Don’t call Carey Mulligan’s characters “strong women” — here’s why

When you think about a woman like Carey Mulligan, the word “strong” instantly comes to mind. After all, she’s starring alongside Meryl Streep and Helena Bonham Carter in Suffragette, a sure-to-be empowering film about the pioneers of the early feminist movement that’s being released later this month. However, phrases like “strong woman” may seem encouraging and complimentary, but if you look at them closely enough, they actually can be detrimental to the feminist movement. That’s exactly why Carey is sick of the phrase “strong woman,” she said in an interview with Elle UK, for their November issue.

“You don’t say to men: ‘You played another really strong man,’” she told the magazine. “The idea that women are inherently weak – and we’ve identified the few strong ones to tell stories about – is mad.”

Even though it’s a phrase many of us have used time and time again, Carey is totally right: When have you heard the phrase “strong man”? Highlighting the strength of women as if it’s a totally novel thing can actually have the opposite effect intended. Well-intentioned or not, it’s good to be careful about word choice, especially in a world that is still so misunderstanding of the concept of “feminism” — something that Carey has experienced firsthand in interviews about Suffragette.

“I just feel proud of being a feminist,” she told Elle. “. . . It was so extraordinary to see so many people asking me in interviews ‘are you a feminist?’ and I’d say ‘yes,’ and they’d go ‘whoah,’ like that was some sort of revelatory thing in 2015.”

In the film, Carey plays Maud – a laundry worker who becomes a foot soldier for feminist leader Emmeline Pankhurst (played by our girl Meryl). Although Carey is absolutely and unequivocally a feminist, she doesn’t know if she’d be able to gather up the nerve to be a suffragette IRL. “You’d like to think that you would [but] you’re a product of your time,” she said. “I can express my opinion, but I’ve never had to fight, to stand up for anything. And the notion of walking into a gallery with a knife and destroying a piece of art, that seems unbelievably terrifying to me. And that’s just one, tame example of what they did.”

Carey has spoken out on gender equality and misogyny in the past, especially in the film industry. “In terms of the amount of interesting roles there are for women it’s obviously massively sexist,” she said in a Time Out interview in August. “There’s a lack of material for women. A lack of great stories for women.”

The fact that Suffragette is only being released in 2015 is telling, Carey continued: “The mere fact that it’s taken 100 years for this story to be told is hugely revealing. This is the story of equal rights in Britain, and it took years of struggle and women being tortured, abused and persecuted, and it’s never been put on-screen. It’s such a reflection of our film industry that that story hasn’t been told yet.”

What Carey is looking for is more diversity, not only in the acting and film world, but in the world in general. Speaking in the Elle interview, she said, “Someone asked me yesterday, ‘Do you think it would be a better world if it were run by women?’ And the answer is no, I think it would be a better world if it were run equally – we’re still so far from that.”

(Images via Focus Features)


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