #MeToo.  People need to realise their own power, their own freedom, and their own ability to be better.

My book Brave is not about #MeToo, but when I went on my first book tour – that was all people were asking me about; and once again, I had my narrative stolen – and I was portrayed as this figure, full of rage, because – perhaps – it’s easier for people to not understand my narrative and write me off as angry, and that’s a real shame.

Our individualities have been stolen, and when you don’t know who you are? You can feel rudderless and disconnected from society, it’s like you’re looking at it through a lonely bubble.

Q: What has been the role of bravery in your life?

[Rose McGowan] The key component of bravery is integrity.  My father’s nickname for me was, ‘the brave one,’ and what I saw growing up was the reality that people would often give their integrity to make life more comfortable in the short term; but guess what, that leads to your integrity being chipped away until you are left with nothing – just with the shell of who you are, and who you could have been.

Being brave does not mean you can’t be scared – like many of us, I have a lot of fears – and coming forward about the abuses of power was fearful; but I couldn’t not do it, because I’d been kind-of raised for battle.

If people don’t want to battle, they don’t have to – one of the things I tell people is to write-down their belief system, and see what’s been implanted, and what’s organically yours.  When you separate those two things, you start seeing where you can be a better person.  Make a list of your fears too; when you know your fears, you can take action against them.

I’m somebody who has always heartily resented being afraid, because I don’t think we’re born afraid, I think it’s implanted into us, and that’s a damn shame.

Q:  What has been the role of creativity and art in your journey?

[Rose McGowan] Creativity and art play a huge role in knowing our worth.  People think creativity is about being able to draw, paint or to be a photographer- but it’s so much more than that.  I think we’re all born creative, but it’s something that’s taken away from us.  We’re taught we’re not creative, and almost told what we are instead.  It makes sense, right? When you don’t know your self-worth, you’re more docile and easier to control by the ‘machine.’  That’s the cult-like structure society is built around.

Art is everywhere it’s in a beautiful building, a beautiful flower, in the colours we see.  Whatever you do in life, you can be creative, and you have to be if you want to succeed, and find a sense of personal freedom.

We are all creative beings, but we’re brought up being told not to colour outside the lines – but why? It’s OK to be different…. It’s more than OK to be different, and we need to encourage that.

Art has been the most freeing and therapeutic thing I can do.  I have an album I’ve been working on for the past three years, and the first track on it is called ‘Lonely House’, and I say ‘…are you lonely on your planet, are you lonely on the fringe?’  And that was me, lonely on the fringe, going through so much, and without way to express it.

I started expressing myself lyrically, vocally, and learned that it was OK to see and feel things differently.  There’s just as much right and value to that. Art can save us, just artistic thinking even.  You may be reading this today in the corporate world, thinking you’re not an artist, but you are – everyone is the artist of their own life.

Q: Why do so many people build identity just on what they do?

[Rose McGowan] I love the idea of pushing at the overall intelligence level of the world, rather than just being activist at one thing.  What if we could push the overall intelligence of our world to be 10% better, what if we could push ourselves to be 10% better, it’s a doable number but the impact would be immense.

One of the things that I did when I was younger (and this is kind of how I raised myself because I was on my own from such a young age) was when I was confused or scared I would think of what the better version of myself would do, and imitate that until I became that person.

Q: Why is so much of our identity based on arbitrary factors like our gender or who we choose to have sex with?

[Rose McGowan]  It’s so stupid how society defines us.

I was raised in a really unique way, and it gave me a different view on gender and, in some ways, race.  I was raised in a commune, and I grew up without mirrors- without vanity. To be without mirrors growing up means that there’s no real defined sense of self based on the external.  When I came into America however, I was told I was a girl, and this is what you can and can’t do… it really is cult like thinking, and gender is a cult, and it’s so dull… it’s not what we are, it doesn’t encompass what we are.

What I’m trying to do is get people to see each other as human before anything else, that’s all we are.  We might be aliens, but we’re human.  I don’t think people put enough stock in that.  If we can see our humanity reflected in each other, if we can see each other instead of just man or woman I think we’d really be free, I think we’d have something truly special.

Q:  Who are you?

[Rose McGowan] Today, I am an artist.  For a long time- when I was just an actress, I was still an artist but nobody told me I was, I was viewed as a commodity, and one that wasn’t worth much at that.

I hated writing actress when I had to fill in boarding-cards or other forms, it was narrow, it chafed because of the stereotypes.  I wish someone had just said to me sooner, ‘you know what? You’re an artist…’ – it would have freed me a lot sooner to understand art, to understand my own thoughts and processes.

Q:  Do you think our education system encourages a brave mindset?

[Rose McGowan] Our education system needs a massive overhaul.  When I came to America, I was shocked by the determination of our education system to stamp out my individuality and to make me conform.  I looked at those people who changed my name from Rosa to Rose, who did these horrible things to me, and realised that if that can happen to me? As someone with a strong mind and a strong sense of individuality? What happens to someone without that strength? What happens to young people who haven’t yet found themselves?

Teaching the history of humanity is important, and not just military history.  We mark out our eras by wars instead of movements, periods of artistic expression, freedom fighters, and those on the fringe that have changed the world.  We teach from the perspective of insiders and outsiders without understanding why each group is defined as such.

If we invited difference into our lives, we would be richer.  Differences in gender, in race, in thought… homogenisation of thought is a crime against our humanity.

Q: What does freedom mean to you?

[Rose McGowan] For me, freedom is living outside social norms, realising that power structures are an illusion and realising that the rules we put on ourselves and others are also illusions.  Freedom means that we realise that we don’t subscribe to illusions, and free ourselves from dogma.

People are fearful of free thinkers, but I genuinely believe that if others could be free, and we could be free too, that our world would have a great healing.  That’s my hope.

Thought Economics

About the Author

Vikas Shah MBE DL is an entrepreneur, investor & philanthropist. He is CEO of Swiscot Group alongside being a venture-investor in a number of businesses internationally. He is a Non-Executive Board Member of the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and a Non-Executive Director of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Vikas was awarded an MBE for Services to Business and the Economy in Her Majesty the Queen’s 2018 New Year’s Honours List and in 2021 became a Deputy Lieutenant of the Greater Manchester Lieutenancy. He is an Honorary Professor of Business at The Alliance Business School, University of Manchester and Visiting Professors at the MIT Sloan Lisbon MBA.