Person of the Year

There he was again. At a rally. Spouting off to fanatical crowds. Like so many scenes we saw so many times before the election. The Donald. Don. Don the Con, as my boyfriend calls him. Working the podium. Spewing forth his stream of murky incoherent consciousness (can we call it consciousness?). Media waiting with baited breath to ravish the next sensational soundbite.

And what gem did we get this time? In a nutshell we got that Don the Con wishes his recent Time magazine “Person of the Year” honorific were still called “Man of the Year”. You know, like in the good ole days. The days when girls were girls and men were men (tell em, Archie Bunker).

We got his audience, when asked if the Time feature should still be called “Man of the Year”, erupting in sycophantic cheers. Yes, mein fuhrer! Yes! Bring us back, oh fuhrer, to a simpler time when only someone with a penis could be Person, er, Man of the Year! Save us from the depths of political correctness! Save us from — dare we utter it? — feminism! Save us from that radical notion that women are people too! Applause. Cheers. Shouts. Applause. The Donald donning a self-satisfied smirk as if to say, “Yeah, that’s right. Man of the year. MAN of the year. Don’t give me that person shit. Loser!”

Let’s break this sentiment down, shall we?

Time’s Person of the Year” is an annual feature that profiles a person who “for better or for worse…has done the most to influence the events of the year”. Until 1999, that feature was called “Man of the Year”. That means that until 1999, Time magazine and, presumably, its readers were content to believe that the person who had done the most to influence events of the year would inevitably be a man. Alternatively, they may have believed that in the event a woman was more influential than a man, failing to recognize her would cost them neither relevance nor readers. Never mind that “influence” is pretty subjective. Never mind that we only see influence, in its various forms, when and where we actively look for it. Never mind all that. Until 1999, Time and its readers believed that looking for and finding influence among only the male population was perfectly reasonable. Sorry, Margaret Thatcher. Sorry, Mother Theresa. Sorry Oprah. Sorry Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sandra Day O’Connor, Madeline Albright. Sorry all you other influential women on the world stage before 1999. Oh, and sorry to the billions of other women and girls in the world. Sorry, but, before 1999, your influence, no matter how great, could never be consequential enough to be featured in an annual issue of Time.

We live in a post-1999 world now, obviously. Nearly two decades on, we understand that women can be influential, in every field and profession. In every country, in every manner of expression. Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg, Beyonce, Malala Yousefzai, Aung San Suu Kyi — to name a small few. Women can be supremely influential. So influential, in fact, that they can be the most influential, depending, of course, on who makes the assessment and based on what criteria. We get that now. Well, most of us do.

When Donald says we should go back to “Man of the Year”, that using “Person of the Year” is nothing more than bending a knee to political correctness, what is he actually saying? He’s saying that women’s accomplishments are still, decades after Time evolved its view, less worthy of consideration than men’s. He’s saying that when we look for the individual who has had the most influence on the world, we lose nothing by ignoring women completely. He’s saying women’s influence, or the influence of any given woman, no matter how great, is necessarily less important by comparison. It doesn’t measure up. So why not change back the name of the feature? The assumption in changing back the name is not only that women’s accomplishments don’t stack up to a man’s, it’s that they never will.

It’s easy to reduce “Person of the Year” to mere political correctness if you don’t understand the significance of the term and what it’s saying. It’s saying women can have influence too. They can be most influential too. It’s saying we should look for and expect to find supremely influential women, which means we should pay attention to women’s influence — their achievements, their contributions, their creativity, their impact on the world. It says, to all the women and girls in the world, your work matters. It says we’re looking out for it, that we will recognize it when we see it. It says it’s safe to go out and pursue your dreams, because when you achieve them we will celebrate, cheer you on, and acknowledge how important that is.

I’m not surprised the Donald doesn’t care about the messages we send to women and girls. Why would he? He isn’t one. He personally stands to lose nothing if women don’t feel encouraged to pursue their dreams. But for those of us who see beyond our private ambitions, who feel a sense of connection to the world, to others, who have people we care about, in our communities, in our families…For those of us who want a better world for everyone, now and in the future, it matters. It matters that a little girl is more likely to imagine herself as a person of the year if it is called Person of the Year not Man of the Year. It matters that if she can imagine herself as a person of the year, she is more likely to strive to become that person — that brave person, that brilliant person, that influential person, that audacious trendsetting world-changing person. That matters, and not just to that little girl. It matters to everyone who may be impacted by her creativity, her grace, her willpower, her leadership, her vision. It matters to all of us that we fertilize the ground in which such girls may grow.

When you tell us it should still be called “Man of the Year”, you’re not just saying you don’t care about women pursuing and achieving their dreams. You’re saying you don’t care about the rest of us — the beneficiaries of those pursuits. You’re saying you don’t care about the lives that might be saved by a brilliant female physician, the peace that might be wrought by a dedicated female public official, the joy that might be spread by a wickedly insightful female comic.

Is your privilege, your dominant maleness really so important that we should give up a brighter future for everyone so you can indulge it?

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