Everything Wrong With Bono’s ‘Woman Of The Year’ Honor

So this happened: “Bono Just Became Glamour’s First Man of the Year.”

It seems his friends Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international correspondent, and Melinda Gates feel that Bono incorporating “women’s rights” into his famous celebrity philanthropy efforts for human rights deserve special recognition alongside and above women who are doing the work.

Glamour has given Bono more than an ally cookie here. They have literally displaced a woman to honor him. Whether or not Bono’s Poverty Is Sexist campaign is worthwhile and effective is not relevant here. Yes, poverty is sexist; yes, women around the world face disproportionate disadvantages and live under oppressive patriarchy. But why recognize that reality by reinforcing the internalized misogyny here at home? Why reinforce the damaging notion that women should take a back seat while praising men for bothering to recognize that “women’s rights” ARE human rights?

Here’s why they say they broke tradition and included a man in their slate of Woman of the Year honorees:

“Plus, for the first time, the awards also honor a man. For years our Women of the Year Advisory Board — made up of past winners, plus our editors — has put the kibosh on naming a Man of the Year on the grounds that men aren’t exactly hurting for awards in this world, and that here at Glamour, the tribe we’re into celebrating is female. But these days most women want men — no, need men — in our tribe. When the president declared himself a feminist, when super-cool actors line up to endorse the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign, when a major male rock star who could do anything at all with his life decides to focus on the rights of women and girls worldwide — well, all that’s worth celebrating. We’re proud to name that rock star, Bono, our first Man of the Year.”

“In our tribe”? I just can’t. If you want to make a point of welcoming people into the “female tribe,” how about including a transgender woman or two on the list? Maybe make the point that trans women are women since they are, despite legislative and bigoted efforts to prove otherwise, and leave the cis/het male off the list. It has been a banner year for trans visibility after all; how about Glamour joins that party instead of handing out cookies to a rich, privileged, white guy who doesn’t need the recognition to get support for his causes?

To his credit, Bono was taken aback by the “honor.”

“I’m sure I don’t deserve it,” he says. “But I’m grateful for this award as a chance to say the battle for gender equality can’t be won unless men lead it along with women. We’re largely responsible for the problem, so we have to be involved in the solutions.”


While my beef isn’t specifically with Bono, he could have, yanno, turned down the “honor.” I do kinda love his wife’s response, though. According to Amanpour’s profile, “he called his wife of 34 years, Ali Hewson, to give her the news. ‘I asked did she think I deserved it. She wasn’t sure,’ Bono tells me with a laugh. ‘She said I’ve work to do!’”

Indeed. Work to do. YES. ALL MEN HAVE WORK TO DO. If Glamour wanted to honor his work and that nominal “work” of “super-cool actors” participating in #HeForShe, perhaps they could have done a separate profile piece about men standing up for women. Or something. ANYTHING that isn’t this.

The other honorees included Simone Biles, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi — founders of Black Lives Matter; Nadia Murad, the Women of the Year Honoree Standing up to ISIS; and Stanford Sexual Assault Case Survivor Emily Doe, among others. Clearly the former winners and editorial board members who select the Women of the Year understand cultural issues matter and that little or unknown people making a difference through representation, activism, and bravery matter. Could they not have found some other way to honor Bono and given the final Woman of the Year slot to an ACTUAL woman?

I considered making a list of people they could have chosen, but it would be thousands of names long and stretch back generations. The work women have done in their homes and families, at their jobs, and in movements for human rights has been sidelined, railroaded, and co-opted since forever. In my lifetime we have been told to wait — we would eventually get more rights after it wasn’t necessary to sell us out by electing anti-woman democrats. (We’re all seeing how well that ‘90s-era plan worked.) The only time the white supremacist patriarchy recognizes that women’s rights are human rights is when we’re being told to wait for our turn.

Bono’s answer when Amanpour asked him “why so few men are willing to rally around women’s causes” is an A+ demonstration in male privilege thanks to an assist from her. It could be taught in gender studies classes.

Amanpour writes:

“Men can be a bit thick,” he says. “And I include myself. Honestly, things that ought to be obvious sometimes are not.” What’s obvious to Bono (the father of two daughters and two sons, feminists and activists all ): “We can do much more than we think we can. Leaders are accountable to all of us. If they don’t support women and girls, vote them out of office. To quote Nelson Mandela, ‘It always seems impossible — until it’s done.’”

Men aren’t thick. They’re privileged and powerful. Painting men as these hapless, well-intentioned yet accidentally misogynistic beings strolling through life unaware that they have the upper hand is beyond ridiculous. Willful ignorance does not excuse contributing to oppression. While I appreciate his including himself as a bit of a privilege check, he’s blowing off the violent systems that support male power and domination as well as glossing over the very human desire to hang onto power when you have it.

Furthermore, suggesting that he cares about feminist issues because he’s a parent (at least she included the sons) is an additional form of othering — as though men can’t naturally care about “women’s rights” without having some external stake in the cause.

And that’s really the point: Men shouldn’t need to have a special stake in our fight to support it. You either care about human rights or you don’t. All humans, all rights. This includes people of all genders — whether or not someone of a particular gender or marginalized group is part of your life. We can’t just vote the oppressors out of office; we need to elevate people into those posts who are part of the group(s) they’re fighting for. In short: We need cis/het white men to step aside.

My question to Glamour is: How can we ever expect those in the most powerful group in this country and the world to step aside and cede power if we who are oppressed by their power continue to exalt them?

I won’t hold my breath for an answer.


Lead image: flickr/Vectorportal