Just read this Vox article by Alex Abad-Santos about a controversy involving Meryl Streep, who apparently sparked a Twitter outrage fest by wearing, along with fellow cast-members of a film about the British Suffragette movement, a t-shirt with the slogan “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.”
The Vox article links to a Cosmo(!) essay by Gugu Mhlungu that’s critical of Streep because of the shirt (as well as other comments Streep made about feminism; she prefers to be called a “humanist,” apparently). Here’s an excerpt from Mhlungu’s essay:
The slogan comes from the famous speech by Pankhurst and the part from which the tee slogan is taken from is as follows:
‘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.’
But taken out of context, it’s deeply problematic. Especially in the American context where during the American Civil War, the Confederates, who referred to themselves as ‘rebels’, came from the Southern slave states and fought for their right to own slaves. So Meryl appears to be wearing an item of clothing that says ‘I’d rather own a slave than be one’.
Emphasis mine. I roll my eyes along with Mhlungu at people who equivocate about the label “feminist,” which should be embraced by every person who believes women are fully human. But back to the shirt: Why isn’t the onus on the people who view the image sans context to find out the context before proceeding directly to outrage? It’s a fairly famous quote.
Abad-Santos also seems to assume that readers will share his view that wearing the shirt was an affront, or at least a PR debacle that Streep should have avoided:
Streep hasn’t commented on the shirt. She probably won’t, since Time Out has taken responsibility with its apology. But like the context of the quote, that apology pales in comparison with the image of the most recognizable and respected American actress of the past 30 years wearing a T-shirt her publicist shouldn’t have cleared.
And Mhlungu ends with this:
Although probably well intentioned, this Suffragettes movie campaign shows why intersectionality is so important if our feminism will mean anything.
I thought I understood what intersectionality means, but I guess I don’t, or at least not in the way Mhlungu and Abad-Santos understand it. I get that oppression around race and gender can’t be fully understood as separate experiences because their combined effect is greater than the individual components. I also get that our feminist forebears weren’t inclusive and that too many still aren’t and that we should be.
But I don’t understand why it’s considered insulting or wrong or tone deaf for people in the UK — which is a whole other country, after all — to use words like “rebel” and “slave” without considering the context of the American Civil War, particularly when the use is related to a famous quote by a non-American historical figure (whom Streep was portraying in the movie, doubtlessly with an absolutely flawless British accent).
My initial take is that the outrage is a stupid example of the social media “call-out culture” that I find annoying as hell as I settle into my dotage. But! I sometimes find when I’m rolling my eyes at kids today with their stupid tweeting and misplaced outrage, etc., I’m actually missing something important — particularly when it’s an issue involving race — because middle-aged white lady.
So, I’m asking with all sincerity: What am I missing here?
Nothing. So sayeth a *mumble-mumble-aged* Black man.
Take heart for Mrs. Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again!
You’re not missing anything, the author just wants to be outraged and gets to show off their own purity. By this person’s reasoning, Star Wars is problematic because the good guys are the Rebel Alliance.
Although I had been unaware of the Pankhurst quotation, it wasn’t until I read this post (maybe the third time I’ve seen the t-shirt described) that I was made aware (maybe if I’d read further the other times someone else would have clued me in, but anyway, now I know) that people—entirely reasonably!—were reading “rebel” and thinking “neo-Confederate asshole”. My life is such that I’m able to ignore and forget about “Rebel pride” and similar crap for years at a time. I’m lucky.
Am I the first to point out that slavery would have been impossible if the slaves had been armed?
Also from the article, with my emphasis:
In other words, people were concern trolling.
I kind of agree her publicist shouldn’t have cleared it though. That’s a fair point.
@RSA: That about sums it up.
OT – A failure to comunicate
Rep. Trey Gowdy, chairman of the Select Committee on Benghazi, went after CNN on Sunday after the network aired an interview with a former staffer who said the committee’s Benghazi work is a “partisan investigation” targeting Hillary Clinton.
“Had CNN contacted the Committee regarding its interview with this staffer before it rushed to air his sensationalistic and fabulist claims, it could have fully questioned him about his unsubstantiated claims. But that is the difference between journalism as practiced by CNN, and the fact-centric investigation being conducted by this Committee,” Gowdy’s statement reads.
A CNN spokesperson said the network contacted the committee on Saturday with a “detailed description of Podliska’s accusations.”
“We categorically deny Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy’s statement about CNN,” the spokesperson said. “We reached out to the committee for a response prior to publishing or broadcasting, which the committee provided. That response was included in our reporting. In addition, Chairman Gowdy was invited to discuss this on CNN and declined.
Isn’t Meryl Streep American?
I mean, if a UK anti-smoking campaign gave out shirts that said “Down With Fags”, Americans who wear those shirts for an American audience can expect a backlash.
Streep looks so happy in that photo, maybe she IS a racist!
Beth in VA
The intersectionality or whatever folks aren’t winning friends by constantly scolding. Can’t anything critical be said by pointing out a situation where it’s done right?
This is some seriously stupid shit.
So, Merle Streep’s publicist should dictate what the entire cast should wear because it can be misinterpreted by those that misinterpret.
In any case, who wouldn’t rather be a rebel than a slave? Slavery is a crime against humanity and being enslaved sucks.
Nothing. These people are morons, Donny.
@Doug!: Why yes, I believe you are!
Yeah, seems like not a big deal. I don’t think it’s fair to lets Confederates claim the word “rebel” either.
Merle Streep has a very public crush
American slavery was a horror. A true horror. Read the history. It is worse than even imagined.
For Meryl Streep to equate the subjugation of white (free) women to slavery is insulting. Period. White women could not vote but they were not, in the same way as slaves, owned, raped, robbed of their children, and sold away as property.
How about this: If Jesus had been armed, they never would have crucified him.
And the current animated series, “Star Wars Rebels,” is now apparently racist.
It’s that rare example of the kind of thing of which we progressives are falsely accused all the time: manufactured outrage, and based on pure idiocy to boot.
Spartacus preferred being a rebel to a slave and so did Nat Turner.
Um, did you read the top, or am I misunderstanding your comment?
@Trinity: It’s a quote from Pankhurst but I agree with you, anyway.
My feeling is that white women were trying to get the vote. They easily could have referenced another speech
@J: I was looking for a way to say this, but you nailed it. Occasionally we do go overboard.
Emmeline Pankhurst didn’t just say the word “slave” one time, she directly compared white women not getting to vote to black slavery:
@J: It’s got solid whiffs of the War On Christmas going in certain wings too. Plus the bedrock assumption that all actions at all times are meant for the consumption of the American Market and it’s delicate sensabilities and subtext.
Nobody must ever say or do anything that might be misinterpreted by anyone ever.
I am all for thinking through context and being socially sensitive but this is just dumb. No one is required to explicate the context of every word they use that might have negative associations. Even knowing almost nothing about Meryl Streep (except that she is a wonderful actress) it would never even cross my mind that her “rebel” t-shirt could possibly be referring to 18th and nineteen century slavery in America. Honestly, sometimes outrage is counterproductive.
@beltane: agreed; saying ypu do not want to be a slave seems like it should not be controversial. Any criticism is based on an implicit rejection of that concept.
I believe in all kinds of rights, in justice, and politeness. But this is the kind of ‘PC’ that should be (gently) mocked. It would be like taking offense to the Zapata quote about ‘I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees’ by saying it harshed on people with foot deformities…
@TG Chicago: That’s an interesting analogy, and you’re right — Streep is an American. I guess the question is if the quote is as obviously insulting / open to misinterpretation / etc., as a straight-up slur like “fags” (in the US) would be. “Rebel” and “slave” have non-slur dictionary definitions in the US and meanings outside the context of the Civil War in the US and UK in a way that the word “fags” does not, and the quote itself has a historical context. Still, food for thought.
Your argument, if any, is with Pankhurst, not Streep.
Nit picking here, but women at that period could have their children taken by their husbands if the husband and wife separated, could legally be raped by their husbands, and couldn’t own property.
I freely admit that it was not akin to slavery, but still, small points of correction.
@henqiguai: Everything, sadly. The failure to provide context exhibits bad judgment all around.
@Trinity: Pretty much this. I’m not saying I cosign the outrage, but the cavalier dismissal and speed to condemn them as morons is disheartening. No one thinks Meryl Streep is a racist, just that it’s very insensitive. If the campaign was going to stay in the U.K., it may have been ok.
Suffice to say, consideration of people color was not on the table. Funny enough, that was the problem with Stonewall. I didn’t view the t-shirts as outrage worthy, but I did get why it was yet another burr under the saddle.
@Evan: Many of the early feminists were middle to upper class white women who shared all the racial and class based prejudices of their male counterparts. They are by no means universally inspiring figures for all women. However, in this case the outrage was over the use of the word “rebel” being misconstrued as support for the Confederate States of America.
@AdamK: Someone credited me for ‘nailing it’ above. Thanks for kind words, but this really does nail it.
It wouldn’t be at all surprising if Nat Turner said exactly the same thing. Certainly a T shirt which substituted ‘ N Turner’ for ‘Mrs. Pankhurst’ would make perfect sense, and then where would the idiot who thought this was some kind of endorsement of the confederacy be?
Outrage porn, but with boring cabana boy slash plumber.
@Doug!: Can’t say I’m a Bible scholar, but IIRC, one of the Apostles was armed when the Romans came to arrest Jesus at the Last Supper, and Jesus told him to put the weapon away.
What failure to provide context? It’s a well-known and quite famous quote. You want the tee-shirt to print the entire speech?
Or, you know, whatever idiot is faux-outraged by those could have just gone on Google and looked it up.
You miss that americans are sometimes very, very parochial. And that has nothing to do with intersectionality. Intersectionality that ends at the american border isn’t really that intersectional.
People who read.
Re. “rebel” do we now refudiate James Dean and Pee Wee?
Ragers gonna rage. Context matters folks.
I’m with those who would argue that those who want more context could find it at this point. Those that rage without looking for the greater context are idiots/rage junkies/possibly both.
@trollhattan: And the Crystals.
@RK: If we’re reducing “Famous” and “Well-known” to known by a specific person a.k.a. “me”, there may be a world-wide total of four famous football players — limiting the criteria to those whose complete names I can pull out of my neurons. And I’m not even insisting I get them correctly assigned to teams or positions.
ETA: And one of them is apparently Refrigerator Perry. (Did I get that right?)
The DC staffer who once referred to a budget as “niggardly” made the same “interpretation” error. He got fired.
Well, such an onus reflects a rational process. Can’t have that.
The last decade of life with the internet (including way too many comments here) has shown that for some folks, outrage releases an endorphin buzz which for all too many is better than sex, assuming that the people in question can actually get around to having intimate connections with others.
So yeah, they get mad. They find an insult where none was meant or should reasonably be found. It’s how some can get noticed and feel good about their lives for at least a few moments.
@RK: Well, I’d heard of it, and I attended a notoriously shitty public school system and cow college. I think it’s pretty famous, seriously.
My first thought reading about this “controversy” was to wonder whatever happened to that poor shlub who got fired because he used the word “niggardly” in a speech about the Washington D.C. budget.
@Rafer Janders: No, the actual quote provides far more context than you are willing to acknowledge.
White women were closer to slaves than you’re letting on. For a long time, women were effectively owned first by their fathers and then by their husbands: they couldn’t own property, enter into contracts, or do much of anything substantial without a man’s permission. Marriage was effectively a transfer of ownership from the father to husband. And remember that marital rape is a relatively new concept. It wasn’t until the 1970s that any state recognized rape within marriage, and it wasn’t until 1993(!) that all 50 states did. So yes, white women were owned, sold away as property, and raped, and that was considered perfectly normal.
What in the world does this have to do with English suffragettes?
Consider Kitty Marion, one of the more militant suffragettes:
Her later life is equally illuminating:
This isn’t bland white bread women with their quaint prejudices. In Marion, you can draw a direct line between the subjugation of women in the early 20th century and the continued attempts to subjugate women, all women, today.
American “progressives” sure seem to love to copy conservatives’ ethnocentrism.
This thread isn’t going to end well.
@AdamK: Which becomes increasingly difficult as some people seem to live to misinterpret.
perhaps there’s something to be said for the idea that not all culture confirms to the norms of those who live in the US of A and that other countries have their own history and culture that has meaning to them. An American actor, wearing a shirt that synthesizes the womens rights movement in the UK shouldn’t have to worry about what folks back home think when they take said “statement” out of context without bothering to look for the content themselves, knowing said actor’s political sympathies.
great way to get yourself talked about though…..
@beltane: If anybody misconstrued it as actual support, that would be a mistake. I’m with the group that thinks “outrage” is an overreaction, but does find the shirt to be in bad taste.
Imagine if Obama was pushing for a small budget for his presidential library. Somebody writing about that could refer to Obama as “niggardly”, and that would be a perfectly cromulent description. But it would be in terrrrrrrrible taste. People generally don’t use that word anymore because it’s too much like That Other Word, even though they’re etymologically unrelated.
And as Evan pointed out before, it’s not even certain that Parkhurst didn’t intend any allusion to “negro slavery”. On top of that, it could easily be seen as tasteless for Parkhurst to compare the plight of (white) women in her day to slaves. White women were obviously being denied their civil rights and were undeniably subjugated, but it does the suffragette movement no favors to compare it to slavery. It just unfocuses the issue.
ETA: @EthylEster: Great minds?
Well, if hits a TBogg unit it will self-destruct, so we have that safety valve. I’ll be watching football or weeding, or something.
@beltane: I disagree that the outrage was over exactly one thing.
@Doug!: I was going to reply to your first comment (trenchant), but am replying to this one instead. It seems that we on the leftish side of any argument are devolving into Purity Pony-land, while on the right it is a free-for-all of raging, racist, sexist id that flies unchecked, and has massive media support behind it, for clicks and giggles.
pseudonymous in nc
This is the problem with context collapse.
When Emmeline Goulden was born, married women couldn’t own property in their own right. It took until 1882 for property that was theirs before marriage to remain theirs.
I think there are better quotations for the film makers to put on t-shirts, but if you’re going to go ballistic at an English suffragette who’s been dead for nearly a century for not being an intersectional feminist, then… good for you, I suppose.
I’ll try to provide a possible explanation of what you’re missing.
There are several different views of ethics and what the right thing to do is. There are some that don’t fall into the following categories, but they’re irrelevant for the purposes of this situation. Here, there are two relevant kinds of ethics.
The first is what I call “Sin ethics”. A basic premise is that there is a plateau state of of “being good”, that there are some actions that cause one to go lower than that plateau – “sins” – and that ethical thought and ethical lifestyles are all about avoiding those actions. In other words, if you don’t commit an act from the set of bad actions, everything else you do is fine. The focus is on making sure you don’t “go into the red”. Most people are assumed to be acting at the “fine” level, and outrage/shame should be directed toward people who commit “sins”.
The second is what I call “Decision ethics”. A basic premise is that every decision can have ethical value, and ethical thought and ethical lifestyles are all about making good choices in each of those actions. The focus is on improving things with each of your choices. Rather than categorizing people and actions as “good” or “bad”, the effect here is to create relative judgements – “your choices today are better than the choices you made yesterday”; “this choice was better than option A but worse than option B”; etc.
“Sin ethics” usually comes with a set of at least loosely defined “sins”. Since the expectation is usually “most people are fine at the baseline”, the sins are usually expected to be things that people don’t normally do. You get the obvious “sins” like murder, fraud, etc. When this is in the context of feminism and so forth, you usually get outright bigotry as a “sin”. However, there is a concept that minor things shouldn’t cause someone to “fall from grace”. There might be different categories of “sinners” but they’re fairly broad, and usually people in the same category occupy approximately the same mental space, e.g. “racist”.
Since “Decision ethics” doesn’t set a common baseline, there are pretty much always worse and better options. The comparisons and evaluations do not lend themselves as easily to broad categorization. You get evaluations like “this act was more racist than this other act that could have been performed instead”. That doesn’t mean that the person is being permanently categorized as a racist, or that the act is equivalent to significantly more racist acts performed by other people.
Traditionally speaking, Western ethics (and probably other ethics but I don’t know as much about non-Western schools of thought) have been structured as “Sin ethics”. Our legal system is set up on the basis of “sin ethics”. Most of our upbringing is on the basis of “sin ethics”. If you have a perspective based on “sin ethics”, and you encounter someone speaking in terms of “decision ethics”, it’s easy for there to be a miscommunication – specifically, the person might be trying to convey “this could have been done better”, but it is heard as “this person committed a sin/crime/failure”.
Some social movements, in particular equality movements, have relatively recently been increasingly embracing variants of “decision ethics”. This has caused a lot of friction, especially because it’s usually implicit and not explicit, and transitions between the two can even happen within the same paragraph of an article.
Bringing it back to this situation: it looks to me like one group is saying “this could have been done better” and another group is saying “this isn’t a real case of bigotry”. I don’t know the specific motivations behind these groups, but it sure looks a lot like a collision of Decision and Sin ethics.
By George, I think he’s got it!
The individual’s intent, previous political life and thought, the original context of the remark or saying, other possible interpretations of the words, etc. — none of that matters. ONLY the interpretation of any given observer (no matter THEIR agenda) has any relevance to discussions like these.
So be careful: if you wear a blank white t-shirt, that could have a political meaning, too, you know.
I like chocolate AND vanilla iced cream. Often together in “swirl” form.
@seaboogie: The right’s issue is that their Purity Ponies are setting the agenda.
Yep. A famous, highly honored American actress whose participation in this film was very helpful in making sure that it could get financed.
Because although there are a bazillion superhero comic book movies in the pipeline, there have been practically no movies ever made about the British suffragette movement.
And as I mentioned earlier, we are into the second season of the animated “Star Wars Rebels” series, where the non-contextual use of “rebels” apparently causes absolutely no disturbances in the force.
Too funny. Donald and all the cartoon characters except…
@TG Chicago: Using the quote on the T-shirt ( I had actually never heard it before. My HS must have been super shitty) as an avenue through which to explore Pankhurst’s more objectionable views is fine. The outrage in this particular instance just isn’t digging that deeply, it is focused on the word “rebel” which has many connotations have nothing at all to do with the CSA, an entity that should not be allowed to taint even more of our culture than it already has.
The quote actually seems much worse taken in context rather than out of context, where it comes across as a somewhat weird and very British anachronism, kind of like the lyrics to ‘Rule Britannia’.
@Andrey: That is an excellent response. Thank you!
I can see why the slogan would look bad in American eyes, and I can see why in the context of Pankhurst it’s a noble statement. Streep is an American and knows pictures of her travel worldwide, so I’d argue she underthought this one – but that her heart was in the right place, and it’s not a big deal.
To me the funny thing about it is that nice, polite, politically correct British folks, people who pride themselves on their sensitivity, are in their humor and entertainment ferociously racist about American Black culture, especially American Black Youth culture. It can be incredibly painful to witness.
It’s not merely the use of the word “rebels”; it’s the combination of “rebels” and “slaves”.
I’m surprised that so many people don’t seem to notice the word “slave”. Rebel by itself would not be objectionable. This is a strawman.
All rebels are good except Confederate rebels, who are very bad.
If we are talking about “white women” in feudal Europe when essentially all peasants were surfs, sure I guess, even though that would even be specious. White women in antebellum America were definitely second class citizens but they had infinitely more rights then the black slave. It was illegal for a slave to know how to read for goodness sake! I didn’t hear about laws forbidding white women to read in the United States. And don’t me started on the horrors awaiting most female slaves…
Comparing the plight of the white women circa 1850 to the slave is absurd.
And the young Skywalker was indeed a slave…
yes but 1) I doubt most alleged Christians know this and 2) I believe he was making a joke there so the judges rule it’s OK.
O/T ESPN is either suddenly really gun-shy about our very own mayor or they know something the rest of us don’t (yet).
They do. They just remember there were slaves and slavery outside the US.
The point I made about Carson’s asshole Holocaust statement (before I saw Tim F’s better point about German Communists) was that Black sharecroppers in the Jim Crow South could and did have firearms, which didn’t seem to do much to stop systematic oppression and officially sanctioned racist terrorism.
Um, wasn’t she in England, making a movie about the person making the quote? Sounds pretty contextie to me.
I thought it was an odd thing to argue about and reading the comment here convince me that ‘odd’ is too nice a word. What a waste of brain cells. Sorry kids, this is not something I see the point of sweating. The usual whiners are whining and intentionally misunderstanding, why should we here humor them?
The most appropriate song for this thread.
First thing I thought of when I saw the slogan was Princess Leia chained to Jabba the Hutt.
Because, you know… “Rebel Alliance” / “Slave Leia”.
But hey, that’s just crazy old thinks-about-movies-when-he-sees-a-movie-star me.
[snark]Because Bernie Sanders hates black people.[/snark]
@IM: So now we’re back to trying not to notice the word “rebel”. Why, we could do this all night!
@Citizen Alan: He got rehired in another position with the mayor’s office. Apparently he’s still involved in DC government in some capacity.
PS. The colleague who was offended, Marshall Brown, had a scandal of his own years later. Sauce for the goose, etc.
@Julia Grey: Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater and take one example of someone making a lame accusation as a reason to assume there aren’t tons of examples of people doing outrageous things, especially towards people of color. “We’re all just too sensitive” isn’t exactly helpful either.
The reason why the message sucks is that most oppressed people have no say in their life’s outcome. The American institution of slavery is only one part of that story.
What you are missing here is that in the current moment, everyone is an individual who is only special because they are oppressed by something or someone. If you have to remove context to be offended by something, that is completely okay.
People are shouted down for being out-groups of whatever hive mind is controlling any given hive.
I went into one hive and told them that female tourists to Egypt get groped, and the hive mind told me that I was being racist against Egyptians. Then someone else in the hive started googling travel sites; and what do you know, female tourists to Egypt get groped a lot.
@TG Chicago: I guess you’ve never seen Spartacus, another movie about people who would rather be rebels than slaves that didn’t take place in the United States.
@Omnes Omnibus: the inability to consider another perspective leads to joyful circular firing squads.
You do know that there is a world and a history outside the US?
The American institution of slavery has been long gone. Thank god.
@beltane: Do you like gladiator movies?
O come on, everybody knows that Spartacus was whitewashed.
@Joel: “Live Free or Die” also sucks as a message and yet it’s the motto of one of our 50 states.
@ruemara: True, but having new perspectives aired occasionally leads to insight too.
Meryl Streep is a supremely talented mimic without much actual ability to inhabit a character. Overrated as an actress.
Now, Morgan Fairchild, there’s an actress.
@Heliopause: RE: there have been practically no movies ever made about the British suffragette movement.
The words “rebels” and “slaves” in combination don’t mean squat, unless you want to insist on an ignorant and parochial American only world view. You can get this from Republicans and evangelicals, who insist that the Bible was written in English, any day of the week.
But it would make more sense for people to ask, and to find out, what “rebel” and “slave” meant to Mrs Pankhurst than to impose a faux American context and then pretend to be insulted.
@Betty Cracker: I think your understanding of American culture is out of touch. Outside those with an interest in the issue I expect no Americans to be familiar with a quote from an 1800s British suffragette. I suspect those who coordinated the shoot feel the same way and knew the shirts would stir up some good controversy for the film.
White women did not have the right to own property, or to vote, or to their own wages. The clothes on their backs did not belong to them, even if those clothes were made of silk. Their children could be taken away from them at any time and they had no legal recourse.
Slaves of both genders had it *worse,* but that doesn’t mean that Caroline Norton shouldn’t have fought to get the Custody of Infants Act passed to prevent other women’s estranged husbands from taking their children under 7 away from them.
Also keep in mind that we’re talking about Great Britain with this quote. The British *voluntarily* freed their slaves within England in 1833, with the rest of the Empire’s slaves freed in 1843. Black British people have had to deal with discrimination and racism, but they did not have their civil rights systematically blocked the way African-Americans did.
True. That is the sort of cheap rhetoric that leaves a sour aftertaste. That said Pankhurst is hardly the first or last offender here.
No, it isn’t part of the story of all. That sort of metaphor has been and is still used all over the world.
@Starfish: were you oppressed by that “hive mind”? Did it make you feel special?
Too bad that the movie publicists, T shirt artist/editor, did not attribute the quote directly in print on the shirt: (date) Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. Seeing as (besides being good form) that would add to the publicity via the film name. It indicates carelessness or inferior cost-cutting or some such. A wise though unfair move on their part would be to shift the blame to a mistake at the printer.
Evan got to the crux of it back up at #28. Some folks don’t want to pay attention to what they don’t want to pay attention to. Whatever.
This makes me think of “Can’t Truss It” by Public Enemy:
I love PE, but I think this line is incredibly stupid because there’s no value in comparing the horror of slavery and subsequent racism in America to the Holocaust. They’re both absolute evils. Trying to say that one has a ‘harder hardcore cost’ is simply trying to elevate one struggle on the back of another. It’s stupid.
The suffragette movement was very important, but white women in the UK at that time were not slaves. It simply confuses the issue to refer to them as such. There’s nothing to be gained by saying that they had it better or that they had it worse. There’s nothing to be gained by calling them slaves when they were not slaves.
As Evan pointed out, Pankhurst sounded really fucking shitty when she compared the struggle of women to the struggle of “negro slavery” — just like Chuck D’s sounds shitty when he compares slavery to the Holocaust. Just don’t compare them for fuck’s sake. When you try to explain how your struggle is just as bad or worse as this other historically horrific struggle, you don’t make your struggle sound more noble. You just sound like a prick.
Better Meryl Streep wore this t-shirt with the quote than a plain white t-shirt, though. Plain white cotton, after all, was the favored garb of the KKK, and what message would THAT send….?
I’m bothered that Streep plays Pankhurst. God forbid that a British actress should play her. Helen Mirren wasn’t available?
Anybody who has read this thread knows what “slave” meant to Pankhurst. Evan explained it at #28. Do you care to defend what she said?
Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?
Nit: Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, where everyone (except him) was napping after dinner, not at the Last Supper itself.
Also, too, I am a bad person for being amused that Streep is at the center of this storm since she chose to make a speech denouncing Walt Disney as a racist, sexist anti-Semite that conveniently torpedoed the potential Academy Award nomination of her friend and rival, Emma Thompson.
Sorry, Meryl, but once you open up that door and use that weapon of post-dated self-righteousness, you’ve left yourself open to have that same weapon used on you when you eventually stray from perfection. No sympathy from me.
@Gimlet: Trey Gowdy and other Republican vermin need to understand that the Benghazi “scandal” gig is up. The committee has been revealed for what it is. I hope the Democratic members of the committee drop out and make noise about its partisan nature. There is no need to keep up the pretense that the committee was interested in fact finding or that its Republican members gave a dang about the four people who were killed. It’s purely a witch hunt against Secretary Clinton.
Damn right! Americans, after all, are a deeply stupid people with no ability to read or to learn anything about history or outside their own parochial culture. Counting on ‘Merkans to know about sumptin’ fancy like furrin suffera…suffro…sufferjets whatever is just askin’ for it!
I’m only in my 30s (low end at that) and I agree this outrage, shame “call-out culture” is incredibly disturbing. It reminds me of the struggle sessions that Red Guards put people through during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Wherein you denounced yourself for your capitalist roader, revisionist ways that deviated from true Marxism. Then they either forced one to stand in uncomfortable positions and beat you if you fell, or they just beat you and then shouted criticisms in your face. I find the whole thing…. eerily similar and disturbing.
Yes! american cultural imperialism is the real problem!
hmmm… if you know the context, you can only think it’s offensive if you also believe that the US owns the words “rebel” and “slave”. There are things besides American history.
I have, actually, visiting someone.
I very terrible for Ms. Streep; she’s led a difficult enough life as it is.
Whatever it is, I’m missing it, too,
They were the closest thing to it in the UK at the time, because slavery was ended by law in 1833.
That’s why people keep saying “context.” Pankhurst lived in a country *that no longer had slaves.*
Her quote is from 1913. Technically, slavery didn’t exist in the US anymore, either
How dare you to compare the burning of “witches” with the ephemeral political problems of 21th century white american politican!
@Heliopause: A very minor side plot of the movie; the children’s mother goes to a suffragette rally and that is what leads her husband to make the comment about Mrs. Pankhurst.
@Librarian: I am outraged that Mirren played Maria Altmann. So there.
I think what you’re missing is that this essay is the product of a legacy magazine publication, not social media culture. It is true that any idiot with twitter can say something stupid to the world. This, however, is an example of a well-connected “public intellectual” using a traditional media platform to try to ape what the cool kids are doing. This is basically David Brooks writing a column about something the Tea Party might have gotten outraged about but didn’t.
If there is a problem with the shirt, it’s not the quote itself, but the fact that it is unattributed. Lacking context, people will draw their own conclusions, often incorrectly.
“I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.” – Robert E. Lee, coming soon to a meme near you.
@Rafer Janders: You apparently don’t understand American culture either.
I just looked it up — the quote is from 1913, well after US slavery was (legally) ended.
@IM: Nit to pick: Witches generally were hanged. Heretics were burnt.
Yes, but if you’re trying to sell a movie to Americans, you have to deal with people who have ignorant and parochial American only world views, and you need to cater to them.
David Simon once made a similar point:
The difference, I guess, being that Simon doesn’t rule out looking for commonalities, he invites them as a path for empathy and understanding. It’s the competitive martyrdom, the hoarding of oppression, that makes someone a prick.
No. What Pankhurst gained was a lot of rhetorical punch. Slaves is much sharper, much snappier then: “British woman are fed up with a lot of legal discrimination”. Hyperbole, yes. But hardly unusual.
That was tacky, even back then. That said, she at least admitted that negro slavery was the worst imaginable evil.
Is it a collision if both statements are true?
@TG Chicago: Not only did Pankhurst compare the women’s lack of rights to slavery, but she uttered this line: “compared with which negro slavery falls into insignificance.” In other words, she claimed that [white] women’s suffering was far worse than slavery.
I found the date of the quote via Google Books in “Emmeline Pankhurst: A Biography” by June Purvis. It’s in a blockquote at the top of p 227.
@Omnes Omnibus: I am outraged that Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren are the only women “of a certain age” who are awarded the good roles.
@Trinity: American slavery had nothing to do with the quote.
@David Koch: Love the photo! In my world, there are people who are “elevator people”; by definition they are people I wouldn’t mind being stuck with in an elevator. Streep and Obama both qualify, and both of them together – well, I’d just tell the good folks at Otis to take their damn time and send out for pizza for them on my own dime.
I once did get stuck in an elevator with a crusty old gal in the apartment building in which I was living. Since she was so cool, and I had just visited my bathroom before getting on the elevator, it was a pretty interesting and relaxing interlude.
“I’d rather be a slave than a rebel” – Abraham
I was groped in Egypt.
@Patricia Kayden: Hear, hear! And they only have themselves to blame.
Does the fact that Pankhurst wrote her words almost 50 years after the end of the American Civil War and 70 years after slavery was ended throughout the British Empire make any difference?
See: You are as always assuming an american – or british? context.
In the HRE witches and heretics were burned. In lesser cases they were commuted to capitation with the sword.
Still, Clinton won’t be hanged either, so this appropriation won’t stand!
@beltane: Since Morgan Fairchild has gone has gone all in on national security wonkery and cat rescue, what can you expect?
And here I thought witches were used as bridge-building material.
PERFECT first line to a blues song.
Not quite. She said negro slavery was insignificant compared to women’s lack of the vote. That’s not really a defensible statement, even in 1913.
@beltane: My name is Emiliano Zapata. . .
@RK: Luckily you, with your utterly comprehensive knowledge of American culture, are available to provide the proper framing.
@SatanicPanic: Let me tell you what was bizarre about this situation. It was a community of predominantly white American women who do not travel outside of the US who like to discuss how openminded and accepting they are of others even though I could count the number of African American women in the community on one hand, and if you threw in the Asians maybe you would be using two hands there.
I am a Middle Eastern American. While growing up in the South, this was distinctly non-white. However, when I went to college, the Middle Eastern people were classified as white, and you can see how the courts have bounced some of the Middle Eastern and South Asian groups around a lot when it comes to whether they are white or not.
I was shouted out of this group of open-minded white ladies. It was tragic and also hilarious.
In 1913, slavery had been outlawed in the UK for 70 years, but Pankhurst’s inability to vote was happening to her at that moment. Was she really supposed to say that the injustice she was experiencing at that moment wasn’t as bad as a past injustice that ended when her grandmother was a child?
Don’t get me wrong, I think it was stupid for an American like Streep to wear that shirt, but we’re getting into a lot of semantics about what a British woman was allowed to say about slavery in 1913.
@Mnemosyne (iPhone): She is harkening back to slavery, however. I think if the original quote hadn’t referenced negro slavery, you could make the case that she was making a point about current circumstances only (i.e., women in the current time circa 1913 were experiencing the worst form of oppression of that time).
But referencing negro slavery in particular means she was saying that what women are enduring now is much worse than anything black people went through then. Her comment might even have been defensible if she had said something like, women’s lack of rights were like black slavery, not that black slavery was insignificant in comparison.
I know it seems weird to us now, but at that time period in the UK, “negro slavery” would have seemed as far distant a memory as Greek or Roman slavery.
@Mnemosyne (iPhone): But why should an actual, historical quote be “censored” for lack of a better term, just because American audiences are too parochial to understand it? Seems to me that’s parochial liberal America’s problem, not Streep’s. (And yes, American liberals can be just as parochial as conservatives.)
Or that even negro slavery was insignificant etc.
But then I don’t defend it and more to the point, that wasn’t quoted.
I did understand the cited sentence as a much more generic metaphor. Or forefathers were slaves in Egypt and all that. And we know who appropriated that…
@Mnemosyne (iPhone): Is Carson’s assertion that Obamacare is worse than the Holocaust OK because the Holocaust happened 70 years ago?
Now, obviously, Carson’s statement is absurd, because Obamacare is not a form of oppression and bears no resemblance to the Holocaust.
But let’s say that someone were to compare something terrible that is currently happening–the Syrian refugee crisis, for example–to the Holocaust. While it may or may no be appropriate to say that the Syrian crisis is like the Holocaust, would it ever be appropriate to say that the Holocaust was insignificant compared to what Syrian refugees are enduring now? It’s the term “insignificant” that really makes the quote offensive, no matter how much time has passed since the end of the prior oppression.
@Monala: i dont think you can judge what is and isnt an acceptable statement for 1913 by, let’s be clear about this, a real activist who actually won some real ground.
there wasn’t mass media nor mass spread of information across the sea. And a great deal of white washing about slavery persisted even in the minds of US citizens up to and including this day. frankly unless you were a scholar at the time, it’s unlikely you read or understood anything about what actually happened to slaves in the Americas beyond maybe a cursory reference in a newspaper, magazine article or novel, especially for a UK citizen.
There’s no such thing as bad publicity so I’m guessing the filmmakers aren’t too upset over this controversy.
It probably would have been helpful to have Pankhurst’s name on the shirt. But, overall, since Streep has been willing to call other people out for insufficient historical correctness, I am amused to see her caught up in the exact same kind of controversy she herself stirred up.
I agree with the T-Shirt.
I was exaggerating for effect. Of course the baby needs to be retained. Perhaps the message I’m looking to convey is that we should reserve our horror and condemnation for “those tons of examples of people doing outrageous things,” and chill on things which require extensive explanation and justification (even to the leftish) to be seen as outrages at all.
If you have a lot of people on “our side” going, “Wha? Hu?” when you condemn a particular t-shirt, that shirt is not, in my book, one of those “tons of examples of people doing outrageous things.”
In other words, of course there ARE babies out there, a lot of stuff shows up every day that deserves a Flying Monkey response. This shirt is not one of them.
Oh, come on. Does the Holocaust of 70 years ago seem to be as distant a memory as Greek or Roman slavery? Does American slavery of 150 years ago?
@Monala: We’ve all heard that Evil Dictator XYZ is “worse than Hitler” so many times that we’ve become deaf to such nuances. This is, after all, a country where passing a frigging healthcare law was worse than the Holocaust to a good number of people.
@cokane: Ok, fair enough. She may not have known enough about black slavery to realize the horror it was. (Although that perhaps isn’t certain, since British abolitionists tried hard to publicize the horrors. I realize she lived 100 years later).
@TG Chicago: Citizen Alan remembers, too!
@Betty Cracker: I simply questioned your assertion that a quote was “fairly famous.”
Another article from the same link Evan provided talks about WOC erasure in the movie. There were quite a few women of South Asian descent among the British suffragettes: http://www.comingoffaith.com/2015/09/10/entertainment/shayanfarooq/dear-white-women-you-werent-the-only-ones-fighting-for-voting-rights/?hvid=38VaKc
American slavery was specifically horrific in the history of worldwide slavery, which is an ancient practice.
But a British person need not reference it when talking about slavery though of course American slavery is a British (and Portuguese) creation.
@Julia Grey: I agree, this is dumb, I just don’t want people to draw conclusions like everyone of color is just being a whiner
We must just hope the next movie about the IWW or Haymarket doesn’t mentions wage slavery.
@Monala: It feels to me like we are dissecting the various degrees of victimhood and mutual and diverse histories, rather than choosing to join in a collective voice that transcends our individual stories, and moves towards a louder voice for the greater good of all who have been unheard, trampled upon, and are rising up.
We can nurse and lick our various historical wounds, or we can find commonality. The first is more reflexive and natural; the latter requires some effort on everyone’s part.
“If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.” Thomas Day in 1776 on Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence.
Does American slavery seem distant to an American? Of course not, because we had to fight a second battle over Jim Crow 100 years after slavery officially ended.
The UK has (and had) racial discrimination, but they never had the kind of specific, race-based denial of basic civil rights that we had in the US.
And the US’s view of the Holocaust is unique as well. It’s very much tied into our domestic politics and support for Israel. The UK has 4 Holocaust memorials or museums while the US has 48.
Pankhurst’s quote is being read through the lens of US history and politics when it should be looked at through UK history and politics.
I saw the outrage on Twitter last week but kept my mouth shut after getting attacked for daring to speak out against the “you care about Cecil the Lion but you don’t care about X black person shot by the cops” BS that was going a few months back. I hadn’t seen the phrase “call-out culture” but it’s a good one, whoever invented it. I’m sick of it, myself (even as I indulge in it on occasion. IRONY ALERT!)
Do any of us actually know what it was that Pankhurst was saying rendered “negro slavery” insignificant? The actual source for the quote, as far as I can tell, provides an incomplete quote and leaves it unclear. Going by other of Pankhurst’s remarks, it looks like it might have been prostitution (though that’s just a guess.)
Anyway, that quote isn’t from the same thing as the “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” quote. It’s not clear either sheds much light on the meaning or significance of the other.
Exactly — UK campaigners publicized the horrors of slavery, and public pressure caused Parliament to end it in 1833. American slavery was horrifying to decent people in the UK, but it was a moral problem in another country they couldn’t do much about since the Americans had already decided to forcibly remove themselves from British law.
If you want to say it was dumb for an American like Streep to put on the t-shirt without thinking it through, I agree with you, but Pankhurst didn’t give any thought to US slavery or Jim Crow or any of the ongoing oppression in the US because she wasn’t American and didn’t really care. The British had been civilized and given up slavery on their own, so Pankhurst focused on current (to her) events.
I think the other issue here is that Pankhurst’s words are being read alongside those of her contemporary American suffragettes, who were complaining about not being allowed to vote while Jim Crow prevented Black Americans from voting but, again, Pankhurst would have been totally ignorant of those internal US politics.
What if they’d had semiautomatics?
@Doug!: They’d have done better with death rays.
@Alexander: [checks Google]
It’s quoted in the book, The Women’s Movements in the United States and Britain from the 1790s to the 1920s.
The author of the book also quotes Pankhurst saying, “All my life I have looked to America with admiration as the home of liberty,” and suggests that her comment about negro slavery may have been pandering to the racism of American suffragettes.
No, it was a polemic designed to rile up other women against their actual (but not normally horrific) subjugation. Propaganda is like that. In light of subsequent events it worked, too.
I was able to find it on Google Books! “Suffrage and the Pankhursts,” by Jane Marcus, p 158.
Pankhurst was NOT comparing “negro slavery” to woman suffrage, but to forced prostitution (which was commonly called “white slavery”).
Here’s the full quote (apologizes for any typos):
“When I was a very tiny child the great American people were divided into hostile sections on the question of whether it was right that one set of human beings of one color should buy and sell human beings of another color, and you had a bloody civil war to settle that question. I tell you that throughout the civilized world today there is a slavery more awful than negro slavery in its worst form ever was. It is called prostitution, but in that awful slavery there are slaves of every shade and color, and they are all of one sex.”
(She was probably wrong about that last part since young boys were also targeted for sex slavery, but it was easier for them to break away as adults if they survived the abuse.)
See my fuller quote at #185 — your version is clipped out of its context. Pankhurst is very clearly comparing slavery and forced prostitution in that part of her speech, not woman suffrage.
@Mnemosyne (iPhone): That differs from the quote I found in a different book in Google Books, but I would agree that forced prostitution is a more appropriate comparison to slavery than the lack of the vote.
I think people (including, unfortunately, your source) are only looking at the clipped version, seeing that the overall speech is about woman suffrage, and assuming that Pankhurst is making a direct comparison. In context, Pankhurst is talking about the social ills that women’s votes could help end, and forced prostitution is one of them. I’m on my phone right now, but I’ll see if I can post a link to the above Google book when I get home.
Pankhurst is definitely kissing a bit of American ass in the speech, so I think it’s one she made in the US. It’s mostly the usual boilerplate aren’t we all awesome? BS that most politicians give to politicians in other countries whose support they’re trying to get.
@LarryB: not normally horrific? She was property, passed from father to husband. Her husband had complete control of her body, her money, and her children. He could have her committed to an insane asylum on his say so. He could divorce her and kick her out of “his” home. He could beat the crap out of her and everyone looked the other way.
You want to tell me what’s not horrific about it?
I’m outraged about Bob Marley, who sang about being a “soul rebel,” and especially about Jimmy Cliff, who sang “I’d rather be a free man in my grave, than be alive and be a puppet or a slave.” How dare he compare two extremes for dramatic effect!
Don’t forget that a husband could take every penny his wife had — not just money she had before before marriage, but any money she inherited or earned after marriage. Caroline Norton’s husband would show up and drain her bank accounts after months of absence and she had no legal recourse.
Didn’t TBogg once say something along the lines of “the worst crime a liberal can commit is using words incorrectly”?
Sure, if you don’t consider rape to be horrific.
Well, either that or she was appealing to the ideals of the American Revolution (and the French Revolution).
Anyhow, you’re quite right: “Why We Are Militant,” one of her most-reprinted speeches, was originally delivered in New York.
Here’s the link to relevant page of the full speech — as Cervantes said, it’s a speech she gave in New York, which is why she spends so much time talking about how much she loves American ideals:
@Betty Cracker: Let me just quickly say that “American culture” was too loose, that I meant to say I think your estimation of what the American public knows, or should, is off.
I don’t know. I guess some people don’t feel alive if they don’t feel insulted. Women were considered property and chattel for centuries. The quote doesn’t seem out of line to me.
How dare you tell me what I can and cannot do.
@RK: It’s tough to get a read on what is or isn’t common knowledge. I’ve assumed that anything covered during my slipshod education isn’t likely to be truly obscure. But I read the quote to my hubby (who was educated by Jesuits), and he said it was familiar, but he had a totally off-base guess about its origin.
1. She didn’t equate anything; she put on a T-shirt that said “I would rather be a rebel than a slave.”
2. There was never just one kind of slavery: over the course of human history there have been many variants, some more outrageous (to modern sensibilities) than others. All were (by definition) bad.
3. Streep’s T-shirt did not say, “If I’d been in the American South in the middle of the 19th century, I’d rather have been a rebel than a slave.”
4. Who would rather not be a rebel than a slave? Not you, I presume — so what’s the problem?
@cokane: That is an excellent way to put it, thank you.
I prefer Saviors who don’t get crucified.
BTW, in 1913 almost no one would have presumed that the word “rebel” meant anything good. It’d be kind of like saying “I’m a terrorist” now. Notwithstanding, as others have said, “slave” is a tricky word in the context of political theory from roughly the ancient world until about 1900, where it’s more likely to mean “absolutely unfree person.” Someone above cited Rule Britannia, whose refrain is “Britons will never be slaves.” It tends to mean “we will never bow to tyrants, especially those lousy Papists.” So if a suffrage campaigner is saying she’d rather be a rebel than a slave, she means something with zero racial component. Hard to believe now, but that’s how the lingo worked.
And the “bel” in “rebel” refers to violent resistance, or war.
@Cervantes: @Mnemosyne (iPhone): Extremely well put, Cervantes! Thanks Mnemosyne for digging this out.
Meryl Streep has absolutely nothing to apologize for. Nor should she be faulted for failing to anticipate the reaction. To do that she would have had to perform a mental trick along the following lines: ‘of course a complete cretin who knows nothing about history and can’t be bothered to learn, and moreover lives to take offense, might seize on this as an opportunity for outrage’.
Better I think not to assume that people are fools and be proven wrong occasionally than make folly one’s default expectation.
@FlipYrWhig: I’m so old that I remember people using the expression ‘wage slave’. I don’t think they meant to belittle the experience of enslaved African Americans or that anyone with sense thought they did. Look there are people in the US who make light of American slavery (that idiot darling of the right wing, Bundy), people who don’t think black lives matter, many of them holding public office, others spewing poison on radio and TV. They are fit objects for outrage. It’s peculiarly annoying to see people on the progressive side wasting their energy manufacturing causes for complaint, when there are so many real ones.
The main thing you’re missing is that the backlash against Suffragette is about more than just that t-shirt. It’s part of a larger conversation about Hollywood’s lack of diversity and opportunity for non-white actors and its chronic whitewashing of stories that should include non-white people.
A few words about whitewashing… Emma Stone can play an Asian woman in Aloha. And Benedict Cumberbatch can play an Indian man in (spoilers!) Star Trek Into Darkness. Exodus: Gods and Kings has all-white leads even though they’re supposed to be Egyptian. But Zoe Kravitz can’t even audition for a role in The Dark Knight Returns because she’s too black — even though both her parents are half white. Irony is not dead.
Even though Indian women, such as Princess Sophia, had a huge presence in the suffragette movement, the movie is exclusively focused on the experiences of white women because the white filmmakers didn’t feel the non-white experience was a story worth telling.
So when this problematic t-shirt pic got tweeted by the movie’s PR team it became one more thing to add to the list.
Wow. I would never in a million years have taken Meryl Streep’s T-shirt slogan to mean that she favored the Confederacy in the civil war.
I mean…that’s really a stretch, isn’t it? How far are we going to take this? If someone says “The world isn’t black or white, it’s gray,” is it reasonable for someone else to jump up and shout “Gray was the color of the Confederate uniform, so you’re saying you LOVE THE CONFEDERACY and YOU LOVE SLAVERY!”…?
If someone quotes Thoreau to the effect that they prefer to “march to a different drummer,” is it reasonable for someone to yell “Confederate drummer boys marched into battle to defend slavery, so YOU ARE TRYING TO DEFEND SLAVERY!”…?
At a certain point don’t we have to stop reading bizarrely counterintuitive meanings into fairly obvious slogans? Shouldn’t there be a limit to the degree to which an innocuous T-shirt can be taken out of context and twisted to mean something racist or anti-gay or anti-feminist or anti-democatic?
Why do women directors always get held to a higher standard than male directors?
If Zoe Kravitz didn’t get an audition, isn’t that on Christopher Nolan? Why isn’t he getting ripped apart on Twitter for it?
Question number two: in a film that focuses on a working-class girl who gets involved with suffragettes, how do you realistically get her to interact with a woman whose godmother was Queen Victoria?
What are you missing? — You’re taking the lack of context out of context.
No, just kidding, actually you’re not, your last paragraph proves that: “the outrage is a stupid example of the social media “call-out culture” that I find annoying as hell as I settle into my dotage.” Bingo.
(Except this “call out culture” started before social media. It’s just the culture of mandatory speech codes and “non-sexist language” guidelines writ large. It’s like Joseph Conrad’s “The African American of the Narcissus.” These kids have been raised in that culture, and also, they don’t learn much history any more, hence they lack any sense of historical context . Social media just makes it worse, that’s all.)
So, as others have already said, you’re not missing anything.
The piece that you’re missing, and your commenters are too busy mocking “outrage junkies” to bother raising, is about the long history of ugliness within Feminism and Women’s movements on race issues. The article writer may be confusing you and your delightful commenters here but the problem with the shirt is not that a 19th century suffragette said something that sounds impolitic to our ears.
The problem is of a whitewashed movie (a la Stonewall) depicting foundational events in the struggle for greater freedoms and the vote while ignoring the contributions of black women (hello there, Ida B. Wells! Wish you could have made it!). And then promoting this ahistorical bullshit with a cast that heightens this casting choice to show only the white women involved with a quotation that, again, judging by the commenters above, clearly speaks to white men and women but doesn’t quite have the same zing for black men and women. Even at the time the quotation was first given slavery had been ended in the USA for only a generation and only for three in the UK. To equate women’s lack of legal status with slavery would sound a lot different to someone who has living relatives who were actually slaves but it speaks volumes about the group the suffragette women was trying to raise up, and it certainly wasn’t “all women.”
I never thought of the civil war era connection until it was pointed out in this article. Silly me, I went with the ahistorical meaning of those two words. Which in my mind is completely unobjectionable.
Although, once the source of the quote is explained and its timing as well, I might very well believe that the author of that statement meant it, and it was understood that way too, the way a lot of people find it objectionable.
It is soooooo hard to be sensitive!
I think some — many — instances of what is dubbed “call-out culture” are OK and others are less so. I would not generalize — not that you did.
Perhaps you should share your concerns with Emmeline Pankhurst 100 years ago.
That’s an important point, and I’m sure there’s a good critique of the movie (or the industry) in it, but this critique — based on the wearing of this T-shirt — is simply not it.
And while you call out “the long history of ugliness within Feminism and Women’s movements on race issues,” it’s important to remember also that many feminists made common cause with abolitionists and that there was a lively debate on what rights should be vindicated first, and how. There were arguments about choice of tactics and strategy, and many people engaged with these arguments in real time and in good faith. It was not all “ugliness.”
@Cervantes: Including Emmeline Pankhurst’s crowd, who were frustrated that women’s status wasn’t improving fast enough. Women’s Lives Matter, you might say.
jake the antisoshul soshulist
@pseudonymous in nc:
True. That is one reason jewelry (diamonds, gold, stc) were so valued by women. Jewelry was personal property that could retain in widowhood, or divorce, unlike land, houses or businesses.
jake the antisoshul soshulist
Sojourner Truth may have exemplified the confluence of those concerns. She was both an abolitionist and a feminist. (A’int I a woman)
man that’s a fvckton of ignorant stupidity to cram into one sentence. congratulations.
This is a British movie, written by a British writer and directed by a British director, made about the British suffragette movement. Where, exactly, does American suffragette Ida B. Wells fit into that story?
Again, it’s fascinating that two British women (director and writer) are being held responsible for the history of American feminism and American race relations, but Hollywood directors and writers who live and work in America are getting a free pass.
And, since there was already extensive discussion of this, the full quote from Pankhurst clearly shows that she was comparing forced prostitution to “negro slavery.” Are we now going to say that sex trafficking isn’t so bad and it’s insulting to compare it to American slavery?
Streep’s T-shirt: Maybe a reference to IWW labor activist and suffrage movement supporter Elizabeth Gurley Flynn – Joe Hill claimed his song “The Rebel Girl” was written for Flynn.
@Mnemosyne (iPhone): Slavery was abolished in 1833 in the UK (where it was not common at that time) and all its foreign colonies and possessions which included large parts of the Caribbean where it was common. The Act of Parliament allowed for compensation to slave owners for the loss of their property. However the Royal Navy had been empowered to shut down the Atlantic slave trade as far back as 1807 when trading in slaves was outlawed. The US, land of liberty and freedom, continued to traffic in slaves from Africa to feed the burgeoning and highly profitable plantation trade and allow for expansion of the slave states into Texas and points west.
Local government in Canada aka British North America had already made slavery illegal there as far back as 1793 and it became a safe haven for runaway slaves from the United States which was dominated politically by slave-owners.
There were three exceptions to the 1833 Act: possessions of the East India Company, the island of Ceylon, and the island of St. Helena. However, those three exceptions were eliminated 10 years later.
But obviously the point is that you guys peacefully and legally ended slavery throughout (most of) the British Empire 30 years before the US fought a civil war over it.
Not to mention that slavery had been legally abolished in England itself as early as 1772, so the only real debate for the British was whether slavery should be continued in Britain’s overseas possessions. Pankhurst would have had to find someone of her great-grandmother’s generation to talk to someone who had been a slave in England.
Depends on how you look at things.
When, long after 1772, Dickens wrote about poorhouses in the England of his day, was he describing slavery? He was certainly describing forced labor, even among children.
And while we can say, using the passive voice, that after 1772 “the only real debate for the British was whether slavery should be continued in Britain’s overseas possessions,” nevertheless, the first prisoners transported to Australian penal colonies by the British did not leave England until 1787, and those penal colonies were supplied with prisoners by the British until well into the 19th century.
@OmerosPeanut: Yes, thank you.
Rather than to just mock or sneer at the shirt critics…here is some context if anyone wishes to a) read it, and b) actually read it and not quip about what you **think** I’m saying.
Intersectional means how different minority statuses intersect and create a different experience/viewpoint/etc. For example, I am white, able-bodied, cis, woman who grew up upper middle class. On the whole, I’m very privileged (i.e. don’t face much discrimination at all). My lived experiences are very different from let’s say a black, trans woman or a white, gay woman in a wheelchair. These 2 examples are people who face an intersection of discrimination. When Mhlungu says “intersectionality is so important if our feminism will mean anything”, she is talking about inclusive feminism. Traditional, “popular” feminism has mostly addressed or has spoken from/to cis, able-bodied, white women (i,e, our concerns or viewpoints). For real gains – real feminist gains – we (i.e. feminists, equal rights peeps) need to both recognize and address intersectionality. So, rather than only white woman share their experiences, we need to listen to non-white, LGBTQ, and other women. What has been their experiences and how do we address their needs and concerns? Yes, a phrase or word might not resonate or rile you up, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t mean something to a person with a totally different experience. If you immediately discount and belittle their viewpoint, you are missing an opportunity to broaden your thoughts and learn from others. This is easy to do when you have privilege (like me) and will not have to personally experience what the “other” has experienced.
Now regarding that t-shirt. First, I challenge anyone here to have just seen that image of the t-shirt and you said, “of course that is a quote from a Brtish suffragist in 19–.” Please. Any marketer worth their salt knows that for an image to have an impact there needs to be context. As experienced movie promoters, they would have to know that the image would circulate sans article or whatever text went along with it. If they actually were promoting the movie there would be some sort of ” – Name” or “-Movie Name”. Someone mentioned it earlier in the thread, but take that quote and put “- Robert E. Lee” or heck, even “-Trump” and it would have a different meaning. Now when I saw the shirt I did not think slavery or Civil War. Then again, as mentioned above, I am coming from a specific set of experiences and background that leads me to think about and interpret it a certain way. My first thought was that it seemed like a rather trite saying (like those “Keep Calm and blah blah” tshirts) and would have scrolled past.
Still, I respect that OTHERS have different experiences and will interpret it differently. If your interpretation springs from racists experiences here in the US (ummm, wasn’t there still several articles this week about the Confederate flag crap?), I can see how you might then interpret it a certain way. Again, the people who created this should have added context if they wanted it interpreted a certain way. Even then, people could rightly have complaints about it or the movie. Someone mentioned Stonewall. While a well-done movie (from the critics reviews – I don’t go see many movies), from an objective viewpoint the directors/producers did white wash it. They did not include several integral people that started it all – and who coincidentally all happened to be non-white.
Anywho. I hope this explanation of intersectionality can help build understanding in at least a few! It’s also good to remember that context matters. If you don’t provide it, well then don’t be mad when people bring their own context to it. And even if you do provide context, that doesn’t mean you are right. [Well expect if I say it. Then of course I am right, lol. :)]
This is an odd question since all of my examples were movies directed by white men that were heavily criticized for whitewashing.
Cameron Crowe got so much backlash for erasing Asians and Pacific Islanders from a movie set in Hawaii that he had to go on an apology tour, and his movie flopped. Ridley Scott got so much backlash for turning Moses into a white savior and for putting his white leads in brown face while the slaves were played by black actors there were calls for a boycott — and his movie flopped.
If you’re unaware of the criticism Nolan has received for whitewashing his characters that’s on you. The main reason stories like this don’t get traction is because some people don’t care that overt racism still happens in Hollywood. So when people complain about it they get shouted down by fans who don’t like seeing their favorite director/actor criticized.
@henqiguai: Ditto from another “middle-aged” black man. “Holier than thou” is irritating, no matter what the doctrinal underpinning.
Princess Sophia was a major celebrity who was down in the trenches protesting alongside Emmeline Pankhurst. If the movie can make room for the white lady, there’s no reason why it couldn’t also acknowledge the famous Indian woman.
Working class Indian women were part of the movement too. But they’ve been erased.
@TG Chicago: “Fag” is a slang word meaning (in the UK) a tiring task or a cigarette, or a homophobic slur, those are its only meanings “Rebel” has a meaning far above and beyond the American Confederacy. It’s not an analogy at all.
@Amber: Why is the burden on the people making/ wearing or photographing the t shirts to forestall wrongheaded misinterpretations rather than on those misinterpreting the T-shirt to correct their mistake, especially when it is the work of a moment?
Isn’t there a bit of condescension going on here? I notice that many of those defending the adverse reaction to the shirts say something along the lines of ‘someone might interpret them to mean…’ as if to say sotto voce ‘of course I’m not that stupid myself’.
I do have to ask at this point, are you British or American? If you have articles by British women of color saying that they’ve been erased from suffragette history, I would be very interested in reading them.
In her day, Emmaline Pankhurst was the rock star of the woman suffrage movement. She was an international celebrity who spoke all over the world, and yet she’s mostly forgotten today. But they should have instead focused on even more obscure figures of the movement to be more inclusive?
I still feel very much that this is a bunch of Americans (myself included) projecting our issues with American feminism and American Hollywood movies onto a small British independent film that, frankly, is not going to be able to bear the weight. If “Suffragette” had a budget of $10 million, I would be shocked, and that amount would barely pay for craft service on Scott’s or Crowe’s movie. And yet the director of this film is being treated like she’s a Hollywood director with a $200 million budget.
Let’s talk reality for a minute, shall we? Superhero movies are always going to be made, and anyone can make one. Biblical epics are always going to be made. Middle of the road romantic dramas about upper middle class white people are always going to be made.
But no one in Hollywood is clamoring to make a movie about the British woman suffrage movement. If this writer and director don’t make it, it doesn’t exist. Are you fine with erasing important swaths of history from popular culture because women of color do not play a prominent part in the film that did get financing?
@OmerosPeanut: “about the long history of ugliness within Feminism and Women’s movements on race issues.”
Not just on race issues, but modern feminism has, like all politics today, largely due to the filtering powers of the self selecting internet community, and controversy driven click bait media, retreated into it’s own safe space echo chamber and largely become a parody of itself.
Betty asks why anyone who believed in equality wouldn’t want to call themselves a feminist, and what she misses is that these days, increasingly few people want to use that label any more, because it stands for ridiculous navel gazing and insane ideological claims… Once upon a time lunatics who claimed all sex was rape were on the fringes of academia, and their outrageous views didn’t filter down to the level where the important fights for equality were actually being fought; nowadays offensive claims which alienate all your potential allies are largely taken as gospel online.
Take GamerGate for example; it’s now taken as absolutely certain online that it’s all about Male Rights Activist troglodytes attacking decent liberal people… that the only people still defending it must hate women, rather than the fact that the gaming media has been notoriously corrupt and nepotistic for decades; interestingly, the article I’m thinking of turned 20 years old today. That insane assholes quickly piled onto the original Gamergate corruption claims is undeniable, I agree… but what should also be undeniable is the incredible power this also gives your ideological enemies to then destroy your own causes by equally turning them into a laughing stock by sending emailed death threats claiming to be in support of them etc…
And this is really what you’re missing about these “feminist” shirts; if there wasn’t a long history of false flag operations and frankly years and years of unbelievably stupid, potential ally alienating comments online, people wouldn’t now automatically assume anything done under this label wasn’t tone-deaf as the first of it’s possible sins… THATS why Meryl Streep said she was a “humanist” not a “feminist”. That label, outside of the feminist echo chambers, is largely a laughing stock now. I imagine the same will happen to “humanist” too, just as it did to “liberal”, and people are working on making “progressive” politically verboten too… And frankly, some of it self deserved. Every stupid comment that guys who liked to see clean shaven women were paedophiles, every “nice guy” comment mocking someone tried to express their pain at the unfair experiences of dating (and it sucks on both sides, ladies), every “freeze peach” comment wrecked the label further… to the point you’re turning on your own because Streep wore a T shirt that, whilst morally on the side of angels, didn’t meet the ideological purity test of a cannibalistic, narcissistic political culture.
Which is a shame, because there’s so many more fights still to be won; but how we’re going to do that when we’re too busy fighting among ourselves, I have no idea…
Okay, last thing, and I’m not addressing this to anyone specifically. Let’s call it life advice.
If there is a story out there that really speaks to you — the story of Ida B. Wells, or the story of Princess Sophia, or the story of someone I’ve never heard of — go write that story. No one else is ever going to feel as strongly about it as you do, and no one else will tell it the way you will choose to tell it.
Don’t wait around for someone else to tell the story you love. Tell it yourself. Write a novel. Write a screenplay. Do as an epic poem or a concept album. If you wait around for someone else to tell the story that speaks to you, you will always be disappointed because their version will not be YOUR version. So tell your version.
People thought Lin-Manuel Miranda was nuts for wanting to do a hip-hop concept album about Alexander Hamilton, and they laughed even harder when he decided to make it a full-blown Broadway musical. And then the guy had the balls to cast his Latino self as Hamilton, and Black men as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers, and a multi-racial chorus and supporting cast. And now the guy not only has a hit show, but he’s an official fucking MacArthur Foundation Genius. Because he found a story that spoke to him, and he worked for 6 years to share it with the rest of us.
Don’t bitch and moan about how other people are telling the story wrong. Go tell it your way. We have at least 6 published authors who are regular commenters here. You can do it, too. Go.
From: “Voices of Revolution: The Dissident Press in America” by Roger Streitmatter:
(excerpt) In the inaugural issue  of “Woman Rebel”, [Margaret] Sanger wrote that she was creating the radical monthly because she believed that women were enslaved by motherhood, by childbearing, “by middle-class morality, by customs, laws and superstitions.” To liberate women from slavery, Sanger wrote, “It will be the aim of the ‘Woman Rebel’ to advocate the prevention of conception.” (/excerpt)
Some people might call that stating the obvious. Others would accuse you of “erasure” and “whitesplaining.”
ARGGH! Whether you are Meryl Streep or an MRA you are not a Humanist if you are not a Feminist. Empathy and awareness of differences are fundamental to inclusion and embracing the need for diversity. Tolerance is no longer sufficient. Nice for Steep to have a great career and respect, not everyone is that fortunate.
If you were really interested you would’ve googled these articles yourself. But something tells me you’d rather just sit here bitching about the “outrage” because you actually don’t care.
To suggest this movie could only get made by deliberately erasing the Indian women who were part of the movement is ridiculous since Indian actresses are no more expensive than white actresses.
I thought that putting token people of color in the background of a film was condescending.
If you’re suggesting that it’s easy to swap the characters of Emmaline Pankhurst and a Princess Sophia in a screenplay and it’s all just a matter of casting, I think it’s pretty clear which one of us understands how the actual process of writing a story works. Where is your MFA in screenwriting from? Mine is from Loyola Marymount, class of 2004.