Why Don’t More Women Speak Up About Sexism? Ask Rose McGowan

As if reporting harassment weren’t difficult enough, fear of retaliatory abuse keeps women quiet.

Director Rose McGowan takes part in a Q&A after the screening of 'Dawn' at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center in New York City on June 24. (Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Jun 25, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

There’s a reason many women shrug off a derogatory comment, a glance down their blouse, or even blatant groping at work: fear of further persecution.

Case in point? Rose McGowan.

The outspoken actor declared on Twitter on Wednesday night that she was fired by her “wussy acting agent because [she] spoke up about the bullshit in Hollywood.”

The agent’s move came in the wake of McGowan’s Twitter post on June 17 taking an Adam Sandler film production to task for requesting that female actors wear tight clothes and push-up bras to a casting call. After thousands of retweets and media attention, McGowan later clarified that she intended to call out institutional sexism in the entire industry, not just Sandler and his production company.

The reason Innovative Talent gave McGowan the boot may be more nuanced than retaliation for pointing out Hollywood sexism. One of her representatives at the agency, Sheila Wenzel, left the company in the wake of McGowan’s accusations, Variety reports, although the two incidents may be unrelated. Wenzel and an additional rep listed on her IMDBPro page did not immediately respond to TakePart’s request for comment.

So, Why Should You Care? McGowan’s termination sends a dangerous message to other actors, as well as to women in other fields: Speaking up has consequences.

Sexual harassment is a big no-no, as you may have learned in a mandatory training session at your place of work. Yet people who experience it often don’t report the problem.

Multiple surveys have found that between one-third and one-half of female workers experience harassment in some form. (The popular Tumblr Everyday Sexism details the range of these experiences, from small to serious.) Of 6,862 sexual harassment complaints made to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2014, 83 percent were from women. But given that there are 66 million women in the workforce, according to the latest figures from U.S. Department of Labor, the relatively low number of complaints suggests that many harassed women aren’t speaking up.

As actors such as Jessica Chastain and Heather Matarazzo have chimed in to support McGowan, they’ve mentioned the fear of retaliation they feel for speaking out.

Being fired for reporting harassment—also illegal—isn’t the only way women suffer after filing a claim. Retaliatory harassment is a real possibility, such as being denied a promotion, excluded from group activities, or criticized for so-called tattling. Workers filed 37,955 claims of retaliatory harassment for reporting all forms of discrimination or abuse to the EEOC in 2014.

As for McGowan, she’s assuring fans that she’s moving on to bigger and better things—or at least things that don’t involve sexism.