It was pretty empowering to wake up and see that Time’s Person of the Year was not Donald Trump or some foreign leader, but the “Silence Breakers” — women who had spoken out about sexual assault and harassment in their industry. Along with the well-known faces of Ashley Judd, Taylor Swift, Megyn Kelly, and Rose McGowan, the Time Person of the Year profile includes non-actresses, women who’ve worked in the service industry or in administrative positions. Some of them even chose to remain anonymous for the profile out of continued fear of retribution.
As we focus on the high-profile alleged sexual predators and the famous women that are accusing them, it’s easy for some people to forget that sexual assault and harassment happens all the time. One in four women report being sexually assaulted in college alone. How many friends of yours posted #MeToo on social media earlier this year? There are a lot more victims out there than the ones that end up in the national magazines, that still haven’t felt able to speak about their own experiences.
A lot of coverage about the sexual assault and harassment allegations has centered around Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Capitol Hill and their toxic environments. But what about the rest of us down here just plugging away without high-powered attorneys or huge savings accounts to back us up when we report assault?
On the Time cover, there’s a woman with only her arm showing, staying anonymous, and three other women: farm worker Isabel Pascual, lobbyist Adama Iwu, and a former Uber engineer, Susan Fowler. But even though they’re on the cover of Time, they’re still somehow nameless to people. Even Today, which is where the Person of the Year was revealed, described the cover like this:
If you didn’t see the cover, you’d think it was just those four women, but Pascual and Iwu are there, too. Yes, this was likely a harmless move by a Today host: naming people who are instantly recognizable. But it’s worth noting that two women of color with more less glamorous jobs were left out of the initial conversation.
Thankfully, inside the magazine, all kinds of women were represented. Tarana Burke, the activist who started the #MeToo movement, the women who brought a suit against the Plaza Hotel, office administrators, professors, a gallery curator, and a former dishwasher, among others, all shared their stories, too. Rape myths are so persistent that our culture barely believes women who have some social cache, like a Hollywood star. For women of color, low income workers, anyone who identifies as LGBTQ, and even men it’s all the more difficult. But until we acknowledge that sexual harassment and assault is rampant in everywhere, we can’t take down rape culture.
Sandra Pezqueda, a former dishwasher, brought a complaint against the resort she worked at after a supervisor pursued her for months. When she complained, he cut her hours. This kind of thing happens all the time to women, every day, and there are not as many resources available to them as to the Taylor Swifts and Ashley Judds of the world.
That is not to say that it’s easy for famous or wealthy women to report sexual assault. Many women in Hollywood alleged that their careers were on the line and that the threat of never working again kept them silent. That’s not OK, either. The trauma of being assaulted and harassed in your daily life is the same for everyone.
But when you’re living paycheck to paycheck and have a family to support, the decision to not report assault — especially since many companies still don’t have procedures in place to protect victims — is that much harder. Even more distressing are the women who were interviewed by Time and still chose to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation. Until we accept that harassment happens to everyone, really changing rape culture won’t happen. That Time gave these women a safe space to share their stories is a first step.
The more we focus on Hollywood and famous people, the easier it is for those who still don’t believe victims to ignore the allegations. The “Hollywood problem” lens allows them to feel like this is something that happens in another world or far away from their daily lives. Like assaulters are just a bunch “bad apples” who are totally removed from the reality we all live in.
But it’s not — it’s the nurse who takes your blood work, the woman who picks your vegetables, takes your order at a diner, the secretary who takes your call. It is pretty major that Time made that as clear as possible in their iconic profile. If 2017 was the year of breaking the silence, 2018 has to be about doing something about it, and inviting every victim into the conversation.