Does Time’s Person of the Year Imply Real Progress?

No one could have predicted 2017’s Time Person of the Year last December. Or even a few months ago. “The year, at its outset, did not seem to be a particularly auspicious one for women,” writes Time editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal. “A man who had bragged on tape about sexual assault took the oath of the highest office in the land, having defeated the first woman of either party to be nominated for that office, as she sat beside a former President with his own troubling history of sexual misconduct.”

If 2017 began on a depressingly hopeless note, it’s ending on a depressingly hopeful note. Of course, you know all about the #MeToo movement by now. I’m willing to bet that you’re part of it, and it’s been a long time coming.

When the likes of Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly stood accused, I still don’t think anyone comprehended the scope of the issue, but the puzzle pieces of the movement were falling into place. Rose McGowan had been dropping hints about the man who assaulted her. Taylor Swift won a very public groping trial during the late summer. Ashley Judd was one of the first big names to go on record about Harvey Weinstein in the New York Times. Asia Argento also spoke out, daring to use the word “rape.” Alyssa Milano started that simple, powerful Twitter hashtag that’s spread like wildfire, based on social activist Tarana Burke’s underpublicized 2006 campaign to highlight similar issues.

#MeToo created a cataclysmic bam, bam, bam, bam, bam across industries. Those voices became a chorus, millions of women have joined in, and now everyone is listening — including Time, obviously, but also those with decision-making power within company ranks. So far, the chorus of voices both well-known and unknown have toppled Hollywood heavyweights like Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K., as well as other major names like Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Brett Ratner and Terry Richardson. The list of offenses and perpetrators goes on and on, now impossible to filter out of our social media and news feeds.

Before Weinstein broke, I used to do that thing too many of us do in the face of unsolicited advances: I’d let the rush of humiliation hit, and follow it up with a hearty dose of self-questioning. If someone’s touch or attention was unwanted, I’d rack my brain for things I could have done differently. It started when I was young. I remember my mom coaching me as a little girl on how to avoid situations that would make me vulnerable: avoid walking alone at night, don’t accept nebulous invitations from men at work, meet up with men in public spaces, watch your drink at parties, check in with friends to tell them your whereabouts, listen to your gut if something feels off. I know why she did it; safety has always felt like our burden to bear as women. It should have never been this way.

Before #MeToo, it never even occurred to me that it didn’t have to be.

Post-reckoning, I’ve realized my knee-jerk reactions are nonsense. What we have been conditioned to do in response to unacceptable behavior — laugh it off, let it go, get out ASAP, remember to avoid in future — suddenly feels wrong. Because of #MeToo, we can finally be empowered and emboldened to say, “Enough is enough.”

That is to say: Nothing has affected me the last 12 months quite like #MeToo. Seeing women’s all-too-common experiences come to the forefront, and watching those feelings be subsequently validated by action, has felt especially powerful in the wake of a disappointing 2016. It finally feels like the winds of change are shifting some cultural sails for all of us.

A look at Time’s 2017 shortlist paints a bizarre picture: Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un, Robert Mueller, Jeff Bezos, Colin Kaepernick, the Dreamers, Patty Jenkins. It’s an interesting, if illustrative, assortment. A cast of characters that almost resembles a good vs. evil showdown in a comic book. It’s striking to see the Time selection this year alongside last year’s title-holder Trump (this year’s runner-up). Yes, the magazine’s distinction honors influence, but in the aftermath of the election last year, that Person of the Year anointment felt a little like evil was winning. Some days, it still does. But perhaps this year the scales are shifting.

I wish I didn’t have to write about what a big deal it is that Time selected the “Silence Breakers” as Person of the Year instead of Trump. I wish misconduct had never been so normalized. I wish I couldn’t say #MeToo. But here I am, and here you are, and here we are all standing together.

In a way, this honor is for all of us. What started as a whisper, passed down through generations of women, has become a relentless scream — and the echoes are splashed all over that Time cover. For that, I am cheering. Maybe this year, “good” is nipping at the heels of evil.

Feature photo via TIME from the Person of the Year 2017 Silence Breakers, photographed by Billy & Hells for TIME. 

Get more Pop Culture ?
  • Rebecca

    “What started as a whisper, passed down through generations of women, has become a relentless scream — and the echoes are splashed all over that Time cover.” yes yes yes!!

    • Caroline

      One of the best sentences I have read in at least the last year.

  • Cristina

    The backlash about Swift tho… I’ve was up well past my bedtime reading op pieces about it!

    • heat11her

      I’ve had multiple friendly discussions about this and what I can say is I don’t fault Swift for being on the cover, I fault Time Magazine for possibly using celebrities for selling points. I think the woman who started the actual hashtag over a decade ago on the cover would have been more honorable, tasteful. While I am no means trying to equate victimization and popularity, or make determinations on who has been offended, I do think Swift and Judd were used to sell more magazines. HOWEVER, in light of all the backlash, THIS ISSUE IS BEING HEARD and DISCUSSED, and I’m overjoyed about that fact.

      • Kattigans

        I want to know why others who have paved the way in a major way long before Tswift came on the scene, like Ellen Pao, don’t even get so much as a nod. Is it bc it didn’t happen in the year 2017? I also want to know why Rose McGowen isn’t on there.

        • Amelia

          Rose is in the article!

          • Kattigans

            I know, but I meant why not on the cover.

        • Daniel Szilagyi

          Ellen Pao is nowhere near the level of anyone mentioned here, hardly a person worth to mention since she herself is a horrible candidate for empowerment.
          I believe her entire case wasn’t even to make better for the issues, she just wanted a payout to help her husband who is/was massively in debt.

          • Ciccollina

            You can’t get a payout if there isn’t a case dude, and even though she lost, there is not one woman working in technology that doesn’t believe her. Why is ok for men to be horrible people on the daily, yet when a woman just wants a reasonably safe environment to work in and is an allegedly a horrible person, the question is on her value and moral standing? Get a grip.

          • Daniel Szilagyi

            I’m not trying to start a flame war here or argue, for the record I do agree with the overall vibe that there is a ton of sexism in Silicon Valley but let me share a few thoughts and you can agree or not as much as you’d like.

            1. this case isn’t as black and white as you make it seem, there is literally tons of reasons the VC firm would want to pay her out…their rep, less heat or attention on them…think about it, would you want your business to suddenly be in bad press over something like this? look at a company like Uber? i wouldn’t touch those guys at all.

            2. I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman, if you’re horrible to work with and you’re not a good worker you will probably be fired, do you think I would keep my job if i didn’t do well and didn’t perform my best? I’d be fired just as fast, this isn’t because she was a woman she was fired, this was because the firm felt she wasn’t the best person in that role that could be there.
            I’m not saying that the VC firm is an angel to work for, like every company i’m sure it has it’s bad and sometimes horrible sides, maybe i missed it but i sure didn’t seem to recall fearing her safety as a reason to leave ( which by the way, was something she didn’t want to do )

            3. Well the fact that her husband (Alphonse “Buddy” Fletcher, Jr. is a hedge-fund manager who is facing client lawsuits and government probes related to his failing money-management business.) and is known to have a trigger finger for lawsuits and was in massive debt right around the same time would make me assume something more is going on, i mean her own wording in court certainly didn’t sound like someone who is fighting the good fight for sexism and equal rights.
            Also the court wasn’t told about his issues in the slightest and he didn’t even show up to the trial.

            Lastly my point isn’t to dismiss that there is sexism out there, there is and that’s a fact and i have worked in tech ( I’ve seen my share of people in both genders who were equally horrible in their jobs and kept them for various reasons) but she isn’t on the same level as the women in the Time cover pure and simple, she might have started a great conversation about it though

        • Ciccollina

          YEAH! Where are Rose and Ellen?

  • GCD

    That last paragraph gave me chills. Thank you.

    • Lauren

      Me too. Great writing. Thank you for this piece.

  • Rachel Janfaza

    Love seeing this kind of content on Man Repeller. We are all too familiar with that quintessential mother daughter conversation at the beginning of adolescence. We have all just accepted that aspect of our culture. You are absolutely right; that conversation should not be normal. Although I’m unsure if the necessity of that conversation will go away completely, I am hopeful that following the impact of the silence breakers the conversation between mothers and daughters will be different. As mentioned, this breaking of the silence is a win for women everywhere and your eloquent words have started my Thursday with such optimism! Thank you for that.

  • This was so well written, Jenna. I’ve heard the critiques over the Time cover, over who should have been included, over who shouldn’t have, but above all else I’m glad the voices of women (and a few men too) are being recognized. I’m glad their voices are being believed. I’m glad it feels like the tides are finally turning in the direction of equality, even though true equality may still be far away.

    Every woman has a story of sexual harassment, or of being treated as less than their male counterparts. I want it to be different for the next generation. I want the voices of women to ring loudly, and to keep ringing. I hope this movement is just the start, the catalyst of what is sure to be a long process of change in our institutions, in our workplaces, in our government, in our homes.

  • Selena Delgado

    Working with children and the disabled, I’m observing a shift in the way they are valued as functional humans, for now they too, have a voice. The language of our work is changing, our respect for each other’s personal space is beginning to evolve in inclusivity. There is an increased sensitivity to boundaries, a heightened awareness of children’s receptivity to sensory stimuli. This movement is altering the way we approach others and articulate out reactions to what feels safe/unsafe. This movement is not only about sharing our stories, it’s changing the neural processes of what we perceive as self-care. We are redefining what “safe” means. My #metoo moment was an experience I had when I was a child from a relative. I will fight to ensure any child I come in contact with will have their voice through my advocacy.

  • Let’s hope things will change for good and that 2017 will be remembered as the year that changed the condition of women who work.

  • KA

    SO relevant and obsessed with how they did it. If everyone hasn’t already seen last week’s snl sketch.. WELCOME TO HELL

  • KA

    Yes this is all so amazing, really important big steps forward, regardless of who they chose to use as the face of this on the cover..

    I do hope that next years person of the year will be “The Critical Thinkers”, or media groups who focus on bigger questions like, Why is this pattern so common among men ? All of these men can’t be inherently evil or bad. Or in regards to fake news, Why does our society keep allowing political figures who use Misdirection tactics to speak on air ?

    Can we not make it illegal for these people to sneakily refuse to answer a question by changing the subject more than one time?

    Ok stopping ranting now ! <3

  • Nancy

    I get why tailors on here but I really can’t stand her. Yes congrats on th case, but thanks for publicly speaking out for women against the most despicable human being to ever grace the White House with his disgusting behavior but hey, you didn’t care about that though so I digress.

  • So happy for this! I’m not sure what the argument against TSwift is? Is it her girl squad stuff? I just like how she spoke out against this awful DJ.

  • I burst into tears reading about the woman’s arm in the corner. She wanted to protect the identity of her family. From the article on TIME: “She is faceless on the cover and remains nameless inside TIME’s red borders, but her appearance is an act of solidarity, representing all those who are not yet able to come forward and reveal their identities.”

    …I mean. Chills.

  • Lanatria Brackett Ellis

    I think it is important to note that the #metoo movement was started by a black woman Tarana Janeen, who is not only an activist but a style blogger.The celebrity of these women may have spread the flame, but to not acknowledge that it was sparked and ignited by an everyday woman bringing sexual abuse stories to light amidst a rape culture is more than disheartening.