LAST year it was Barack Obama, this year it’s Pope Francis. Both worthy winners I guess, but the small matter of it having been 27 years since Time magazine last named a woman as its Person of the Year is becoming ever more difficult to ignore.
The magazine named its first “man of the year” in 1927 (it didn’t become “person” of the year until 1999, when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos picked up the title. I don’t think it was for dubious tax arrangements and shabby employment practices, but I can’t be sure). The first woman to be given the title was American socialite and future wife of Edward VIII, Wallis Simpson. Since then, there have been six others: Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, the first lady of the Republic of China chosen in 1937 (along with her husband); our very own Queen Elizabeth II in 1952; all American women in 1975, since the magazine declared that “enough US women have so deliberately taken possession of their lives that the event is spiritually equivalent to the discovery of a new continent”. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like this and I accept that having chosen every woman in America in one year, Time might be excused for omitting selecting another until, oh, 2075? But come on, really?
The last individual woman to be chosen for the accolade was Corazon Aquino, president of the Philippines, in 1986. The most recent was when Cynthia Cooper, Coleen Rowley and Sherron Watkins were grouped together in 2002 for their role in exposing the Enron scandal.
It’s plain that Time knows something is up because last week, deputy managing editor Radhika Jones offered an explanation of the dearth of women winners: “You can count them on two hands. But it’s 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.” It’s true, there has never been a female Hitler (chosen in 1938) or a female Stalin (he bagged it twice, in 1939 and 1942). But come on, Time, if it’s about that kind of power then why shortlist Miley Cyrus this year? Or omit Margaret Thatcher during her entire period as prime minister?
It’s not as if there are no candidates. Malala Yousafzai came second last year but wouldn’t she have been a worthy winner this year as she has transformed herself from stoic victim to inspirational speaker and education advocate? Or Hillary Clinton, whose period as secretary of state has seen her stride the world stage with aplomb. Or, I’m not being po-faced, Beyoncé, who has just released an album (and 17 videos no less) on which she sings a song (Pretty Hurts) about the dangers of a world in which “perfection is the disease of a nation”, or another on which she has writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie give a definition of a feminist (“a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes”). OK, you’re right, I’m being unfair, Queen Bey released that album two days after the list was published. But still, we know they weren’t going to pick her anyway, right?
INTERNATIONAL law makers haven’t covered themselves in glory in the past week. In India, the Supreme Court upheld a law which criminalises gay sex, reversing a 2009 Delhi High Court decision which legalised same-sex sexual activity and, according to the country’s finance minister, in doing so taking the country “back to 1860”. Grim times. And in Australia, things went pear-shaped too, when the High Court overturned legislation allowing same-sex marriages in the Australian Capital Territory. The decision means that the 27 couples who have got hitched since the law came into effect last weekend will have their marriages declared invalid. Add these to the institutional homophobia in Russia and it is a salutary reminder of how far we are from global equality.
TAP tap. “You very nearly knocked me off my bike.” I said it calmly, I didn’t swear. I thought he might be interested in my wellbeing even. “You shouldn’t cycle in that position,” was the response. Ah, so he had seen me. I wasn’t interested in apportioning blame, I was letting him know in the hope that next time he might check his wing mirror before pulling round another car, to avoid killing someone. But what I realised was that he had wanted to teach me a lesson using his Saab estate as a teaching aid. Incredible when you really think about it. Surely it doesn’t have to be this way? «