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The hidden meaning behind TIME's powerful 'Person of the Year' cover

On Wednesday, Time magazine released its “Person of the Year” winner, which identifies the person or group of people who made the most significant impact in the last 12 months.

This year, the winner — actually, winners — are what Time calls “The Silence Breakers,” those people who have identified sexual harassers and assaulters, long obscured by codes of silence and systemic protections afforded by the patriarchy. (Shorthand: #MeToo.) As Time points out, “their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results.”

Some of the Silence Breakers are recognizable to the average American: Ashley Judd, Susan Fowler, Taylor Swift. Three are not: Adama Iwu, Isabel Pascual, and, if you’re not looking carefully, the countless women who have not yet come forward about their experiences or who have done so anonymously, as symbolized by a lone elbow on the cover’s bottom right corner.

Time‘s cover story about the #MeToo movement also names other women who’ve paved the way for victims of abuse and harassment to find the courage to come forward: Rose McGowan, Anita Hill, Carmita Wood, Summer Zervos, and Juana Melara.

As is usually the case when Time releases its annual list, reactions to the announcement were swift. On social media sites like Twitter, readers pointed out that the president, Donald Trump, did in fact make the list as Person of the Year — though not as he’d originally claimed. Instead, Trump is part of the legion of men accused of sexual impropriety by the Silence Breakers. President Trump is also named the Time Person of the Year runner-up.


On Nov. 24, President Trump tweeted — erroneously, according to Time magazine and Time Inc. executives — that he was approached to be the magazine’s “Man (Person) of the Year,” as he wrote, but rejected the opportunity.

Time editors decide who (or what) the Person of the Year is, though the magazine also offers an online reader poll. In this year’s poll results, Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman received the highest percentage of votes, 24 percent, followed by the #MeToo movement with 6 percent and the Dreamers, Colin Kaepernick, and Robert Mueller tied with 5 percent of the votes.

Of course, not every reaction was about the president. Many Twitter users spotted the symbolic elbow in the corner, meant to represent the women who may not have yet come forward to identify assailants, or who do so without using their names. Anonymous sources — especially in cases of sexual harassment and abuse — are often criticized for being unreliable or fabricated.

A lightning rod for controversy, Taylor Swift‘s inclusion on the Time cover ignited a debate on Twitter over whether the singer-songwriter is an appropriate representative of the movement.

Before the groundbreaking New York Times story on Harvey Weinstein broke, Swift reported a DJ who assaulted her, and then he was fired for his behavior. The DJ sued Swift for defamation; the superstar then countersued for one dollar, and she won the lawsuit in August after testifying against the man.

The musician told Time in an interview, “I figured that if he would be brazen enough to assault me under these risky circumstances, imagine what he might do to a vulnerable, young artist if given the chance.”

Despite Swift’s experience, some users thought other celebrities were snubbed in the process.

While the country and the media will continue to debate Time’s Person of the Year, one reaction hasn’t yet surfaced: that from President Trump.

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