In a world where the experiences of women are made to feel invalidated, speaking up is a radical and progressive act.
Sexual assault would not be able to take their power away anymore. More than any other year before it, 2017 was the embodiment of women no longer keeping silent about their discomfort for the comfort of men. Together, they said “no" to the word victim and subsequently reclaimed the power they felt left without. Together, they said, “#MeToo."
Today, TIME recognized the significance of these women in their pick for their 2017 Person of the Year and the move was an equally powerful one.
TIME's Person of the Year are aptly called The Silence Breakers. The Silence Breakers are a culmination of women (and some men) from all walks of life that have refused to remain silent about sexual misconduct.
Among those gracing the cover of the special edition issue are actresses Alyssa Milano and Ashley Judd, the former spearheaded the resurgence of the #MeToo movement, and the latter went on record about her accusations against producer Harvey Weinstein. But the cover story sheds light on women outside of the industry, including a strawberry picker who didn't use her real name and corporate lobbyist Adama Iwu who came forward about being groped in the workplace.
Perhaps what is even more groundbreaking about this issue is that it is a story developed and produced by all women. Charlotte Atler, a national correspondent for TIME, said on Twitter: “This was conceived, reported, and written by women. It was fact-checked by women. The video was shot and edited by women. The layout and photo spread were designed by women. It was one of the reasons I'm proud to work at @time."
Photo Credit: TIME
The creator of the #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke, who started the movement back in 2006 is also profiled in the issue among the Silence Breakers. Despite Me Too gaining popularity and becoming viral after Milano shared a tweet including the hashtag back in October, Burke is truly the mother of the movement.
Activist Brittany Packnett made mention of the power of black women forcing the media to give Burke her due diligence in regards to the significance she played in #MeToo via a post on Instagram. She wrote, "This recognition is an acknowledgement of the power of black women - and of the importance of being vigilant about speaking the truth. Years ago, Tarana would have been relegated to kitchen table conversations while someone else walked away with the public acclaim and just due that actually belonged to a black person-a black women. No more. No more. This is evidence of us individually and collectively facing down the evil of silence in many forms. Thank you, Tarana. Thank you, thank you, thank you."
Thank you indeed.
Host of Sirius XM's "BEVELATIONS" Bevy Smith shared a similar sentiment on Instagram, praising Burke and saluting what she as a black woman and what all black women have the power to do. In her caption, she wrote:
"Kudos to @time for making #TheSilenceBreakers #TimePersonOfTheYear seeing the goddess [Tanara Burke] receiving her grace for CREATING the #MeToo movement over a decade ago. A movement she started for HER COMMUNITY which is now changing the world! You know Black Women are often the fire starters, we are on the front lines of every major movement but rarely given credit! Our voices overshadowed, IGNORED by others, 'they' tried it with Tarana & #MeToo but WE, BLACK WOMEN & our twitterverse SHUT IT DOWN! Today is a good day & it proves unequivocally that."
An activist in her own right, Burke started Me Too as a way for women to show solidarity to their fellow woman and has been contributing to the advancement of women for over a decade. In 2007, she created a nonprofit called Just Be Inc., for women overcoming sexual trauma. 10 years later, Burke is being recognized for her contributions to the world and her part in creating social change with the founding of the viral hashtag. She said:
“Sexual harassment does bring shame. And I think it's really powerful that this transfer is happening, that these women are not able to just share their shame, but to put the shame where it belongs: on the perpetrator."
Photo Credit: TIME
While people with a platform like Terry Crews, Rose McGowan, and Lupita Nyong'o coming forward with their stories is worthy of applause and celebration, in narratives talking about sexual misconduct and abuse, there are groups of people that are less likely to come forward with their stories. The woman whose elbow is only shown on the cover and the strawberry picker Pascual who doesn't use her real name serve as an example of that.
For those who are brave enough, they can be voices, but not necessarily faces.
As TIME reported:
“Those who are often most vulnerable in society – immigrants, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income workers, and LGBTQ people – described many types of dread."
The sad reality is that for most victims of abuse, they have no choice but to accept the sexual misconduct out of fear of job loss. In the profile, the women of the Plaza Hotel shared their heartbreaking story that is an example of such an instance. Crystal Washington, an employee of the Plaza Hotel, recalled being excited about joining the hotel as a hospitality coordinator. But shortly after, a co-worker made vulgar statements towards her and would grope her, “I can tell you had sex last night."
Photo Credit: TIME
Even though what the co-worker did to her was caught on camera, her management did nothing about the incident. Now, Washington and six other female employees of the Plaza Hotel have filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the hotel.
“It's a dream to be an employee there. And then you find out what it really is, and it's a nightmare."
The Silence Breakers making the TIME cover as Person of the Year is a sign that we've come a long way, but the stories that some of the women shared and continue to share shows that there is still more work that needs to be done.
Read the TIME magazine Person of the Year feature in full here.