‘Yes, All Women’: Rose McGowan Flips the Feminist Hashtag Into Action

The actor is hosting an art show and fund-raiser for the East Los Angeles Women's Center.

Rose McGowan at New York Fashion Week, 2015. (Photo: Monica Schipper/Getty Images)

Sep 18, 2015· 3 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Like many activist-driven hashtags, #yesallwomen grew out of a tragedy and blossomed into something profound. But for Rose McGowan and Jessie Askinazi, the social media mantra is just the beginning of a new kind of feminist movement—one that can grow from its grassroots past.

“I was just watching an amazing documentary, a Ken Burns documentary about Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and god, we have a lot to learn from them,” McGowan, the actor best known for her role in the long-running TV show Charmed, tells TakePart. “These women that came before us suffered, and if all we can do is put a hashtag on Twitter, I think we can do more. I think we need to do more. And if I’m rising up, I want anybody reading this to rise up too.”

McGowan, who’s been doing a lot of rising up herself lately, is preparing to host an art show and silent auction at Dilettante Gallery in Los Angeles with director and curator Askinazi. The event, on Saturday, which features visual and performance art and music from the likes of Barbara Kruger, Kim Gordon, and Kathleen Hanna, is a fund-raiser for the East Los Angeles Women’s Center, a nonprofit that offers crisis counseling for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

“I met so many amazing women—both survivors or other volunteers there or the staff themselves—and I just realized how much heart and soul goes into this kind of work and how vital it is to women, especially marginalized women who may not have access to really great care or support,” says Askinazi, a photographer who began volunteering at the East Los Angeles Women’s Center earlier this year and decided she wanted to bring more awareness—and funding—to the organization that began as a community hotline nearly 40 years ago. “I knew that I wanted to take something that evolved from #yesallwomen, the messages, and I wanted to put that toward actual sort of tangible activism.”

The show takes its name from the hashtag that sparked a global conversation about feminism following a shooting rampage in Santa Barbara, California, in May 2014. In a video the gunman uploaded to YouTube, the 22-year-old college student blamed the women who had sexually rejected him. His words were haunting, but for many women, his sense of entitlement wasn’t entirely unfamiliar. On Twitter, stories of gender-based harassment, discrimination, violence, and inequality were shared using the refrain #yesallwomen. The idea behind it: Yes, all women can relate to the feeling of being targeted by men.

Globally, women between the ages of 15 and 44 are more at risk for rape and domestic violence than for cancer, car accidents, war, or malaria, according to World Bank data. As many as 38 percent of murders of women around the world are committed by an intimate partner, according to the World Health Organization, which cites intimate partner violence as the most common type of violence against women.

“When the hashtag first went viral, I just remember sitting at my computer and watching all these stories kind of flood in one by one, millions of them, and it just was this really kind of visceral, overwhelming experience in real time of seeing girls and women across the world talking about these issues that have deeply affected me personally, of course, like it has for most of us,” says Askinazi, who describes the hashtag as a transformative experience.

Browsing through the hashtag on Twitter reveals personal stories that are sometimes relatable and sometimes uncomfortable—and often both. They range from “sexual harassment, sexism in the workplace, you know, government regulations of our bodies, there’s just so many issues that come into play,” Askinazi says. Women account for half the world’s population, McGowan adds, and “to not inhabit our own space in this planet as a group because we’re held back, frankly, is a total load of bulls--t and something that, you know, believe me, at times feels like criminality. It’s criminal.”

It’s been more than a year since the hashtag exploded online, but McGowan says it’s no less relevant today—which means there’s still work to be done in building awareness about the sexism women face on a regular basis. “There hasn’t been a lot of progress other than really kind of launching this [hashtag], and it’s really beginning in the zeitgeist—launching this into something that we as a society are shining a light on,” says McGowan, adding that many men are also becoming interested in the movement and in hearing about the experiences of women.

Earlier this summer, McGowan took to Twitter to share her own experience of being a woman in Hollywood—and the tweets instantly went viral. In June, she tweeted a note attached to a casting call that asked female actors to wear a push-up bra to an audition for an Adam Sandler movie. In other words, “yes, all women”—yes, even professional actors—have to deal with gendered assumptions that their bodies are up for discussion.
When she got dropped from her agency for the tweet, McGowan laughed it off. After all, she’s got a full slate of projects to focus on—none of which involve acting. She’s planning to direct a feature, a TV series, a docuseries, and several commercials that she views as performance art—plus this weekend’s fund-raiser, for which she’ll serve as the master of ceremonies. Askinazi hopes it will be the starting point for a series of traveling exhibitions across the country.

“It’s going to be a really fun night, and it’s really exciting to throw down for women,” says McGowan. “We’re fighting the good fight. And we’re right, is the thing. We’re right.”