For the past 90 years, Time Magazine has annually unveiled a Person of the Year cover, celebrating an influential figure from the last 12 months. In 2017, though, a group known as the Silence Breakers was selected, as its members had sparked the rapidly growing Me Too movement. However, one small detail on that cover proved all-important.
In October 2017, a campaign was launched following the very public allegations of sexual harassment against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Actor Ashley Judd was the first woman to go on record about the subject, recalling her experience with Weinstein from back in 1997 to The New York Times. However, few could have predicted what happened next.
Judd’s brave words inspired several other stars to come out with their own encounters with Weinstein, including Rose McGowan, Asia Argento, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie. That wasn’t all, though. After the initial story broke, Charmed star Alyssa Milano posted a hashtag on Twitter, encouraging women with similar experiences to speak up.
“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” Milano wrote on social media. However, the response blew her away. “I woke up and there were 32,000 replies in 24 hours,” she told Time.
“And I thought, My God, what just happened?” Milano continued. “I think it’s opening the floodgates.” Indeed, women from all walks of life started to share their own experiences of sexual harassment and assault, inspired by the growing importance of the Me Too hashtag. Before long, the phrase became a movement, with offshoot campaigns, such as Time’s Up, coming to the fore in 2018.
In the latter part of 2017 Time Magazine looked to pay tribute to the Me Too movement. With that goal in mind, a group known as the Silence Breakers was selected to appear on the cover of the its Person of the Year issue. The women in question had all taken a stand against instances of sexual harassment in their respective workplaces.
Judd was one of the women who appeared on the cover, as it was her revelations about Weinstein that kick-started the movement. Alongside the actor sat Susan Fowler, a former employee of Uber who spoke out about the abuse going on at the company in a blog post. As a result of her whistle-blowing piece, the CEO resigned and 20 other employees were fired.
The cover photo also included a woman using the pseudonym Isabel Pascual. A strawberry-picker from Mexico, Pascual was stalked by her tormentor at home, while also being forced into silence with threats of harm against her kids. Despite all of that, she still joined the marches in California.
“I was afraid,” Pascual told Time in December 2017. “When the man was harassing me, he threatened to harm my children – that’s why I kept quiet. I felt desperate. I cried and cried. But, thank God, my friends in the fields support me. So I said, ‘Enough.’ I lost the fear. I can support other people who are going through the same thing.”
Alongside Pascual sat Adama Iwu, a lobbyist for Visa from Sacramento, CA, who was groped at an event in front of her work colleagues. However, after no one intervened in the sexual assault, Iwu put together an open letter that was signed by well over 100 women speaking out against harassment in California. As a result, a senate investigation was launched on the matter at the state level.
“Young women told me about the same men who had harassed me years ago,” Iwu told Time. “And all I did was participate in the whisper network. ‘Here’s what you can wear, here’s where you can go, here’s who to avoid.’ But you have to address it head on and as a group. It’s hard to call 147 women liars.”
Meanwhile, music superstar Taylor Swift also featured on the cover, as she was sexually harassed by David Mueller, a former radio presenter, in 2013. Mueller filed a lawsuit against the singer after she reported the incident, which resulted in his employment being terminated. Seeking compensation for loss of earnings, the ex-DJ was then sued by Swift herself for sexual assault in 2017.
Swift was successful in the civil trial, leading her to make a strong, passionate statement on the subject of sexual assault and harassment. “I acknowledge the privilege that I benefit from in life, in society and in my ability to shoulder the enormous cost of defending myself in a trial like this,” the award-winning singer said after winning the case. “My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard.”
“Therefore, I will be making donations in the near future to multiple organizations that help sexual assault victims defend themselves,” Swift concluded. However, of all the women on the Time Magazine cover, the singer’s inclusion was the most controversial. Indeed, people on social media were quick to point out the issue, stemming from earlier that year.
In January 2017, marches were organized across the globe by women protesting American president Donald Trump. In addition, the protests also raised awareness of several other issues involving women’s rights. However, Swift was conspicuous by her absence at every one of those events, sparking plenty of criticism.
The controversy didn’t end there, though. When the stories about Weinstein and others came to the fore, Swift was one of the few famous women who didn’t condemn those men, resulting in further reproval. As the singer’s ethos revolved around female empowerment, her lack of action in these instances seemed to contradict her words in some people’s eyes.
However, there was one more woman on the cover, but her face does not appear because she wanted to remain anonymous. The young lady, who worked at a hospital in a small town in Texas, didn’t want to reveal her identity in an effort to keep her family safe. She suffered sexual assault at her workplace, reporting it to the medical center’s Human Resources department.
“I thought, ‘What just happened?’” the anonymous hospital employee recalled to the magazine. “‘Why didn’t I react? Why couldn’t I force words out of my mouth?’ When I got home, I crumbled. I kept thinking, ‘Did I do something, did I say something, did I look a certain way to make him think that that was OK?’”
In a bid to remain anonymous, only the woman’s arm featured in the bottom right-hand corner of the cover, which in turn symbolized something very important. The anonymous woman from Texas admitted that she was there to represent all of the women who still couldn’t speak up about their abuse.
With that thought in mind, that one small act of anonymity adds another dimension to the Me Too story. While the likes of Judd, Swift and Iwu have been able to share their experiences, there are those who continue to suffer in silence. That alone proves that the movement still has some way to go.