Time magazine has named “The Silence Breakers” as its 2017 Person of the Year, recognizing the women (and some men) who came forward with stories of sexual harassment and assault and helped force a nationwide reckoning.
The magazine calls them “the voices that launched a movement.”
Among them are Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan, the actresses whose stunning accusations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein helped lead to his downfall; and activist Tarana Burke, creator of the #MeToo movement, along with the Hollywood star who amplified it on social media, Alyssa Milano.
“The galvanizing actions of the women on our cover … along with those of hundreds of others, and of many men as well, have unleashed one of the highest-velocity shifts in our culture since the 1960s,” Time’s editor in chief, Edward Felsenthal, told NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday.
The media’s endless stream of sexual misconduct investigations and the countless #MeToo accounts of harassment, abuse and worse have ensnared an ever-growing list of public figures — celebrities, executives, politicians, business leaders, whose lives and careers have come crashing down, or are dangerously close to doing so.
Like John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), the erstwhile dean of the House who resigned Tuesday amid mounting allegations of sexual harassment.
The barrage of sexual misconduct accusations, from Hollywood to Capitol Hill, came after the Weinstein scandal exploded in public view — with claims from numerous women who said he sexually harassed them and even raped them.
And a social media movement emerged with the hashtag #MeToo, which has been used more than 3 million times on Twitter, according to company data. A wave of survivors came forward, some telling wrenching stories of abuse, harassment and rape in public for the first time.
The hashtag succeeded in showing the world the volume of the problem. But as it grew, #MeToo showed something else, as well: the burden survivors of sexual and harassment and assault bear when asked to come forward.
In its first viral days, the hashtag largely amplified the stories of white women, following the lead of actress Alyssa Milano. But “Me Too” had been the mantra of a decade-old fight against sexual abuse before it became a hashtag, and was originally conceived by a woman of color.
Burke, a longtime activist and organizer, first identified the power “Me Too” could have to help women and girls who survived sexual abuse. In an October interview, she wondered what would follow in the weeks and years after the hashtag faded away.
“What the viral campaign did is, it creates hope. It creates inspiration,” Burke said to the Washington Post, “People need hope and inspiration desperately. But hope and inspiration are only sustained by work.”
In its Person of the Year 2017 cover story, Time noted that “this moment is borne of a very real and potent sense of unrest. Yet it doesn’t have a leader, or a single, unifying tenet. The hashtag #metoo (swiftly adapted into #BalanceTonPorc, #YoTambien, #Ana_kaman and many others), which to date has provided an umbrella of solidarity for millions of people to come forward with their stories, is part of the picture, but not all of it.”
This reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight. But it has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries. Women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries but don’t even seem to know that boundaries exist. They’ve had it with the fear of retaliation, of being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can’t afford to lose. They’ve had it with the code of going along to get along. They’ve had it with men who use their power to take what they want from women. These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day, and in the past two months alone, their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced. In some cases, criminal charges have been brought.
Emboldened by Judd, Rose McGowan and a host of other prominent accusers, women everywhere have begun to speak out about the inappropriate, abusive and in some cases illegal behavior they’ve faced. When multiple harassment claims bring down a charmer like former Today show host Matt Lauer, women who thought they had no recourse see a new, wide-open door. When a movie star says #metoo, it becomes easier to believe the cook who’s been quietly enduring for years.
In choosing its Person of the Year, Time has said it names the person or people who had the greatest influence over the past 12 months.
Last year’s choice was President Trump.
In explaining that pick, Time’s then-editor Nancy Gibbs wrote: “This is the 90th time we have named the person who had the greatest influence, for better or worse, on the events of the year. So which is it this year: Better or worse? The challenge for Donald Trump is how profoundly the country disagrees about the answer.”
Trump made the shortlist again for 2017. The president said last month that Time had called “to say that I was PROBABLY going to be named ‘Man (Person) of the Year,’ like last year, but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot. I said probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway!”
“The idea that influential, inspirational individuals shape the world could not be more apt this year,” Felsenthal, the Time editor, said. “For giving voice to open secrets, for moving whisper networks onto social networks, for pushing us all to stop accepting the unacceptable, the Silence Breakers are the 2017 Person of the Year.”
This post has been updated.