On December 6, 2017, TIME magazine released their annual Person of the Year issue. This year’s cover featured “The Silence Breakers,” which represent women who were unafraid and unapologetic about coming out with their experiences of sexual assault and harassment.
The cover contained six women: Ashley Judd, Taylor Swift, Susan Fowler, Adama Iwu, Isabel Pascual (a pseudonym to protect her identity), and an unidentified elbow representing the countless men and women not shown who have been sexually violated. However, this monumental TIME cover was not free of controversy.
The Twitter and Instagram communities took issue with the appearance of Taylor Swift on the cover, citing her experience with sexual harassment as inferior compared to those of other women. Online news articles and editorials quickly followed suit, raising the question of just why Swift was on the cover.
Here’s some context as to why she was placed on the cover. In 2013, David Mueller groped Swift’s buttock during one of her concerts. She promptly contacted his boss and got him fired. Earlier this year, he sued her for $3 million in damages. She countersued him for just $1. She did this to prove a point that no one should be harassed, and that if they are, they shouldn’t have to take it lying down.
I agree that there are other women who should have been on the cover as well, such as Tarana Burke and Alyssa Milano. Burke founded the #MeToo movement in 2006; Milano kickstarted the movement again in 2017, and after just 48 hours, almost one million people had used #MeToo in a tweet or post. Without them, the opportunities for solidarity, sympathy, and speech that sexual violence survivors found this year via that hashtag might not have materialized.
However, the key is that they should have been additions, not replacements. Wishing for women like Burke and Milano to get the credit they deserve is a good thing; wishing for Swift to have her recognition taken from her is not.
How can one proclaim themselves to be a feminist when they tear down another woman instead of building them up? How can we question whether a woman’s experiences are “sexual assault” enough to be recognized as such when they come forward to speak? We should not be creating competition over which women deserve recognition if it’s within our power to recognize all of them.
It is worth acknowledging that in the weekend after Swift’s trial, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network had a 35 per cent increase for its national hotline. Evidently, Swift’s case helped women come out as victims of sexual assault. Yet this fact is frequently downplayed for the sake of portraying Swift as noncommittal and silent in the face of systemic issues concerning sexual violence.
I am well aware that one likely reason for TIME magazine to place Swift on the cover was to sell more copies, as she is currently one of the most famous people in the world. While her $1 countersuit made a loud and critical statement, we should remember that the only reason she could afford to do that was because she had the resources to sue Mueller — resources that sexual violence survivors and activists of lower economic class, or those women of colour who do not benefit from white privilege, do not always have.
Maybe having her on the cover was an ill decision in hindsight. It is fair to say that the decision has unfortunate connotations when considering the various other women who could have been featured. However, reducing Swift’s experiences to nothing isn’t the way to go.
If the #MeToo movement is all about empowering people who have been victims of sexual assault and harassment, is it appropriate to be taking one woman down in the name of another? TIME magazine made a mistake excluding certain women from the cover. However, that doesn’t mean it was a mistake to put Swift on it.