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. 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.”
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.