Here’s the Problem with the Time Person of the Year Cover
The Time Person of the Year cover is a visual reminder of how white feminism attempts to dictate the direction of progress while BIPOC are expected to do the behind-the-scenes (or between the pages) labor.
I held my breath when I saw the TIME Person of the Year shortlist, hoping that the weekly news magazine would not vindicate Trump after crowning him with devil horns on last year’s cover. Thankfully, the magazine gave credit to the well-deserved Me Too movement and the thousands of sexual assault survivors who have come forward in recent months.
It was their selection of cover models that left something to be desired. No men or nonbinary people were featured, and although Tarana Burke was granted a feature inside, the founder of the Me Too movement is noticeably absent from the front cover. Standing solemnly in the right corner is Taylor Swift, who won a lawsuit earlier this year against David Mueller, a radio DJ who groped her during a meet-and-greet event. According to Swift, Mueller reached under her skirt during a photo op and grabbed her ass. After the photo was taken, Swift alerted her security staff, who confronted Mueller and informed his employer of the incident. Blaming Swift for his firing, Mueller sued her for damages to the tune of $3 million. Swift, refusing to be silenced, counter-sued for $1.
No one is denying the significance of that moment and what it demonstrated to Swift’s young fans about standing up to our abusers, but we cannot ignore how the pop star’s privilege played a role in her victory. We also cannot ignore Swift’s selectivity in supporting feminist movements, and how she only seems to do so when it serves her interests. TIME’s decision to position her as a voice of the movement is not only inaccurate, it displaces victims like Ke$ha, who literally lost everything by refusing to back down from her abuser (and yes, I am aware of Swift helping her cover legal expenses).
The TIME magazine cover doesn’t get it entirely wrong. They recognize victims who are unable to come forward by picturing the arm of an anonymous woman. They also feature Adama Iwu, who is changing the face of lobbying with a campaign to expose sexual harassment in Sacramento. Since the Me Too movement was reinvigorated on Twitter via Alyssa Milano, it’s become clear that the status quo is changing. The entertainment industry will likely never be the same, but to honor the spirit of this movement, we have to give space to those who continue fighting an uphill for justice.
Actress Lupito Nyong’o penned a courageous piece for the New York Times, detailing her traumatic experience with Harvey Weinstein. Interestingly, this was one of the only allegations Weinstein thought to rebuke. His vehement denial is perhaps the reason why more actresses of color did not come forward sooner, as they are familiar with society’s habit of dismissing our cries for help. We saw something similar happen when Girls’ co-showrunners Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner released a statement denying Aurora Perrineau’s allegation of rape against Girls’ writer Murray Miller, claiming to have inside information. As usual, Black women were quick to call out this obvious racism, while white Hollywood remained mum.
Many of us understood too well the frustration in Terry Crews’ voice when he proclaimed on Good Morning America, “I will not be shamed.” Crews appeared on the morning talk show to speak candidly about his experience as a victim of sexual assault and publicly name his assailant. Crews’ revelation was significant in that it proved how perceived masculinity and strength does not protect men from sexual assault. We often picture victims as being helpless and this discourages many men from coming forward.
Although Crews received his fair share of social media accolades, the industry failed to support him in the same way they rallied behind figures like Asia Argento and Rose McGowan. After a 30-day suspension, Adam Venit, who assaulted Crews in front of his wife at a party, was back at work again, representing actors like Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, and Emma Stone. Following Venit’s return to WME, Crews filed a lawsuit accusing the Hollywood power player and his agency of sexual assault and battery.
Tarana Burke has been vocal in saying that she created the Me Too campaign with low-income, young BIWOC in mind. For her it remains a social justice movement, and one that must be tackled at the source if we ever expect to see long-term systemic changes. Now that the movement is gaining worldwide attention, we have to respect its intention by uplifting those who have been historically ignored.
The Time Person of the Year cover is a visual reminder of how white feminism attempts to dictate the direction of progress while BIPOC are expected to do the behind-the-scenes, or in this case between the pages, labor.
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