TIME for a Change

by Lacey Cencula

In case you missed it, TIME Magazine named the Silence Breakers of the #MeToo movement the 2017 Person of the Year. By beating out everyone from politicians to athletes for the award, these Silence Breakers proved their impact throughout the year. There are a myriad of reasons as to why TIME selected the women (and men) of the #MeToo movement, but let’s discuss what this means for us.

I can already hear the backlash this selection will undoubtedly receive: “They just made this decision to be politically correct.” There will be people unable to possibly fathom how a group of women that spoke up about their experiences with sexual assault and harassment deserves the title Person of the Year. “There are others more deserving; more impactful. Who cares about some people posting a hashtag on social media?”

This honor isn’t solely about the individual actions taken by each member of the #MeToo movement; it signifies the impact this effort had on society as a whole. For the first time, we gave victims of sexual assault and harassment a voice; a face. Empathy is a hard concept to grasp when something isn’t happening directly to you. One can understand how someone dying may be sad, but until it affects them directly, they don’t fully grasp the enormity of it.

The same goes for the #MeToo movement and public understanding of sexual assault and harassment. For the first time we saw that this problem expands far beyond anyone could imagine. Sexual assault wasn’t just happening to the beautiful and glamorous people of Hollywood; sexual harassment wasn’t just happening to the high-powered female executives. 60% of women voters say they’ve experienced sexual harassment. However, we see there’s a discrepancy of women not fully comprehending as to what counts as sexual harassment; there are women that reported they had not been sexually harassed at work even though they had received sexually explicit or sexist comments.

Image: The Huffington Post

Image: The Huffington Post

It is worth recognizing that statistics are only available when women actually choose to report. Furthermore, it is important to highlight that sexual assault and harassment often disproportionately affect marginalized groups.

Now that we’ve identified that the problem is widespread, the next critique undoubtedly is “So why did women stay quiet about it for so long? Seems convenient they’re just now bothered by it.” Here’s the thing: women have always been bothered by it. No one enjoys having a random man yell out his truck window “Hey baby let’s see those tits!” as she jogs down the street. No one enjoys having a man pull up her dress in the middle of a bar to grope her butt. (Does reading those scenarios make you uncomfortable? Imagine living through them.) The problem lies within the fact that this behavior has been going on for so long, women have been conditioned into thinking this behavior is acceptable and normal. Even worse, we’ve been duped into thinking that this behavior is somehow a compliment. I refer back to the point mentioned previously; women that had been sexually harassed didn’t even know they had been sexually harassed because that behavior has been so deeply embedded into our culture over the years. I can guarantee I’d land in some hot water if I made a joke about a man’s penis at work, but making a joke about a woman’s breasts in the workplace? Well, that’s just in good fun! Locker room talk! The #MeToo movement allowed women to identify this inappropriate behavior and to feel comfortable sharing that it had happened to them too. Sharing an “embarrassing” story about harassment feels a lot less intimidating when other women are sharing as well.

While it’s exciting to see this courageous group being honored, we would be remiss without mentioning that TIME’s Person of the Year winners are almost always a salute to powerful men. Only four times in the award’s history has the winner has been a woman by herself. And on only three occasions, including this year, has the winner been a group of women. As the below graphic shows, individual women are hardly awarded more than literal non-humans.

Image: The Washington Post

Image: The Washington Post

The rarity of women winning the title is something that absolutely needs to be remedied; but, this shows how impactful the Silence Breakers were in 2017 in order to capture an award that tends to stray away from women. Tarana Burke began the #MeToo movement 10 years ago as a grassroots effort to connect with sexual assault survivors. In 2017, the ability of the #MeToo movement to highlight a widespread problem, to provide a voice to the unheard, and to unite these victims into a force of strength is why the group of Silence Breakers was awarded Person of the Year. As we move forward, we hope these compelling #MeToo stories have shed enough light on a problem that should have been banished into the darkness ages ago.

Lacey Cencula