One of the proudest moments of my life was when the sales team at Time magazine gave me a mocked-up cover of their Person of the year edition, with a picture of me on the cover. I intended to have it framed, but like most things from the 90s, I lost it.
Then it was actually Man of the Year and was changed to Person in 1999. The tradition started in 1927, when Time editors decided to commemorate and profile a person, a group, an idea or or a thing that “for better or for worse… has done the most to influence the events of the year”.
It started as an attempt to remedy the editorial embarrassment earlier that year of not having aviator Charles Lindbergh on its cover following his historic trans-Atlantic flight. By the end of the year, it was decided that a cover story featuring Lindbergh as the Man of the Year would serve both purposes.
Since the list began, every serving President of the United States has been a Man or Person of the Year at least once, with the exceptions of Calvin Coolidge, in office at time of the first issue, Herbert Hoover, the next U.S. president, and Gerald Ford. Barack Obama has won it twice and last year Donald Trump was voted Time’s Person of the Year, but bear in mind it is an award that has also been gifted to Stalin and Hitler.
Women who have been selected for recognition include “The Whistleblowers” (Cynthia Cooper, Coleen Rowley, and Sherron Watkins in 2002), Melinda Gates (jointly with Bill Gates and Bono, in 2005), Angela Merkel in 2015 and “The Silence Breakers” (Isabel Pascual, Adama Iwu, Ashley Judd, Susan Fowler and Taylor Swift in 2017). Prior to 1999, four women were granted the title as individuals: three as “Woman of the Year”—Wallis Simpson (1936), Queen Elizabeth II (1952), and Corazon Aquino (1986)–and one as half of the “Man and Wife of the Year”, Soong Mei-ling (1937).
“American Women” were recognized as a group in 1975. Other classes of people recognized comprise both men and women, such as “Hungarian Freedom Fighters” (1956), “U.S. Scientists” (1960), “The Inheritors” (1966), “The Middle Americans” (1969), “The American Soldier” (2003), “You” (2006), “The Protester” (2011) represented on the cover by a woman, and “Ebola fighters” (2014).
This year, editors at Time magazine found there was no single person who sparked the cultural change that defined 2017: it was hundreds who dared to speak up and spark a movement that has shaped this year, and possibly the years to come.
As you probably know, this year’s Person of the Year has been revealed as ‘The Silence Breakers’.
Time magazine interviewed dozens of people from different industries who had come forward to share their experience of sexual harassment at work. Some are famous actors, pop stars, news anchors. Others are housekeepers, cooks, cleaners. Time’s Person of the Year feature points out that, despite their differences, it was the shared experience which brought them together: often their stories were “eerily similar”. The victims would describe the incident, but also how they had suffered – mentally and physically – for years after the unwanted advances were made.
It all started when Ashley Judd became the first person to be named on-the-record with allegations against the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, whom she had met in 1997.
In October 2017, Rose McGowan spoke out publicly and alleged that producer Harvey Weinstein had raped her (Weinstein denies all allegations of non-consensual sex). Since she came forward, McGowan has used her platform to share stories by other women, and call out other men accused of sexual harassment and assault.
After the New York Times published a story about decades of alleged sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour by Harvey Weinstein, actor and former American footballer Terry Crews came forward to detail his own experience in Hollywood.
Crews, who currently stars in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, alleged that he was groped by a “high-level Hollywood executive” during an event he attended with his wife in 2016. He said he wanted to talk about it to “deter predators” and to show how he realised why, after the incident, he understood why women did not feel safe to speak up when they experience harassment.
Housekeeper, Juana Melara, one of the lesser-known names in the feature, said she and her fellow housekeepers did not complain about hotel guests who exposed themselves or masturbated in front of them for fear of losing their jobs. And even while guests would eventually leave the hotel they worked in, colleagues were harder to escape.
Hollywood actress, Alyssa Milano, asked her Twitter followers to share their experiences. “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet,” she wrote on the social media service.
As a result, the hashtag #MeToo began trending online, with over 30,000 people using the phrase in one night. Milano was in tears following the response.
Actors, directors, newsreaders, comedians, business bosses have all been brought down by this surge of openness regarding sexual impropriety, some of whom will probably never work again, including Kevin Spacey, James Toback, Chris Savino, Ben Affleck and Roy Price.
Even before the Weinstein affair, numerous women had come forward to accuse President Trump of sexual offences towards them, but the focus now, due to the sheer weight of other targets, seems to have shifted from him. perhaps it is for this reason that Trump was widely regarded as the favourite for this year’s award. When it turned out he had not won for the second time in two years, he claimed he had turned it down.
I’m sure the Silence Breakers will have him in their sights again very soon.