It started in early October with allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. As weeks went by, male and female celebrities came forward with stories of sexual misconduct in Hollywood that could not be ignored. All of this escalated into the worldwide #MeToo movement. Now, TIME magazine has honored all those “Silence Breakers” as person of the year.
The cover features Ashley Judd, Taylor Swift, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, Visa lobbyist Adama Iwu, Mexican agricultural worker Isabel Pascual, and a woman’s shoulder, representing anonymous accusers. However, the stories inside range from celebrities to anonymous hospital workers.
TIME begins their story with the celebrities that started everything, Ashley Judd being one of them, who quickly learned that Harvey Weinstein’s behavior was an open secret. Other celebrities like Rose McGowan, Terry Crews, and Selma Blair shared their stories and made it easier for people all around the world to raise their voices.
When movie stars don’t know where to go, what hope is there for the rest of us? What hope is there for the janitor who’s being harassed by a co-worker but remains silent out of fear she’ll lose the job she needs to support her children? For the administrative assistant who repeatedly fends off a superior who won’t take no for an answer?
During six weeks, time interviewed dozens of people from different industries who spoke about their eerily similar harassment stories. Opportunistic gropes, non-consensual kissing, lewd comments, were all followed by a terrible sense of shame. Most of the people interviewed expressed “a crushing fear of what would happen to them personally, to their families or to their jobs if they spoke up.”
They also spoke about a collective fear of their complaint becoming their identity, something that they would carry the rest of their lives. Even Taylor Swift, standing on the witness stand after countersuing a radio DJ for groping her, was asked if she felt guilty for getting him fired.
Discussions of sexual harassment in polite company tend to rely on euphemisms: harassment becomes “inappropriate behavior,” assault becomes “misconduct,” rape becomes “abuse.” We’re accustomed to hearing those softened words, which downplay the pain of the experience.
The magazine also adresses Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood tape scandal, the crudeness of the comments, and how his presidency had an effect on these movements, starting with the Women’s March. Trump was named Person of the Year in 2016.
This time, the accusations have had a bigger effect everywhere. Harvey Weinstein was fired. The head of Amazon Studios, political analyst Mark Halperin, politicians, journalists, and award-winning actor Kevin Spacey were all accused and subsequently and fired.
We’ve come a long way, but there is still much left to do. Sexual harassment didn’t even have a name 40 years ago, and it “wasn’t so long ago that the boss chasing his secretary around the desk was a comic trope, a staple from vaudeville to prime-time sitcoms.” Companies, governments, and universities are trying to keep up: investigating and establishing policies to fight hostile environments.
“What if we did complain?” proposes Megyn Kelly. “What if we didn’t whine, but we spoke our truth in our strongest voices and insisted that those around us did better? What if that worked to change reality right now?” Kelly acknowledges that this still feels more like a promise than a certainty. But for the moment, the world is listening.
You can read the full story here.