The intersectionality of TIME’s “silence breakers”—and how it’s being misrepresented

By Kara Lewis

I woke up this morning to several trending phrases on my Facebook timeline: “TIME magazine,” “the silence breakers,” and “me too” among them. As I scrolled, I found the exciting explanation posted by a feminist page that I follow—“silence breakers,” or the people who have spoken out about sexual assault and harassment, had been named as the influential magazine’s “person of the year.”

However, my pride and enthusiasm dimmed when I scanned the page’s share text, which read “Ashley Judd, Taylor Swift, and Susan Fowler are on the cover.” This three-name list didn’t match up with the picture I saw, which featured five women, including two women of color. Someone had already commented, sarcastically noting, “Thanks for letting us know who the white ones are.”

In reality, TIME’s person of the year profile stands out as incredibly inclusive and intersectional. The spread features people of all races and ethnicities, women and men—despite the widespread myth that sexual assault is only a “women’s problem”—and people of varying socioeconomic statuses.

And, once and for all, the women on TIME’s cover are Visa lobbyist Adama Iwu, strawberry picker Isabel Pascual, actress Ashley Judd, singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, and Uber whistleblower Susan Fowler. All have been touched by personal experiences with sexual assault and harassment, and bravely recounted them throughout 2017. All deserve to be on this magnificent cover. So why are Iwu and Pascual being overshadowed?

An informal Google search for “Time magazine cover” brings up a picture of Rose McGowan, the headline “Read Taylor Swift’s TIME Person of the Year Interview,” and speculation about whose cropped arm graces the cover. While the symbolism behind that arm is actually extremely powerful, a more problematic message brews behind this widely-asked question. Namely, why are people more curious and talkative about a woman who doesn’t fully appear on the cover than the strong women of color who do?

Many of the sources reporting on TIME’s impactful decision have also left out Iwu and Pascual. A US Magazine headline teases, “Time’s ‘Person of the Year’ is ‘The Silence Breakers’: Taylor Swift, Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan and More.”

An excerpt from a USA Today  article explains, “Time editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal revealed the cover on Wednesday morning’s Today show, which features Ashley Judd, Taylor Swift, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler and a woman whose face is obscured.”

In yet another slight, TIME seems to have followed suit by giving readers what they want: a full interview with Taylor Swift, the only “silence breaker” to have her story published separately from the profile. While this interview proves interesting and inspiring, why weren’t the other “silence breakers”—including those of different races, ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, and those of considerably less fame—given the chance to share their individual stories?

If you can’t appreciate the #metoo movement in all of its color and intersectionality, forget your fake allyship and just buy another copy of Swift’s Reputation. Maybe its message will be easier for you to understand.

However, if you’re ready to read Iwu, Pascual and everyone’s stories, catch the full profile and video here.