Rose McGowan: ‘I was raised in a cult “run by men, to benefit men”.’

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The following is an extract from Rose McGowan’s memoir Brave. 

The cult was a highly sexualised environment, run by men, to benefit men. My father loved it, I could tell. I remember standing in a corner, watching my father preach, as he sat on a thronelike rattan chair. Women—girls—were on their knees staring up at him with dreamy expressions. Women literally worshipped at his feet. I remember looking at the women on their knees. Then my father on his throne. I’ll never be like those women, I thought. Never. It grossed me out. Looking back, it was the time of my father’s life when he was at his most radiant. Abuse of power was inevitable, and he certainly abused his position.

One day my father said to my very young mother: “Saffron [my mother’s name in the cult], I want to be married to this other woman as well.” Well, hell. That must have sucked. There have been lots of times I have wanted to go back in time and kick my father’s ass, this being one of them. My poor mother’s own mom, Sharon, had just died tragically. My mother’s dad was gone, too. She was alone in a cult in another country with a bunch of kids she was told to have and now this? It must have been crushing. She had no choice, and he took another wife. That’s how my four youngest siblings—two full and two half—are so close in age.

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Children of God next started advocating child-adult sex as a way to “live the law of love,” which is just beyond disgusting and criminal. I saw an eleven-year-old girl being forced to sit next to a naked man, with his floppy dick on his leg. They made her sit between his legs so he could “massage” her back. I saw her tears. Even then I knew none of it was “normal,” whatever normal was. I don’t think there really is such a thing as “normal,” but I knew that this was something deeply wrong, something to be avoided at all costs.

I feel bad for that small child I was, who from age three or four already knew so much about surviving. I didn’t know what it was like to feel safe. In its place, there was stress and, underneath it all, a deep undercurrent of fear running through the commune. From a very early age, I realised kids were very far down the list on things to care about, which is lame when you’re the child on the bottom of that long list.

An unfortunate necessity in this environment was being able to immediately pick up on danger. I excelled at it. One of my survival skills was, upon entering a room, to locate a weapon. I would do an immediate scan of the area to see what I could use to cause someone else the most damage and defend myself against attack. My quick mind and rapid thought processes have been my lifelong saviour as much as my fight. I’ve always gone by the seat of my pants, and my intuition is damned good. It’s too bad I didn’t apply the same skills to Hollywood. It would have saved me a lot of heartache. It could have saved me from unspeakable trauma.

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In any case, my outwit-and-outlast mentality served me well as a child. Thankfully, I was just young enough to escape getting molested, or maybe my penchant for always having very short hair and wearing my brother’s hand-me-downs helped save me. They thought I was a boy most of the time. Although the boys certainly got nailed, too. Fuck, maybe I was just too much of a troublemaker.

It would only have been a matter of time, but luckily for us, my father drew the line at paedophilia, and he made secret plans to leave. We couldn’t just announce we were leaving and walk away, though. When the cult got wind of certain members wanting to leave, one of their children might disappear, or some family would get severe punishment meted out to them, as a way of teaching the others.

And so one night, my father told us there was a man named Bepo and he was after us with a hammer. There was a car waiting for us, we got shoved in, and go go go.

First we fled to a place called Munano, a small town in the Tuscany region of Italy. We lived in a centuries-old stone house where we boiled water and bathed in a round rusted metal tub.

We were scraggly kids wearing hippie hand-me-downs. I was used to having many kids around me, so it was strange to share a room with only four other children, to be suddenly with so few people, even if they were my actual family instead of “The Family.”

My father had left the Children of God physically, if not mentally, taking his other wife, Esther. As for my mother, all I know is that she was left behind. There were so many women in the cult that I didn’t have a firm grasp on my mother as an individual. It was just one more level of destabilisation in what would be a pattern for me in my life.

Now that we were in this small medieval town, I was sent to my first public school. It was very confusing. In the cult, we had worn whatever fit from the pile of donated and hand-me-down clothes, and I mostly wore my brother’s clothes. Now I was assigned to wear a pink button-down smock. I preferred the blue smock and asked why I couldn’t wear it instead. I asked the teacher about this logic, and she told me because I was a girl I had to wear pink. Only the boys wore blue. I thought that was some of the dumbest shit I had ever heard. I was furious that I was now different from my brother for an arbitrary reason. I didn’t understand why I now had to wear pink. I still don’t.

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We had a neighbour lady named Antonella who knitted me yellow wool underpants, which are just as uncomfortable as they sound. They were bulky and lumpy and needed to be tied so that they stayed up. I was and am wildly allergic to wool. They itched so much on my way to my first day of Systemite school that I ditched them and left them behind a bush.

I walked out onto the play area on my first school break. It was stressful for me because I didn’t know what kids did in regular school. I didn’t know what the bells meant or what the rules were. That day, the girls on the playground were doing the Italian version of Ring Around the Rosie: Amore, Tesoro, Salsiccia, Pomodoro! After saying “pomodoro,” the little girls would fall on their backs and kick their feet up in the air. I saw a girl approaching to invite me to play. I thought about my lack of underwear and stiffened, pulling my stupid pink smock down farther. The girl came closer and asked me to join the others. I went mute. I shook my head vigorously side to side, standing rigidly against the wall of the schoolyard. I pulled my smock down farther in case she had any idea to drag me out to play. The girl looked at me like I was crazy. I was still mute. It was my first interaction with a noncult child and I didn’t know how to talk to her. So I just stayed mute.

I was immediately shunned by her and the other girls and labelled a snob. Sigh. It set the tone for the rest of my patchy scholastic career and, really, my later life. They knew I was different. I knew I was different. Not better than, not worse than, just different. It wasn’t a feeling I had, it was just a fact. I didn’t integrate well. I didn’t relate to children at all. Theirs was a language I didn’t, and couldn’t, speak. They had concerns in life to which I couldn’t relate; my problems were about surviving. When you have really big, dark things happen to you, it takes a lot more to care about things. It felt like I was about eight thousand years old in a small person’s body, essentially an alien among those who understood traditional societal constructs.

Rose McGowan's memoir 'Brave' details her journey from the cult she was born into and to another, more visible cult: Hollywood. This is her raw, honest, and poignant memoir/manifesto-a no-holds-barred, pull-no-punches account of the rise of a millennial icon, fearless activist, and unstoppable force for change who is determined to expose the truth about the entertainment industry, dismantle the concept of fame, shine a light on a multibillion-dollar business built on systemic misogyny, and empower people everywhere to wake up and be BRAVE.

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