Tung's Take: Time Person Of The Year 2017

The Time magazine Person Of The Year edition has arrived in a storm of media coverage. First Trump dominated the conversation, having claimed in a cringe Tweet (does he write any other kind?) to have passed on the offer of the accolade. Time responded that this information was ‘incorrect’ and that they’d yet to make up their mind. 

Well, they have now, and the title of 91st Person Of The Year has gone, not to Trump, but to ‘The Silence Breakers’ - a selection of brave women who have been raising their voices to expose sexual misconduct in a variety of industries. Opinion has ranged from glorious praise to Twitter takedowns, and there’s more to unpick about this undoubtedly worthy cover. Let’s get into it.

What and who?

Time define their criteria for selection as focused on "those who have affected the news and our lives, for good or ill and have embodied the importance of their year”. Increasingly they've presented the top spot to ‘people’ of the year as opposed to a single person - this is the sixth collective winner of the millennium.

For their struggles, the ‘The Silence Breakers’ are Ashley Judd (actress, Weinstein accuser), Adama Iwu (government lobbyist), Taylor Swift (counter-sued DJ David Mueller), Susan Fowler (software engineer and Uber whistleblower), Isabel Pascual (pseudonym, strawberry picker), and the arm of an unnamed hospital worker, to represent ‘all those unable to speak out’.  

The Good

The Weinstein case, though seismic, has been in danger of making it appear that only the rich and powerful could challenge sexual harassment. This cover, visually, makes a vital point: sexual harassment happens to everyone.

Three of the six cover stars are ‘working class’ or in lower-paid jobs, two are women of colour, and a decent age range is represented. The hidden body of an unnamed hospital worker is also critical - while lauding the ‘silence breakers’, it’s crucial we stand in support of those who can’t speak out, who can’t risk losing their job, and who can’t risk physical violence. Until the toxic misogynistic system is broken, speaking out will remain a privilege. 

The Bad

Unfortunately, the attempt at diversity only goes so far. Where, for one, is Tarana Burke, the three-time sexual assault survivor who first began the ‘Me Too’ campaign 10 years ago? She makes an appearance in the accompanying video and inside feature, but her absence on the cover hasn’t gone unnoticed. Representation matters, and for women who have been shouting their truth for over a decade to be glossed over at the final hour feels unfair. 

Now on to Yung T. Readers of this fine publication will know that I’m not her biggest fan, but none of my distaste for Swift’s inclusion in this cover comes from personal dislike or intention to diminish her experience. Sexual harassment is sexual harassment, and her counter-suit against her assaulter for a symbolic one dollar was a powerful clap back against suggestions that women draw attention to assault in the hope of potential financial gain. 

No, what irks me is her position, front and centre, on a cover touting her claim to be a world-changing ‘silence breaker’, when she is notoriously silent 90% of the time. She’s silent when neo-nazis call her ‘Aryan goddess’. She’s silent when it comes supporting a presidential candidate. She’s silent on addressing her very white, very commercial feminism. It suits her brand, and her bankability to keep quiet. Her elevation above Tamara Burke, or Rose McGowan, or Alyssa Milano is frankly insulting and betrays Time’s commercial bottom line. 

Final thoughts

Although it’s delicious of Time to have parred self-confessed pussy-grabber Donald Trump on Twitter before going on to announce women activists as the true people of the year, that doesn’t eliminate the sour taste left by their decision to award him second place. In fact, it just goes to show that although gendered power imbalances might be shifting across a number of industries, the man with the greatest power, and the greatest responsibility, remains pretty much untouchable. 

On the bright side though, perhaps the shortlist exposes another kind of shift - an increasing move away from solo harbingers of mass change. When it comes to filling the criteria of ‘defining the importance of the year’, perhaps the age of the individual is ending, and the 21st century will instead be defined by our collective efforts, mass social change, and huge groups working together to drive progress. Let’s hope. 

Follow Sarah on Twitter @sarah_margetson