2017 is now officially the year of people speaking out about widespread sexual abuse, Time decreed Wednesday. But will their courage eventually create more widespread consequences?
Time, which named Donald Trump its 2016 person of the year, this week gave the 2017 honor to his effective opposite. The "silence breakers" about widespread sexual abuse are the women and men who have come forward in recent months to report workplace harassment, assault, rape--as well as threats and retribution for speaking out about any of those experiences.
The magazine's cover photo recognized specific women who have spoken out in Silicon Valley (former Uber engineer Susan Fowler); Hollywood (actor and Harvey Weinstein accuser Ashley Judd); politics (Sacramento lobbyist Adama Iwu); the music industry (musician Taylor Swift); and farming (a Mexican strawberry picker using the pseudonym Isabel Pascual).
Their stories contributed to what Time calls "the bomb-throwing point of this revolution," a period when some long-buried stories and crimes come to light. In some high-profile cases, these bombs have perfectly hit their targets, destroying the careers of men who more serially undermined so many women's professional successes.
But as Time also acknowledges, there are vast differences in the problems that such predators have caused, especially for women who have much less power and fame than Judd and Swift:
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? For the hotel housekeeper who never knows, as she goes about replacing towels and cleaning toilets, if a guest is going to corner her in a room she can't escape?
It's a question that the article never fully answers. While Time does an excellent job of laying out the wide scope of the problem, it is less direct about the lopsided nature, thus far, of the consequences of its subjects' courage:
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.
And in other cases, nothing has happened yet--especially for women working in low-profile and low-income jobs. For example, the one hotel worker Time quotes has sued her employer, the Plaza, but still has to work there with her harasser.
So yes, there have been some big explosions as the result of these bombs, but there have been some duds, too. It's hard not to see that some silence breakers are getting faster consequences than others.
Take politics. Rep. John Conyers has resigned and Senator Al Franken is now being pressured to do so ... yet meanwhile the President and the Republican party are supporting Roy Moore, an accused serial pedophile running for Senate. There is also, of course, Trump himself, whose public history of sexual misconduct didn't prevent his election and doesn't seem likely to have any consequences for his role as president.
Or there's Silicon Valley, site of a few prominent downfalls this year, including: Travis Kalanick; SoFi co-founder Mike Cagney; 500 Startups' Dave McClure; Binary Capital's Justin Caldbeck (trying for redemption by performative Tweeting).
The publicly-known allegations against these men are "the tip of the iceberg," women in Silicon Valley told the New Yorker's Sheelah Kolhatkar recently. Yet almost a quarter of men in Silicon Valley think these reports have been overblown, according to a First Round Capital survey also released Wednesday.
That belief persists even though, as my colleague Kimberly Weisul reported, nearly 80 percent of women founders have either experienced sexual harassment or know someone who has, according to the survey.
It seems like the biggest, most public firings have befallen highly-visible media figures, the guys in front of the cameras. Which makes cynical sense: fundamentally, Charlie Rose and Kevin Spacey and Matt Lauer get paid for being popular. They're valuable to their employers only so long as the rest of us want to watch them on TV or Netflix or in theaters. They get paid for being likeable (even if "likeable" somehow means a man asking a CEO if being a mother disqualifies her for the job, and not a woman running for president).
It says something about the enormity of these men's monstrosities, as well as the enormity of their former power, that it took so much to take them down. It wasn't until stories about naked work meetings and secret rape buttons neared public awareness that their employers decided that these men's "likeability" was probably too damaged for them to be profitable any more.
Maybe I just have to be patient. We are still, as Time says, in the early phase of this revolution, and we're still waiting to see the full extent of the fallout. Accusations are still coming out, and hopefully will continue to do so for months or years to come.
Since the reports of Weinstein's malevolence began to gush, I've received somewhere between five and 20 emails every day from women wanting to tell me their experiences: of being groped or leered at or rubbed up against in their workplaces. They tell me about all kinds of men--actors and publishers; judges and philanthropists; store managers and social-justice advocates; my own colleagues, past and present--who've hurt them or someone they know. ... To many of them I must say that their guy isn't well known enough, that the stories are now so plentiful that offenders must meet a certain bar of notoriety, or power, or villainy, before they're considered newsworthy.
In picking its person of the year, Time effectively conveys the vast scope of this problem. Hopefully, someday, we'll have a similarly vast solution.