Time’s Person of the Year 2017: Who are The Silence Breakers?

2017 G'Day Black Tie Gala at Governors Ballroom - Arrivals

Time‘s Person of the Year award once again goes to more than one individual. In 2002, Time chose “The Whistleblowers”; in 2006, the magazine selected “You”; in 2014, it was “Ebola Fighters.” For 2017, Time has given the award to The Silence Breakers, the publication’s term for the people who’ve used their “collective anger” to break their silence on worldwide sexual assault and harassment.

Though the honor ostensibly includes anyone who’s spoken up any sexual harassment they’ve suffered, Time’s list begins with Harvey Weinstein’s 1997 “attempt to coerce” Ashley Judd “into bed” at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, then uses the avalanche of accusations against Weinstein as a springboard for the stories of other women in entertainment–among them Rose McGowan, Taylor Swift, Alyssa Milano, and Selma Blair–all of whom have raised allegations against formerly powerful Hollywood and music industry figures in the past few weeks.

These prominent women are, in turn, a means of introducing the stories of lesser-known figures–such as former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, whose blog post about sexual harassment at the company led to the ouster of its CEO–and Adama Iwu, a corporate lobbyist who “organized 147 women to sign an open letter exposing harassment in California government” after being groped in front of colleagues at an event in Sacramento.

But they’re hardly the only ones included among The Silence Breakers. Time‘s feature also highlights unknown women (many of whom chose to remain anonymous) for whom sexual harassment is a daily occurrence, so common as to be almost unmentionable–which makes their experiences all the more shocking. Consider the words of Juana Melara, for decades a housekeeper at an unnamed hotel, whose reasons for keeping silent have become painfully familiar:

[Melara] says she and her fellow housekeepers didn’t complain about guests who exposed themselves or masturbated in front of them for fear of losing the paycheck they needed to support their families. Melara recalls “feeling the pressure of someone’s eyes” on her as she cleaned a guest’s room. When she turned around, she remembers, a man was standing in the doorway, blocked by the cleaning cart, with his erect penis exposed. She yelled at the top of her lungs and scared him into leaving, then locked the door behind him. “Nothing happened to me that time, thank God,” she recalls.

Time‘s short list for the Person of the Year reflects the cultural tumult of 2017, as well. Included side-by-side are Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins; North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un; Chinese President Xi Jinping; US President Donald Trump; activist and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick–and special counsel Robert Mueller, who is already a strong contender for Person of the Year 2018.

(Photo credit: Who are The Silence Breakers via Time)

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