Why the 'Silence Breakers' Deserve to Be Time's 'Person of the Year'
Today the 'Silence Breakers' were named as Time's Person of the Year, and never has the victor felt more just. The cover features five figures but carries the stories of women and men from 85 countries who stood up and said: "Me Too."
Ashley Judd, Susan Fowler, Adama Iwu, Taylor Swift, and Isabel Pascual each have their own involvement in what has been a painful year of exposing sexual abusers, harassers, and manipulators the world over. From Ashley Judd, the first woman to go on record to the New York Times about Harvey Weinstein to Susan Fowler who penned a brave open letter about the sexual discrimination she had faced at Uberto Adama Iwu, the lobbyist who spurred an investigation in the California state Senate after describing the harassment she faced.
They appear cloaked in black and with expressions of defiance. There are no gleeful smiles to gloss over the trauma or designer clothing to detract from the sombre occasion. The mixture of ages, races, body types and professions are stark proof that sexual harassment is a burden for all women. The message of the cover is clear: the story of Isabel Pascual, a 42-year-old strawberry picker from Mexico, whose harasser began to stalk her at home, is no less valid than that of Taylor Swift who successfully fought a high profile sexual harassment case against a DJ who groped her.
The bravery of these women in coming forward was part of a global chain reaction of women passing the baton on to the next. Inside the magazine are multiple stories from Plaza Hotel employees to journalists to actors of women who rose up to break the circle of abuse.
There's a sixth woman on the cover whose arm you can just see in righthand corner, a hospital worker who wished to remain anonymous for fear of her families livelihood. It's a small but important reminder of the stories women are still afraid to tell and the work to be done while only 15% of women report sexual assault. Another office worker explained that she stayed anonymous, "Because I live in a very small community, and they just think usually that we're lying and complainers."
Time's cover isn't a popularity contest. Just look at the contentious figures to be picked in recent years from Donald Trump to Mark Zuckerberg to Vladimir Putin. Instead, it focuses solely on impact upon news.
Despite this professed impartiality, the choice constitutes a powerful riposte to Trump and his obnoxious tweets that have jammed the news cycle, Putin's alleged interference in the American election, and Kim Jon-Un's nuclear missile tests. The posturing of these dangerous men have rightly lost out to a group of women many of us couldn't even name from their photograph alone.
Herein lies the genius of the #MeToo, that despite the sickening numbers of actresses and celebrities who came forward against Harvey Weinstein, or whichever new assailant was revealed, it was the collective 1.7m stories of ordinary people that galvanized the movement. As Time notes in their feature on the cover: "It turns out that—in the most painful and personal ways—movie stars are more like you and me than we ever knew."
The stories trickled down until it was clearly not just a problem in Hollywood or a problem in politics or a problem in fashion. It was a problem everywhere. It was your friend quietly telling you about a boss who kept rubbing her shoulders or your sister recalling being grabbed on the bus, or you, realizing that so many women have been internalizing the feeling of being under siege their whole lives.
Time has chosen to feature a group or movement several times in recent years. In 2014 the healthcare workers who helped prevent the spread of Ebola were chosen, and in 2011 protestors from the Occupy Movement to the Arab Spring graced the cover.
As worthy as those choices were, the 'Silence Breakers' appearing on the most iconic print cover in the world feels even more seismic. It crowns a year in which women speaking out hasn't just changed a country, but arguably—hopefully—an entire world, proof that their collective voice is far louder than those trying to silence them. For the rest of us, our job now is to support their momentum however we can.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.