On Wednesday, TIME’s annual “Person of the Year” issue hit newsstands, with not one, but six women on its cover. Some were people just about everyone has heard of, others were people no one has. One woman was completely anonymous, with only her arm in the shot. And all together, they were still just a fraction of the group they were representing. These women, and so many others, all have one shared identity: They are the silence breakers. The people who spoke out against their sexual harassers and abusers, the people who brought about the #MeToo movement. They are the people who shaped 2017.
For months now, powerful men have dominated news cycles. They have not been the heroes of our headlines, but they have been the stars. And this is only logical — when a Harvey Weinstein or an Al Franken or a Kevin Spacey is brought down, of course we should be looking at those men, and the power they have abused.
But this movement isn’t really about men. If it was just about men, there never would have been a movement at all. The women who spoke up are the ones who put this movement into motion. We live in a different world now thanks to these women — one where men are held responsible for their actions. They deserve a little more appreciation for that. The bravery it took these women to come out so publicly about the things they had faced, and the men who put them in those positions is almost unimaginable. It’s about time they were put in the spotlight.
A year ago, Donald Trump’s face plastered TIME’s “Person of the Year” cover. To be clear, they did not mean he was the best person of the year, just the most influential. They mean the same thing this year. In each case, they have been right. Though polar opposites, both covers truly featured the people who set the tone of that year, for better or for worse.
And what a different story the two features tell. Last year, TIME’s cover reflected the post-election world we were living in. The man who had entered the year as a joke ended it as our president elect. Donald Trump brought about a real paradigm shift — his election made us realize that the United States was not the country we all thought it was. We all had to take a step back. Last year, our person of the year was not a point of pride for America.
This year, the person of the year — the silence breakers — are absolutely people to be proud of. Despite all of the abuse and harassment and horrible, horrible things that have been exposed this year, what’s important is that they were exposed. These men are facing consequences. An era of much needed change is beginning.
TIME considered recognizing Trump again this year — they even named him a runner-up. He is, after all, still at the center of our society. He may have even been a catalyst for all these allegations that the magazine chose to spotlight instead. But he absolutely should not have been TIME’s person of the year. This year, women turned their anger over Trump and his administration into action. That’s not a testament to his influence, but theirs. Trump was not the driving force behind this wave of allegations — the women who made them were. And it’s critically important that we recognize them as such.
In a TIME survey in late November, 82 percent of respondents reported that they are more likely to speak out about sexual misconduct since the Weinstein story broke. These allegations aren’t just something women read in the news and move on from. They’re something that people are really taking to heart. That’s why these silence breakers are so groundbreaking. They are opening up the floodgates for all of these other women to stand up for themselves, and not be so afraid for the consequences.
And the article didn’t just feature celebrities. They wrote about women who work as janitors, women who are Hollywood A-listers and everyone in between — they even featured men who have spoken out about the harassment they’ve faced. TIME was able to tell the story of this whole movement, not just the most sensational parts of it. They really did this story justice, even helping to change the narrative, from one where these women are victims to one where they are also heroes.
Because TIME chose these women as their Person of the Year, their stories will have a little more permanence. It will help us keep these things in mind. And this movement isn’t something we want men to ever forget. We are seeing a massive cultural shift as far as what kind of behavior men will get called out for — and that shift should be a permanent one.
The feature posed a question — one that we should all be reflecting on. We know exactly what kind of abuse has been happening among our men in power. As the 2018 election season approaches, what are we going to do about it?
Last year, all we could do was point at a problem. But this year, we were able to point at a solution — and that’s progress.