‘The Silence Breakers’ Beat Trump for Person of the Year

Image by Bobby Finger

Time’s annual Person of the Year was announced
Wednesday morning, and much to the collective relief of those
who think this assignation still matters in any way, President
Donald Trump did not receive this honor. Instead, Time
Editor-in-Chief Edward Felsenthal
sat down
with Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb on
Today and revealed that out of a shortlist that
included President Xi Jinping, Robert Mueller and Patty
Jenkins, the Time Person of the Year is actually a movement:

The Silence Breakers
.

This year’s cover features Ashley Judd, Susan Fowler, Adama
Iwu, Taylor Swift and Isabel Pascual—a carefully-selected group
of women meant to represent the wide range of people accusing
powerful men of abusing that power by wrecking havoc on their
careers, their bodies, and their minds. Also included on the
cover is a woman whose face is obscured, meant to represent the
scores of women who have not yet come forward, or those who
have but have not felt comfortable sharing their name.

Notably absent from the list
is Kesha, a woman whose very vocal struggle against her own
alleged rapist, Dr. Luke, has been seemingly drowned out of the
building narrative. 

Notably absent from the list is Kesha, a woman whose very vocal
struggle against her own alleged rapist, Dr. Luke, has been
seemingly drowned out of the building narrative. Haley
Sweetland Edwards, one of the authors of the piece, said in an
email to Jezebel that it was “heartbreaking” how many women’s
stories they were unable to include. “If we had had the time
and budget to photograph a thousand people who’d spoken out
against injustice this year, I would have done every
interview,” she wrote. “One reason we didn’t include Kesha in
the package is that we were focusing on women who specially
stepped forward, testified, filed suit, filed a complaint, or
otherwise spoke out in 2017 in particular. (For the same
reason, we did not profile all the brave women who spoke out
about Cosby in 2016).”

In the conclusion of Felsenthal’s brief introduction, he wrote:
“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.” It’s
a stirring sentiment, but seemingly in odds with Felsenthal’s
rationale for Trump’s appearance on the short list. “He’s on
the verge of his first major legislative victory, he’s
reshaping the judiciary and rolling back major regulations,”
Felsenthal said on Today—all toothless statements that
are technically true, but gloss over the specific horrors that
the current administration is enacting. Consider, also,
Felsenthal’s own writing on Trump from his introduction: “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.”

leaving Trump in the running
for this acknowledgement alongside women and men who have spoken
out against their assaulters comes off as disrespectful.

This is also true—but leaving Trump in the running for this
acknowledgement alongside women and men who have spoken out
against their assaulters comes off as disrespectful. Why take
the wind out of the sails of this moment, which, by
Felsenthal’s own words, has “unleashed one of the
highest-velocity shifts in our culture since the 1960s,” by
honoring a man who was accused of
sexual misconduct by 11 women
and somehow still ascended to
the highest office in America?

While this selection is certainly meant to honor the courage of
the women who have come forward, and to acknowledge those who
can’t, The Washington Post’s Philip Bump

elucidates
this disconnect. (Last year’s honoree was Donald
Trump, a recognition awarded to every president-elect since
2000.) “Time’s “Person of the Year” winners are themselves a
reminder that power has long been concentrated in the hands of
men,” writes Bump. “In 66 of 89 years, the winner of the title
has been a man, by himself. Four times, the winner has been a
woman by herself—never an American woman.” Bump suggests that
power is at the heart of this symbolic and ultimately empty
appellation, and he’s right.

Two thousand seventeen has indeed been a year of reckonings
both quiet and public. The news cycle is an onslaught of bad
news; the
aggregated lists
of
accusers
grow more unwieldy by the day. Nominating the
women who stand at the face of this movement is one thing;
identifying and eradicating the snakes in the grass—the outed
sexual predators and the ones who are still lying in wait—is
quite another. The only thing we can do is maintain this
momentum and let it propel us towards actionable and
demonstrable change.

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