Skip to main content

Time Out Defends Suffragette Shirt Amidst Backlash


Actresses Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan, Anne-Marie Duff, and Romola Garai recently wore shirts with the Pankhurst quote “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” for Time Out London. I wrote about how I found the shirts incredibly distasteful and how it seemed to replicate the same lack of intersectionality we should have moved past by now and many shared the same sentiment.

Here’s Time Out’s official response defending the slogan:

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.

There are a couple things I want to point out in Time Out’s official statement. First, is that I agree with their notion that historical context is very important. So here’s another Pankhurst quote.

Secondly, Time Out’s comment about “the Confederacy” ignores Britain’s own history of slavery. For more historical context, look up the history of British colonization and their role in the Atlantic slave trade. “Slave” evokes all this history and this was a very poor, thoughtless PR decision.

The “no complaints” line also seems very dismissive of all the people, especially people of color, speaking out against these shrits. I don’t disagree that Pankhurst’s cry was meant to and did “rouse women to stand up.” The problem is that the cry empowers a specific group of women while ignoring another group completely absent in the crowd. I’m not trying to diminish her work in women’s suffrage, but isn’t it doing a lot of women a disservice to misrepresent this history?

What did you think about Time Out’s response?

—Please make note of The Mary Sue’s general comment policy.—

Do you follow The Mary Sue on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, & Google +?

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow The Mary Sue: