Meryl Streep is one of Hollywood's premiere actress-activists, fitting the progressive mold to a T: super feminist, a strong equal rights advocate, and a powerful voice for women. And embodying these qualities is no doubt part of the reason she chose her latest role in portraying pioneering British feminist Emmeline Pankhurst in the upcoming film Suffragette.
But despite the fact that Pankhurst is considered one of the most important people of the 20th century for helping women win the right to vote in the UK, Streep has offended other progressives because she, and her castmates, wore T-shirts in a promo that included two words that screamed "PR disaster."
The quote on the shirt is one of Pankhurst's own from 1913:
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.
And so without bothering to find out the context, many progressives were stuck on the words "rebel" and "slave," assuming that Streep was implying that being in the Confederacy was better than being a slave. In math, that's called Liberal Logic 101.
There were tweets:
And then there were leftist outlets up in arms. Culture site Vulture said Streep's shirt was "unfortunate" and that she should be more considerate of the context of those words in America:
In a bubble, it's a nice sentiment. But we're not in a bubble. We're in America… the terms rebel and slave have a much different connotation within the context of our national history. Clearly the intention was to honor Pankhurst's words and not to make an allusion to the Confederate States of America and slavery; but people are going to see what they're going to see, and people saw that connection pretty quickly. It's unfortunate that no one involved with the film or Streep's team did.
The Huffington Post's Zeba Blay called it "peak white feminism." She said these actresses are "perpetuating the idea that sexism and racism are somehow the same thing" and that "is pretty damaging:"
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. So, white marketers everywhere, next time you think about using an outdated quote about slavery to promote your film about equality... just don't.
All of this faux outrage prompted the London magazine Time Out to issue a statement to explain why they chose the quote for their cover:
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.
Congratulations, liberal Americans! You've out-lefted Britain.