Why the “Suffragette” Shirts Are Annoying The Public

The upcoming film Suffragette seems like it’s about to become the higher-budget Stonewall, in that even though it’s bound to be an Oscar bait movie, it’s going to whitewash the truth about pioneers in the civil rights sphere yet again. 

You could probably already tell that the film was going to have nothing but white women in it, but in case you needed confirmation, Luvvie has the scoop from someone she knows.

She, along with tons of other folks on the internet, are also annoyed by these Suffragette shirts which paint the picture that people would choose to be enslaved rather than have free will.

The “Pankhurst” referenced here is Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the British Suffragette movement. She’s also portrayed by Meryl Streep in the film.

So why are a bunch of shirts with a quote from an early 20th century Suffragette making waves? Are we not viewing the quote in its historical context, some might say? I’d say we are. The sentence “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” connotates the fight for women’s rights in a politically forward fashion. It goes along with Pankhurt’s other quote of “women are human beings.” It’s an idea that appeals to a lot of people. But putting the quote in context, it’s a phrase that reveals the blinders Pankhurst, and too many Suffragettes, had concerning women of other races.

The idea is that there’s a choice that can be made in being a slave and that fighting back courageously should be lauded. That’s true, it should be, but compare that to the other women of color, such as black women, who did fight back against not just women’s oppression, but slavery itself, only to get told by society that their fight on two fronts wasn’t laudable, justified, or worthy of even mentioning. In fact, Pankhurst’s quote mentioned in the tweet above paints the idea that nothing about the black woman’s experience, or any woman of color’s experience, is worth mentioning in the same historical depth as the plight of the woman, i.e., the white woman, who wanted the same power as white men.

Other outlets, such as Buzzfeed and The Huffington Post have pointed out how tone-deaf it was to wear the shirts with this particular quote and pose as if they were really achieving something for all women, when all women aren’t even recognized in the film itself. There’s no mention of black Suffragettes, or British Indian Suffragettes, both groups becoming marginalized footnotes in history (they’re lucky to even get mentioned in history books).

Like with Matt Damon, that soap opera lady during the Emmys, and many more before him, I’m certain there will be a well-intentioned, but probably tone-deaf apology that will be issued as soon as the sun goes down. But I’m not done with this topic. Expect more articles going into deeper depth about Suffragette and the history it ignores.

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