Person of the year 2017 – the Silence Breakers

Time has announced a well deserved Person of the Year 2017 – the ‘Silence Breakers’.

Like the “problem that has no name,” the disquieting malaise of frustration and repression among postwar wives and homemakers identified by Betty Friedan more than 50 years ago, this moment is borne of a very real and potent sense of unrest. Yet it doesn’t have a leader, or a single, unifying tenet.

The hashtag #MeToo (swiftly adapted into #BalanceTonPorc, #YoTambien, #Ana_kaman and many others), which to date has provided an umbrella of solidarity for millions of people to come forward with their stories, is part of the picture, but not all of it.

This reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight. But it has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries.

Women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries but don’t even seem to know that boundaries exist. They’ve had it with the fear of retaliation, of being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can’t afford to lose. They’ve had it with the code of going along to get along. They’ve had it with men who use their power to take what they want from women.

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.

The women and men who have broken their silence span all races, all income classes, all occupations and virtually all corners of the globe. They might labor in California fields, or behind the front desk at New York City’s regal Plaza Hotel, or in the European Parliament. They’re part of a movement that has no formal name. But now they have a voice.

In almost every case, they described not only the vulgarity of the harassment itself—years of lewd comments, forced kisses, opportunistic gropes—but also the emotional and psychological fallout from those advances. Almost everybody described wrestling with a palpable sense of shame. Had she somehow asked for it? Could she have deflected it? Was she making a big deal out of nothing?

Nearly all of the people TIME interviewed about their experiences expressed a crushing fear of what would happen to them personally, to their families or to their jobs if they spoke up.

Many examples are given in a long article, which concludes:

We’re still at the bomb-throwing point of this revolution, a reactive stage at which nuance can go into hiding. But while anger can start a revolution, in its most raw and feral form it can’t negotiate the more delicate dance steps needed for true social change. Private conversations, which can’t be legislated or enforced, are essential.

Norms evolve, and it’s long past time for any culture to view harassment as acceptable. But there’s a great deal at stake in how we assess these new boundaries—for women and men together. We can and should police criminal acts and discourage inappropriate, destructive behavior.

At least we’ve started asking the right questions. Ones that seem alarmingly basic in hindsight: “What if we did complain?” proposes Megyn Kelly. “What if we didn’t whine, but we spoke our truth in our strongest voices and insisted that those around us did better? What if that worked to change reality right now?” Kelly acknowledges that this still feels more like a promise than a certainty. But for the moment, the world is listening.

There are risks, but those are far outweighed by the risks of not doing anything about it, of sweeping an insidious problem under the carpet, of not confronting sexual harassers and predators who continue their attacks.

It should be pointed out that those mostly men being accused, while prominent people, are a small minority. The problem appears worse because the cretins often have assaulted and abused and harassed many victims.

Breaking the silence is a very significant step in the modern world. I hope it continues, carefully but loudly.

I think the Silence Breakers have the capability of making, forcing and encouraging significant positive change in society around the world.

Leave a comment

20 Comments

  1. David

     /  December 7, 2017

    While sexual harrasment is wrong on all levels this seems like a problem that has affected people who work in the media and entertainment in other words the same people who write Time Magazine. Its a high profile and seems largely an American problem where they have absolutely no employment protections but hardly a pressing global problem..except for people on twitter.

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  December 7, 2017

      this is a very small pond….but human nature is not confined to…the U.S.

      Reply
  2. Missy

     /  December 7, 2017

    Pete, there is another risk that you don’t address, the risk to those accused of these crimes. Most of the men accused have been publicly vilified, lost their livelihoods, and in some cases men have committed suicide – all before any charges, any trial, any verdict. We run the risk of turning it into trial by social media and ruining (mostly) men’s lives, the innocent and the guilty.

    The victims need to speak up yes, but there needs to be a balance in the public discourse on it, not the hysterical over reaction and rush to publicly name, shame and ruin, that we have seen this year.

    Reply
    • I mentioned risks but didn’t specify. I acknowledge the risk of false accusations or exaggerated accusations, and that’s a serious risk for those who are targeted. There is certain to be unfair collateral damage.

      But the ongoing risks to many people of not breaking the silence have been and are far greater. Sexual harassment, abuse and assault is a widespread and insidious problem.

      For the greater good this needs to be confronted loudly – and as I said, carefully.

      Reply
      • Missy

         /  December 7, 2017

        “I mentioned risks but didn’t specify. I acknowledge the risk of false accusations or exaggerated accusations, and that’s a serious risk for those who are targeted. There is certain to be unfair collateral damage.”

        unfair collateral damage? So, do you think that a man who has his life ruined, a family that loses their income, a man who commits suicide, a family who lose a husband and father, is just unfair collateral damage?

        The risk of false or exaggerated accusations goes much further than what I have said above, it feeds into what you appear to have prioritised as the greater risk as well – that of victims not speaking out. When a man (or woman) is falsely accused of sexual crimes or sexual misconduct, then that plants a seed of doubt in the minds of people when the next person speaks out about sexual misconduct or sexual crimes, it means that there is less likely he or she will be believed, they are more likely to have their allegations to come under more scrutiny – including their behaviour – they are also more likely to be put under a greater microscope, this will lead (eventually) to other victims deciding it is better to not speak up, and it is safer for their mental health to keep quiet.

        “But the ongoing risks to many people of not breaking the silence have been and are far greater. Sexual harassment, abuse and assault is a widespread and insidious problem.”

        It is a widespread problem, and being silent doesn’t help anyone, but I would not elevate the risk of silence above the risk of false allegations – they are equal risks that need to be dealt with.

        “For the greater good this needs to be confronted loudly – and as I said, carefully.”

        You are right, it does need to be confronted, sadly though many in the media and in authority have taken the view it only should be confronted when it is middle aged white men who are accused.

        When it is perpetrated by ethnic minorities, or by Muslim men (and they do it in gangs – speaking from personal experience) then the victim is labelled racist if she tries to discuss it, or the authorities don’t want to deal with it for fear of being labelled racist.

        We need to confront the whole problem in society, which includes confronting the perpetrators, the culture in society that has created the environment for this to happen, and the cultures in which this is considered to be normal behaviour.

        Reply
        • Kitty Catkin

           /  December 7, 2017

          I could not agree more about the false allegations, Missy; it seems that if a man is named, he must be guilty, No investigation or trial needed, he’s out. The man who lost his job because he put his hand on a woman’s back was grossly unfairly treated.I hope that he soon finds another job in a place where there is less neurosis.

          A friend of my late husband has always put his arm around my shoulders, but I am not fool enough-and don’t delude myself that I am irresistible to men-to see it as other than friendly. One can surely tell the difference.

          It’s nonsense to say that there has hitherto been silence about sexual harassment, as if we as women have meekly put up with it (women, of course, are never in positions of power or responsibility) forever. Even the name has been around since ??? How can people think this ? How has anyone failed to be hear about it ?

          No other crime would be treated thus-John Smith stole my wallet, ergo John Smith must be guilty.

          I would be afraid that this will backfire on women if we are seen as fragile wee blossoms.

          Reply
  3. Accusations continue:

    Reply
    • Missy

       /  December 7, 2017

      This makes me uncomfortable, to have these accusations thrown around, and the person accused named and shamed, and forced into a position where they lose their job, before any investigation, trial, or conviction.

      I bet anything the women won’t be named, and if it turns out that there is nothing in the accusations then it won’t be splashed all over the media, it will just go quietly away.

      Things like this should be dealt with internally and with confidentiality, not publicly on social media and Fox News.

      Reply
  4. phantom snowflake

     /  December 7, 2017

    To those who insist that sexual predators not be publicly named unless/until they have been charged or convicted: Thanks so much for providing an environment in which they can continue to wreck the lives of countless people who could otherwise have been warned. And to the “Why Didn’t They Go To The Police” Brigade: Too many reasons; here’s a few. Disbelieving and insensitive treatment by (some) police, retraumatisation, examination of their sexual history and besmirching of their character by defence lawyers, and all this for a low likelihood of a conviction.

    Reply
    • Missy

       /  December 7, 2017

      “To those who insist that sexual predators not be publicly named unless/until they have been charged or convicted: Thanks so much for providing an environment in which they can continue to wreck the lives of countless people who could otherwise have been warned”

      Sexual predators? They aren’t that until proven in a court of law, it is language like that which creates a lynch mob mentality in the media that can lead to devastating consequences.

      And what if the allegations are false or exaggerated? Are you comfortable that those who are accused wrongly be vilified in public, condemned, and found guilty in the court of public opinion and social media bullies?

      A Minister in the Welsh Assembly was allegedly accused of ‘inappropriate behaviour’ , he was named, shamed and sacked from his job, his party launched an investigation, he was never told what his alleged crime was, nor was he told who his alleged accuser was. He committed suicide. Today, 3 days after his funeral the investigation has been dropped, and instead his party is being investigated on the handling of the allegation, the leak of information regarding the allegation, and bullying by the First Minister. THIS is what happens when people are tried in public with no due process, if you are comfortable with that then I pity you.

      The party are being accused of using allegations of this nature to sideline those that they don’t want around anymore. Allegations of inappropriate behaviour are used as a weapon against those that are disliked, or as an act of revenge. It is stupid to believe every allegation. A false allegation will deflect away from a true allegation, it will also lead to further allegations being questioned. The risk of a false allegation is great, and hurts the victims of real abuses as much as it does the person who is falsely accused.

      By publicly naming and shaming everyone accused of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour there is more than just some unfair collateral damage from false and exaggerated allegations, there can be very real and devastating affects for the person falsely accused, their family, and for future victims of genuine sexual misconduct / abuse / assault.

      Reply
      • phantom snowflake

         /  December 7, 2017

        I’m not going to debate this with you but I will just say that your assertion that someone is only a sexual predator if they have been convicted in a court is preposterous, and I’ll leave it at that.

        Reply
        • Missy

           /  December 7, 2017

          I concede I should have said they are not legally a sexual predator until convicted in court, it is late, I have had a very long day, and I left out a word, I apologise.

          However, I am not comfortable with people being labelled like that publicly without any form of legal process having taken place, that anyone thinks that is okay, and that it is okay for them to be shamed and vilified in public with no evidence and not investigation is to me incredibly offensive, but it seems to be the way of the younger ‘offended at everything’ generation and the new wave of ultra ‘man-hating’ feminists, they are more about revenge and ruining someone’s life than true justice.

          The fact that you are not going to debate this shows that you really cannot adequately argue why it is okay to name and shame with no evidence, running the risk of some being false allegations with the potential of ruining lives, and making it more difficult for future victims to come forward and be believed. It also shows that you cannot put forward a solid argument why it is a bad thing for the accused (as well as the victim) to retain anonymity until such time as charges are brought against them.

          I hope, at the very least, you think about your stance, as it can – and does – create more than one victim, and makes it more difficult for current and future victims.

          Not everything has to be made public immediately, that is a mistake many of the social media generation – and in the media – make, they rush to accuse and then can’t backtrack and fix the mess they make, and it ends up with things like suicides.

          Reply
          • phantom snowflake

             /  December 7, 2017

            Haha you have drawn me into one last comment. “The fact that you are not going to debate this shows…” No, the only thing that entering a debate would show is that you are vastly superior at debating than I. As this fact is already known, the exercise is quite pointless! Goodnight.

            Reply
      • Missy

         /  December 7, 2017

        Further to my post above about the Welsh politician, in another case, a Parliamentary worker in London was allegedly accused of inappropriate behaviour, once again not told by whom, or what he had allegedly done. He denied it, but again lost his job before any investigation could take place, and once again committed suicide.

        The investigation into those allegations has also been dropped for not having enough evidence.

        It is sad that these public witch hunts with the social media lynch mobs frothing at the mouth and out for blood have resulted in two suicides, and it turns out they both had very flimsy evidence.

        Whether anything more would have come out we don’t know, but it shows the danger that this frenzy can create. I heard someone on the radio last week compare it to the lynchings in America’s South in the early 20th century, and there is some parallels, unsubstantiated claims that get the mob riled up, the only difference in the US they used ropes in 2017 they use social media.

        There needs to be balance, and a safe environment has to be created for genuine victims to come forward, but also for those that are falsely accused to be able to get on with their lives after the investigation is over.

        Reply
  5. phantom snowflake

     /  December 7, 2017

    The tsunami has finally made landfall in New Zealand. First casualty is Morgan Marquis-Boire, a former hacker who has been a global superstar in areas such as Information Security, Internet Surveillance, Internet Censorship. Auckland activist/advocate/writer Chloe Ann-King, after a decade of trying to blow the whistle, has been offered the chance to do so in print by american tech news site The Verge. Mainstream media here wouldn’t touch the story. It’s a chilling and heartbreaking piece, essential reading in my view.

    https://www.theverge.com/2017/11/29/16715018/morgan-marquis-boire-sexual-assault-citizen-lab-toronto-cybersecurity

    Reply
    • Pickled Possum

       /  December 7, 2017

      Barstard! headhntr is his avatar for instagram. Yick
      Good on Chole, that was illuminatingly squirmingly great writing.
      Wonder why msm don’t tell the news, to help protect the vulnerable from creeps like this.

      Did not gel with Jacks music tho’ so gone over to John Mayall and the bluesbreakers with Gary Moore.

      Reply
  6. Helinks

     /  December 7, 2017

    Did President Clinton’s accusers win a similar award? Or just a going over from Hillary?

    Reply
  7. Alan Wilkinson

     /  December 7, 2017

    Trump survives. Democrats fall on their swords in droves. Nothing changes. Pretty young women will continue to flock around powerful men and some will lucky, others will get burnt.

    Reply
  8. patupaiarehe

     /  December 7, 2017

    But while anger can start a revolution, in its most raw and feral form it can’t negotiate the more delicate dance steps needed for true social change. Private conversations, which can’t be legislated or enforced, are essential.

    Some commenters above seem to be missing the point, IMHO.
    As most regulars here will be aware, I work in a ‘male dominated’ industry. A woman has to be pretty strong to survive in it, given the unwanted innuendo she has to deal with. Here’s an example of a ‘private conversation’, from an engineering workshop…
    Him “Fuck Patu, what do you think of the new receptionist??!!”
    Me “She seems nice”
    Him “I’d be keen to give her a ‘hiding'”
    Me “Are there no women where you come from, …………”
    Him “WTF is that supposed to mean?!”
    Me “I’m pretty certain that she wasn’t hired for your entertainment. You sound frustrated”
    Him “FUCK YOU, you’re a WANKER!!!”
    Which is a fair comment I guess. I am occasionally guilty of that, but I suspect far less so than him, if that is his attitude towards the ‘fairer sex’… 😀

    Reply

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