Consider the silence broken, but not quite fully credited. As expected, Time Magazine made the obvious and correct choice for its Person of the Year designation with its selection of “The Silence Breakers,” its term for the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment. Time’s writers note that even the #MeToo hashtag doesn’t quite cover the social phenomenon of women (and men) speaking out publicly against their abusers, but they also use a curiously passive voice in describing how the social phenomenon got its momentum:
Like the “problem that has no name,” the disquieting malaise of frustration and repression among postwar wives and homemakers identified by Betty Friedan more than 50 years ago, this moment is borne of a very real and potent sense of unrest. Yet it doesn’t have a leader, or a single, unifying tenet. The hashtag #MeToo (swiftly adapted into #BalanceTonPorc, #YoTambien, #Ana_kaman and many others), which to date has provided an umbrella of solidarity for millions of people to come forward with their stories, is part of the picture, but not all of it.
This reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight. But it has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries. Women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries but don’t even seem to know that boundaries exist. They’ve had it with the fear of retaliation, of being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can’t afford to lose. They’ve had it with the code of going along to get along. They’ve had it with men who use their power to take what they want from women. These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day, and in the past two months alone, their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced. In some cases, criminal charges have been brought.
It has been simmering for years — for decades, actually — and Time has the intellectual honesty to note one important reason why it took this long:
In politics, at least, what constitutes disqualifying behavior seemed to depend not on your actions but on the allegiance of your tribe. In the 1990s, feminists stood up for accused abuser Bill Clinton instead of his accusers—a move many are belatedly regretting as the national conversation prompts a re-evaluation of the claims against the former President.
That, however, is the only mention of Bill Clinton in the entire piece. Donald Trump gets mentioned eight times, mainly as a predator and as a motivation for the #MeToo movement. One of Trump’s accusers, Summer Zervos, gets a mention about her defamation suit. All of that is fair play, but Time curiously doesn’t bother to mention any of Bill Clinton’s accusers, two of which (Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey) allege that he assaulted them [see update]. That seems to be a manifestation of tribal allegiance too, and it underscores just how difficult this cultural shift will be.
However, there is another curious omission from this record, too. Time describes the emergence of this movement in a remarkably passive voice, saying it “appears to have sprung up overnight.” It didn’t just “spring up,” and there was a very active catalyst for it. Ronan Farrow dug for months to do what no other reporter had managed to accomplish — expose Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein as a dangerous sexual predator — and he had to fight his own network to do it, a fight he lost. Farrow eventually published his two blockbuster articles in The New Yorker, one on the allegations, and the other on Weinstein’s manipulation of the media and entertainment-industry institutions to protect himself and maintain his predatory behavior. After that, all the walls came tumbling down.
Normally, the reporter isn’t the story, as Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins pointed out to me on Twitter when I noted the omission. The main story here is the women themselves, and their experiences with predators and harassers, of course. Farrow would probably be the first to agree with that, too, and perhaps he asked not to be mentioned. Still, if we’re going to tell the story about how this movement suddenly caught fire, omitting Farrow’s role in that is a failure to report the story fully, and a single mention about his role as a catalyst would not have undermined the central focus of the story.
To put it another way: These stories have trickled out over the years, but never forced the cultural paradigm shift we see now. Before Farrow, there was no #MeToo [see update], and after Farrow, there was, perhaps in part because of the sheer number of women victimized by Weinstein.
Another curious omission is Gretchen Carlson, whose allegations of sexual harassment at Fox News eventually toppled Roger Ailes and at least indirectly led to Bill O’Reilly’s firing as well. That omission is all the more curious with the inclusion of Megyn Kelly and several references to Fox’s environment. As much as I like and admire Kelly for her toughness, wouldn’t the go-to person for Fox have been Carlson, who essentially ended her career by going very public about sexual harassment well before Farrow blew the lid off of it in Hollywood? For that matter, where’s Anthony Rapp, who finally exposed Kevin Spacey’s long years of abuse in Hollywood and on the stage? (One good inclusion in this is Terry Crews, whose story of victimization has gotten unfortunately overlooked.)
At least Time chose wisely this year. As a former co-winner of the POTY (with seven billion others), I endorse the choice, even if the reporting needed a little more work.
Update: Added a paragraph to the original.
Update: I originally wrote that both Broaddrick and Willey claimed that Clinton raped them. Only Broaddrick claimed rape; Willey claimed a different form of sexual assault — forcibly groping her breasts. I’ve corrected it above.
Update: I was too glib in saying “there was no #MeToo” before the Weinstein exposé. Tarana Burke started the MeToo effort ten years ago, which the Times article covers (and includes Burke among the women pictured). The cultural phenomenon started by Farrow’s article put it in the international spotlight. At any rate, my point still stands — without Farrow standing up to Weinstein’s threats and NBC’s editorial blackout, the ball doesn’t get rolling in late 2017, and that deserves a mention.