If you only read one book in 2019, make it Brave by Rose McGowan. A unique and insightful memoir, the book tells the incredible story of McGowan’s fascinating and frightening life in her own words.
Prior to reading her memoir I had no real opinion on McGowan. I’d enjoyed a few of her films and Charmed, and I disagreed with a few of the comments she’d made in the media and agreed heartily with others, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from Brave. One of my key motivations for requesting a place on her blog tour was my fascination with her comments on feminism and her spearheading of the #MeToo movement. These are important actions and I was keen to find out more about the person behind them.
One very important aspect of Brave is the fact that, from the very beginning, McGowan makes it clear that she is in no way trying to influence the reader to be like her. You don’t have to shave your head to be come free. What you need to do is evaluate your choices. McGowan is telling us that our choices are valid only if they are genuinely ours. If you want long hair, have it. If you want short hair, you do you. If you want to shave your head then go right on. But if you are being influenced by a society telling you that short hair is the best, or you are hiding yourself away behind your waterfall of cascading locks, then you need to evaluate your choices and decide if they are genuinely your own.
What I enjoyed most about this brutally honest portrayal of a hard and frightening life is that McGowan repeatedly shows great empathy, and is keen to reiterate time and again that her experiences are no worse than those of others, and make her no better than anyone else. She expresses the fact that, had she not been white, she would’ve had a far worse time and not received the opportunities she did, and she even forgives an actor who sprayed a water bottle into her crotch without her consent when she was a young actress. She pins most of the blame for the sexual assaults and brutality she received on the patriarchal society that allowed this pattern of behaviour.
Despite the challenges she has faced and the disgusting treatment she has received, McGowan is not bitter. She understands the cycles that often lead to abuse being perpetrated by those who have been mistreated themselves, and as such she doesn’t blame anyone for her tough life. She is, however, exceptionally angry against the systems and patriarchy that put her in the positions she was in. She can’t abide excuses and she is quick to retaliate against those who still believe their behaviour was justified or who claim ignorance of assaults perpetrated under their noses.
This anger manifests itself in the form of top-class swearing: the kind of swearing ordinary folk can only dream of. Inserted into lengthy descriptions of disgusting miscarriages of justice or acting as angry exclamations against those who have wronged her, McGowan’s language is evocative and emotional. Her expressions are raw and unashamed, and frankly it feels like a true honour to be able to read her experiences in her own words and learn the horrors, heartaches and triumphs she has experienced.
Among the book’s most harrowing scenes is when McGowan depicts her rape by the former head of Miramax Studios, whom she labels ‘The Monster” or ‘The Pig Monster”. Her depiction is so vivid I screamed whilst reading it, and was genuinely frightened for many hours afterwards. It is angry, raw, brutal and honest, and for that I heartily commend McGowan- if it was tough to read then I cannot possibly imagine how hard it must’ve been to write and to relive.
There are times when McGowan, despite the sensitive nature of her subject matter and the harrowing details of some of the traumas she has faced, is deeply, darkly funny, mocking both herself and the situations she has faced, some of which are utterly absurd. From being born into a cult called the Children of God in Italy to fleeing to America where she battled homelessness, drug abuse and anorexia, among other challenges, there is plenty to be bitter and sorry for about in McGowan’s story, but she is neither: her approach to challenge is refreshing and intriguing.
She is particularly scathing about bullies and online trolls, and another great aspect of Brave is the fact that McGowan repeatedly points out the mental healthy implications that words have, driving readers to consider the importance of remembering the mental health of both themselves and those they interact with. Such a frank conversation about mental health and the affects that even simple dismissals can have is refreshing and, again, vitally important.
Anyone who knows me personally will know that in my mad life I’ve had some slightly comparable experiences to McGowan. I’m not going to go into it here because this isn’t about me, but I will say this: reading Brave was the first time I’ve ever felt truly heard. I struggle to articulate my experiences, feelings and situations I’ve gotten myself into as a result of my fear. McGowan expresses her own versions of these issues perfectly in a way that is easily identifiable but at the same time completely unique and respectful of everyone’s individual experiences.
So, to finish as I started, I would like to implore you to read Brave, even if it is the only book you read over the next 12 months. McGowan’s focus is to make you sit up and listen: to drive you to explore the art you take in, be it in any form, and how it affects your mind-set and views. This may be a memoir, but it is filled with important, frank and honest conversations that need to be had in today’s society. This is more than a discussion on the life of an actress: this is an exploration of patriarchy, mental health, rape, homelessness and abuse, and I would urge you to read it and take its key messages of hope, honest, integrity and support on board.