OpEd: Standing with the "Silence Breakers"

Image via Time Magazine

Image via Time Magazine

     TIME’s 2017 Person of the Year was not necessarily a single person or moment, but a movement of voices standing in solidarity with each other. Named the “Silence Breakers,” these women, who are all survivors of sexual assault and harassment, shed a harsh light on the nearly universal experience of women. Fueled by Tarana Burke’s #MeToo social media trend, brave women stepped out of the shadows and named their abusers: movie executives, politicians, and even beloved actors.

     Last year’s Person of the Year, Donald Trump, was riddled with close to a dozen accusations of sexual assault, few of which were investigated. Sexual assault is often coupled with a veil of silence that the #MeToo hashtag successfully combated, and the “Silence Breakers” further solidified the need for solidarity. This year’s cover, graced by women like actress Ashley Judd, lobbyist Adama Iwu, and even a single, anonymous arm, can be seen as a response to Donald Trump’s cover and the overall predominance of sexual assault allegations this past year.

     Many think of this critical period as the “new normal”, but the only new thing about this movement is its widespread exposure. While it may seem simplistic for a social media hashtag to produce a profoundly influential effect on all people, it was the leading catalyst for diverse, often silenced voices to be heard and recognized. Politically, the movement initiated a conversation that needed to be addressed—our current laws are simply not doing enough.

     Institutions, such as the movie industry and the political sphere, have taken a particularly brutal attack with the recent allegations against notable, powerful men. Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, Sen. Al Franken, and Louis C.K. have all been accused by numerous women of sexual assault and/or harassment. With the recent flood of survivors bravely vocalizing their experiences, this ripple effect is to be expected.

     As discouraging as it may look, sexual assault and harassment have been female norms throughout history. A cover cannot singlehandedly dismantle an institution, and a grassroots movement cannot address the experiences and voices of all women. However, it can produce some noticeable change that can uncover layers and layers of oppression.

     For one, this movement can force bystanders to confront the implications of normalizing sexual assault as simple “locker room talk” or frivolous male banter. It can expose a light on our nation’s injustices, and it can address the need to support and believe survivors. Similarly, after one of TIME’s “Silence Breakers”, Taylor Swift, successfully countersued her assailant, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) experienced a 35% rise in hotline phone calls (Elizabeth).

     A face or a voice can have a tremendous impact on a movement. TIME’s 2017 Person of the Year was a group of voices all working to spark the same change. Activism is grounded in the mindset that social media hashtags and online support are not transparent displays of solidarity. Voice, through any kind of medium, can produce waves of change. No matter how exhausting or useless it may seem, a single voice can begin a movement. The “Silence Breakers” are certainly evidence of the power of voice.

Works Cited/Consulted

Bever, Lindsey and Abby Ohlheiser. “Time’s Person of the Year: ‘The Silence Breakers’ for speaking out against sexual harassment.” Washington Post, 6 December 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2017/12/06/times-person-of-the-year-the-silence-breakers-for-speaking-out-against-sexual- harassment/?utm_term=.a2c0690b7099. Accessed 10 December 2017.

Elizabeth, De. “Sexual Assault Hotlines Report Increase of Outreach After Taylor Swift’s Trial.” Teen Vogue, 18 August 2017, https://www.teenvogue.com/story/sexual-assault-hotlines-increase-outreach-taylor-swift-trial. Accessed 10 December 2017.

Zacharek, Stephanie, Eliana Dockterman, and Haley Sweetland Edwards. “The Silence Breakers.” TIME, 6 December 2017, http://time.com/time-person-of-the-year-2017-silence-breakers. Accessed 10 December 2017.