In stark contrast with last year’s pick, a self-confessed sexual harasser, Time Magazine’s 2017 Person of the Year is the “silence breakers,” a powerful title for the women who fueled the #MeToo movement. And the cover photo makes a bold statement on behalf of those who cannot speak out.
Honouring the #MeToo movement as a global “reckoning” with sexual harassment, assault, and systemic misogyny, Time explains:
“The women and men who have broken their silence span all races, all income classes, all occupations and virtually all corners of the globe. They might labor in California fields, or behind the front desk at New York City’s regal Plaza Hotel, or in the European Parliament. They’re part of a movement that has no formal name. But now they have a voice.”
The magazine honours the many women—seen and unseen—who helped launch the movement, and the cover features actress Ashley Judd, one of the first prominent Harvey Weinstein accusers; Susan Fowler, the former Uber engineer credited with exposing the company’s widespread sexism; Adama Iwu, a lobbyist for Visa and organiser of the We Said Enough campaign; singer Taylor Swift, who sued former radio host David Mueller for sexual assault; and Isabel Pascual, “a woman from Mexico who works picking strawberries and asked to use a pseudonym to protect her family,” Time writes.
The cover also features a woman whose face is obscured. Her arm and elbow are visible in the bottom-right corner, which caused people to express their confusion about this on Twitter.
This crop was an important decision
The mysterious elbow is a provocative artistic choice, and it’s no mistake. Its owner is meant to represent the millions of women (and all people) who suffer sexual harassment and assault in silence—the people who cannot publicly come forward, for fear of violence, loss of employment, familial rejection, or any other reason. This obscured woman represents women who anonymously—yet forcefully—shared their stories of sexual harassment in the past year.
Time editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal explained the photo crop on NBC’s Today show: “The image you see partially on the cover is of a woman we talked to, a hospital worker in the middle of the country, who doesn’t feel like she can come forward without threatening her livelihood.”
Why the unseen woman means so much
As the #MeToo movement gained velocity, critics eagerly questioned why women subjected to sexual misconduct years or decades ago did not come forward immediately. The implication has been that they should not be believed, as if the merit of their allegations had an expiration date.
This scepticism is sexist in its refusal to trust women’s ability to account for their own lived experience. It’s also profoundly ignorant, as it fundamentally overlooks the overwhelming power dynamics that enable sexual harassment to proliferate by promoting and forgiving powerful men, regardless of their missteps—while punishing anyone who tries to challenge their eminence.
The obscured woman on Time’s cover can be seen as a response to those sceptics—the people who argue sexual harassment isn’t such a big deal, and those who tout the lie that women who suffer abuse silently are weak or can be dismissed.
The magazine’s statement is direct: First, shut the hell up. Second, realise that these women, all around you, are strong, brave, and deserving of every ounce of your honour and respect.