Why This 'Suffragette' Photoshoot Needs To Be Called Out

Mary Rozzi

So, this is how you do peak white feminism.

A new photoshoot featuring the cast of the upcoming movie "Suffragette" has been getting a lot of attention online, and not the good kind. The shoot, in the October issue of Time Out London, shows stars Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, Romola Garai, and Anne-Marie Duff posing in shirts that read "I'd rather be a rebel than a slave."

The quote comes from suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst (who Streep plays in the film), who originally said it during an impassioned speech at a London rally in 1913. It was probably rousing and inspiring and totally OK within the context of the time. However, this is not a 20th-century voting rights rally -- it's a highly produced fashion shoot which features beautiful, famous white women promoting a film with a quote that references slavery. And as many Twitter users are pointing out online, perpetuating the idea that sexism and racism are somehow the same thing, especially when it comes to the history of slavery, is pretty damaging.

There will be some who say that the shirt and the quote are harmless, and that the Twitter "outrage" is over-the-top (funny how people calmly pointing out that something is kinda messed up is always branded as crazy "outrage"). But when 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.

The "Suffragette" movie has already been criticized for glossing over the fact that black women were actively excluded from the fight for voting and equality rights, in both the U.K. and U.S. And some suffragettes were just straight up racist. Of course the efforts of the movement on the whole should be celebrated. And yes, the quote was said 100 years ago, in a very different time and context. But that doesn't negate the fact that to put it on a t-shirt today is to reinforce its underlying message which one Twitter user, Miz Jenkins, so eloquently spelled out:

So, white marketers everywhere, next time you think about using an outdated quote about slavery to promote your film about equality... just don't.

UPDATE 10/6/15: Time Out London has since issued a statement in response to complaints about the photoshoot:

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.

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