Time magazine declared “silence breakers” the Person of the Year for 2017, echoing and amplifying a sense, a hunch, a flickering of a notion that many of us feel but are afraid to utter aloud, lest we curse it:
Nothing will ever be the same.
A magazine can’t wipe out sexual harassment. Roy Moore may very well get elected to the U.S. Senate despite multiple allegations of preying on teenage girls. Donald “grab ’em” Trump still occupies the highest office in the land.
But to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it’s starting to bend toward justice.
“Women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries but don’t even seem to know that boundaries exist,” Time writes. “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.”
#MeToo, but now what?
Before the silence breakers, sexual harassment had darkness and disbelief on its side. Now it has neither.
A Time survey of American adults conducted in late November found 82 percent of respondents said women are more likely to speak out about harassment since Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s early October downfall.
And 85 percent say they believe the women making allegations. They. Believe. The. Women.
That’s huge. That moves the needle as much as any high-profile ousting, any hastily assembled sexual harassment training, any shame-filled mea culpa.
By breaking their silence, survivors made 2017 the year we finally started listening. And their voices will echo for decades, in ways we can’t even begin to measure.
“The women and men who have broken their silence span all races, all income classes, all occupations and virtually all corners of the globe,” Time writes. “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.”
And we have a blueprint for talking to our daughters and sons about sexual harassment: Don’t be a bystander. Use your voice. Speak up. Speak and speak and speak and speak some more until someone listens.
“There’s something really empowering about standing up for what’s right,” Susan Fowler, who blew the whistle over harassment at Uber, told Time. “It’s a badge of honor.”
And it will change the world. It has, indeed, changed the world.
Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, which first published this piece.