Sex abuse ‘silence breakers’ win Time award

Time for a change: The mystery arm belongs to a harassment victim who wished to stay anonymous.

Will the #MeToo movement lead to real change? Those who spoke out about their experiences of sexual misconduct have been named Time magazine’s “person of the year”. Their story is not over.

Men did not start harassing women in 2017. Nor did women only begin to report harassment this year. Yet until recently, victims of sexual misconduct very rarely dared to speak out, and the scale of the problem was simply ignored. A kind of silence reigned.

This is changing. Throughout 2017 — and especially in the last two months — women (and some men) have come out in hordes to denounce inappropriate behaviour. And now these “silence breakers” have been collectively named Time magazine’s “person of the year”.

The scene was set in January, when people around the world marched to protest at President Trump’s attitude towards women’s rights. The following months saw a steady trickle of harassment scandals that hit the likes of Uber and Fox News broadcaster Bill O’Reilly.

Then, on October 5th, the floodgates opened. Reports of widespread abuse by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein emboldened millions of women to go public with their own experiences.

Rallying around hashtags like #MeToo, they called out everything from inappropriate questions to rape. They accused famous actors, journalists, politicians, musicians, and countless anonymous men. In some cases, criminal charges were brought. Two months on, the movement shows little sign of slowing down.

It is being described as a revolution. The accused are losing their jobs. New campaigns have been spawned (like #NoPredators, which aims to create a code of conduct in the British film industry). According to a recent poll, 82% of American adults believe that women are now more likely to speak out about harassment.

Yet many approach the term “revolution” with caution. Some note that while this is happening, the Trump administration is rolling back women’s rights. For instance, it has made it harder for victims of sexual assault in colleges to prove their case.

Others argue that hashtag activism has its limits. “We're still at the bomb-throwing point of this revolution,” notes Time. “But [anger] can't negotiate the more delicate dance steps needed for true social change.”

#WhatNext?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, say some. The #MeToo discussion has been fascinating, but like all “revolutions”, it will lose momentum. If it is not followed by concrete social reform, sexism will continue. The fact that Trump – who has boasted of harassing women – is still president shows how far we have to go.

Look at the bigger picture, reply others. Despite setbacks, women’s rights have come far since the term “sexual harassment” was coined in 1975. Reform happens through gradual, subtle shifts in attitudes, spearheaded by big feminist moments like this. Even if #MeToo seems to die down, it has already brought about change.

You Decide

  1. Have the silence breakers changed the world?
  2. Do all victims of sexual harassment have a duty to speak out?

Activities

  1. Who would you pick as “person of the year”? Write a letter to Time explaining your choice. (It can be a group of people, and they do not have to be famous.)
  2. Draw up a code of conduct for society, in relation to sexism and inappropriate sexual behaviour, making clear what is acceptable and what is not.

Some People Say...

“Every revolution evaporates.”

Attributed to Franz Kafka

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Time has named a “person of the year” every year since 1927, and its choice always makes headlines. The magazine singles out the person or group it thinks has had the biggest impact that year, for better or worse. Women rarely win; exceptions include Angela Merkel in 2015 and “American Women” in 1975. Trump was picked last year.
What do we not know?
How #MeToo will evolve. New revelations are reported pretty much every day, and the movement is spreading to different industries, although it is still centred on showbiz. Most famous men accused of misconduct have seen their career suffer, but politicians have mostly survived, as their parties have generally rallied around them. Some say that the movement will have come to nothing if sexual abusers can remain in government.

Word Watch

Marched
Women’s Marches took place in every US state and across the world. An estimated 4.5 million people marched overall.
President Trump
Trump was Time’s runner up. “He has changed the presidency,” notes the magazine. “No other Commander in Chief has broadcast his outbursts in such an unfiltered torrent.”
Reports
The New York Times was the first publication to report on Weinstein’s abuse. The New Yorker followed shortly after.
#MeToo
The hashtag was invented over a decade ago and popularised recently by actress Alyssa Milano. Different countries use variants, such as #BalanceTonPorc, #YoTambien and #Ana_kaman.
Recent poll
Conducted online by Time and SurveyMonkey.
Prove their case
The Department of Education has scrapped Obama-era guidelines on how colleges should treat reports of sexual abuse. As a result, the accuser now has to meet a higher standard of proof.
Coined in 1975
In that year, an employee at Cornell University named Carmita Wood resigned after experiencing sexual harassment. A group of women at the university came up with the term out of solidarity with Wood.

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