TIME magazine named
Pope Francis, leader of the Catholic Church, its Person of the Year Wednesday “for pulling the papacy out of the palace and into the streets, for committing the world’s largest church to confronting its deepest needs, and for balancing judgment with mercy.”
Almost instantly, there was some outrage pointing to the “Person of the Year” being a man — once again.
It’s important to remember that TIME has a history of omitting women. When the magazine launched its award in 1927, it was called “Man of the Year,” a title that it used for 72 years. It only switched to “Person of the Year” in 1999, just 14 years ago. But perhaps even more outrageous, TIME has not recognised a woman alone since rebranding its award from “Man” to “Person.”
In the magazine’s nine decades of choosing a person of the year, TIME considered only three women
have had enough historical significance to win the honour on her own. And one of those women — Wallis Simpson — won the award because of her famous love affair with Prince Edward of Wales, who renounced his throne in 1936 for Simpson and made her “the most-talked-about, written-about, headlined, and interest-compelling person in the world,” according to TIME.
Since Simpson, it named Queen Elizabeth II in 1952 and the Philippines President Corazon Aquino in 1986.
After TIME’s announcement of 2013’s Person of the Year, Mashable Associate Managing Editor Amanda Wills voiced her opinion, writing: “If, in 1,000 years, a history class studied TIME magazine’s Person of the Year record, it would seem that no woman broke through a ceiling, successfully ran a top company or started a revolution. In fact, if this were our official record, she was still in the shadows, playing second fiddle to a dominant gender.”
Or she had to share her title with other women — and men. In 1937, the First Lady of the Republic of China, Soong May-ling, was given the title along with her husband, China’s Premier Chiang Kai-shek. TIME featured all American women in 1975, and in 2002, the magazine grouped Cynthia Cooper, Coleen Rowley, and Sherron Watkins together as the Enron whistleblowers. Melinda Gates was featured along with her husband, Bill, and Bono in the 2005 award to “The Good Samaritans,” and a fictional woman was illustrated for the cover of “The Protester” in 2011.
As a response to accusations that the magazine overlooks women in its award,
TIME’s Deputy Managing Editor Radhika Jones explains in her piece titled “Where are the Women of the Year?” that the small number of women represented is “a fair reminder that for much of TIME’s history, women seldom held the kinds of positions of power that would set them up for Man of the Year status.”
If no woman was powerful enough, then how do you describe civil rights leader Rosa Parks? Did she not lead the world into action with her will? Or perhaps Margaret Thatcher, Helen Keller, Mother Teresa, Angela Merkel, and Sheryl Sandberg, who made gender inequality a global topic of conversation with her book “Lean In,” just don’t cut it.
TIME didn’t name any of these women Person of the Year, but it has featured on its covers Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Ayatollah Khomeini, the man behind 52 Americans being seized and held hostage in Tehran for 444 days in 1979.
In the bigger picture, perhaps TIME’s choice of Person of the Year can offer us a glimpse into how society views power and women in power. I can only hope that next year the magazine’s choice spawns a different conversation, one that showcases how far women have come.
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