In Time Out London’s tasteless photoshoot promoting the upcoming film ‘Suffragette,’ Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, Romola Garai, and Anne-Marie Duff proudly and happily pose in shirts that read, “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.”
The quote came from suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst (who is played by Meryl Streep) during an impassioned speech she gave at a London rally in 1913. For the times, this was probably intensely rousing and inspirational, but in today’s context it is an entirely different story.
The full quote:
“I know that women, once convinced that they are doing what is right, that their rebellion is just, will go on, no matter what the difficulties, no matter what the dangers, so long as there is a woman alive to hold up the flag of rebellion. I would rather be a rebel than a slave.”
If it is a little shocking that there would be a reference to slavery in a speech about women, keep in mind that during those times, racism (not just sexism) was still running rampant with no signs of stopping. As many people have pointed out, there were many suffragists that were downright racist. That does not mean that modern-day women should compare or treat slavery and sexism as if they are two sides of the same coin — slavery is an entirely different oppression and should be acknowledged as such.
Yet, without a shred of sensitivity to these issues, Time Out London wrote about how this "powerful" idea inspired their photoshoot:
"That idea of finding your voice, keeping your nerve and fighting the impulse to be a ‘good girl’ is a powerful one in the film. It’s perfect, then, for our photoshoot with Mulligan, Streep, Garai and Duff, four women who tell us why the fight for equality still isn’t over and why the suffragettes were ‘bad-a**’ feminists."
We do not live in 20th-century London where it is fairly “normal” to reference and speak lightly of slavery — we live in a society with many striving for equality on all fronts. To put four beautiful white women in shirts that reference slavery to promote a film with the additional hope of rousing women to “find their voice,” as Time Out London suggested, is beyond backwards.
As Huffington Post’s Zeba Blay points out, “[W]hen tone deaf marketing plays out on this public of a stage, it deserves to be called out. While the shirts and the shoot were obviously well-meaning, the subtlety with which they trot out a very dated idea — because yes, gender oppression is toxic and terrible but it is just not the same thing as slavery — should at the very least be acknowledged.”
Many have expressed their outrage, criticisms, and general dismay over the photoshoot on Twitter.
Meryl Streep has to know better. And if not, her publicist should have.— deray mckesson (@deray) October 5, 2015
White women have said a lot of terrible things over the course of history, doesn't mean you wear it on a shirt. https://t.co/Y02pmmnJCL— Jamilah Lemieux (@JamilahLemieux) October 5, 2015
The quote from #Suffragette makes sense. They didn't care much for the Voice of Black Women then either.— Ms. Brooks™ (@TheREAL_MBrooks) October 5, 2015
Some, however, believe that the quote is as harmless as it is a pure representation of those long-ago times and the movie itself — that includes Time Out London.
In a statement that was released shortly after the backlash on Twitter, Time Out London said, “This is a quote from a 1913 speech given by Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the historic British suffragettes whose fight for equality is portrayed in the movie. The original quote was intended to rouse women to stand up against oppression - it is a rallying cry, and absolutely not intended to criticise those who have no choice but to submit to oppression, or to reference the Confederacy, as some people who saw the quote and photo out of context have surmised... Time Out published the original feature online and in print in the UK a week ago. The context of the photoshoot and the feature were absolutely clear to readers who read the piece. It has been read by at least half a million people in the UK and we have received no complaints.”
What do you think of this shirt: harmless or tasteless? Let us know in the comments!
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