01:24 - Source: CNN
Who are 'The Silence Breakers'?

Editor’s Note: Jane Merrick is a British political journalist and former political editor of the Independent on Sunday newspaper. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

CNN —  

A little over a year ago, despite a swirl of sexual assault allegations against him and a track record of misogyny, Donald Trump beat the woman many hoped would make it to the White House – not only to the presidency, but to the title of Time magazine’s Person of the Year. This year, it is the President who has to get in line.

The choice by Time of the “Silence Breakers” – the women and men who have spoken out about their experiences of rape, sexual assault and harassment – as Person of the Year 2017 is not just a recognition of the jolt to society the #MeToo movement has caused. It is a perfect counter-blast to Trump’s record on women.

In 2016, Time placed Hillary Clinton as runner up to Trump. In 2017, the president – whose obsession with winning is planetary – is second in line after the Silence Breakers.

It is a neat symmetry that redresses the balance for women who deserve to be treated with respect and dignity by men who try to use sex to exert their power.

Waking to the news today, the President is getting to grips with Newton’s Third Law: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Sure, it was the Harvey Weinstein scandal that led the #MeToo movement to take off in a way that triggered tens of thousands of stories to be shared online.

But it must also be seen in the context of the allegations against Trump during the presidential campaign of 2016. In fact, the piece accompanying the Person of the Year coverage in Time acknowledges him as a reason why women chose to speak out about other men.

Trump’s election in the context of those allegations – and not just because his victory was over a woman – was depressing for anyone who has fought for equality. It felt like a setback for women’s rights.

It is often the case that those who have been the victims of sexual harassment or assault fear they will not be believed. And yet Trump’s victory seemed to be just that – seemingly cementing a belief in the man over the women.

The scales of equality were tipping the wrong way. Now, the recognition of the “Silence Breakers” tips the scales back.

I feel proud to be on the list of women and men who have been recognised by Time. The magazine name-checks a strawberry picker and hotel workers alongside actors, professors and journalists.

But there are countless others who have come forward, risking their careers, reputations and relationships, who also deserve recognition.

My decision to speak out about sexual harassment by the former British government minister Sir Michael Fallon – which led to his resignation as Theresa May’s defense secretary last month – was motivated by hearing other stories of women who were unable to come forward with allegations for fear of reprisals, or because their experiences were too raw and painful to say out loud.

The paradox of the #MeToo movement is that it has been so empowering for women and men who do choose to raise their hands and go public, not only for themselves, but also because it provides solidarity to others thinking of giving up their anonymity. And yet the very people who cannot go public are the ones who need empowerment and support.

The President – who had last month incorrectly claimed that Time was “probably” going to name him Person of the Year for a second year running but he instead “took a pass” – tweeted after the list was announced: “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

With the acknowledgment by Time magazine of this game-changing moment – offering a counterpunch to the President whose own alleged behavior played no small part in creating #MeToo – I would say that Trump might be onto something this time.