In case you’ve missed it, a storm erupted over Meryl Streep and the cast of Suffragette wearing a t-shirt with the slogan, “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” emblazoned on it. The slogan led to a Twitter storm where Streep was called a “racist” and a “privileged white woman.”
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
For a recent photoshoot to document ‘Suffragette’, the first feature film to tell the story of the violent and historic struggle of women in the UK for equal rights including the right to vote, Time Out London invited the lead actresses from ‘Suffragette’ to wear t-shirts with the slogan: ‘I’d rather be a rebel than a slave’.
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.
Pankhurst’s full quote was: ‘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.’
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.