Sarah Churchwell: 'Time' waits for no woman

Share
Related Topics

Time magazine has named its 2010 "Person of the Year" – the individual judged by the editors to have most influenced the world over the past 12 months. Despite its readers having voted for Julian Assange by an overwhelming majority, Time's editors chose Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, calling him "The Connector" – "for creating a new system of exchanging information; and for changing how we all live our lives".

Zuckerberg may have done that – although this is open to dispute, especially by those of us who find Facebook easy to resist – but he has not, evidently, changed Time's criteria: Zuckerberg is the 75th man to be selected in 84 years.

Nor does this even mean that nine women have managed to win: "The Computer" was picked in 1982, "The Endangered Earth" in 1988, and "You" were chosen in 2006. Named women have featured on a grand total of six covers in 84 years, and only three times have individual women won on their own: Wallis Simpson in 1936, the Queen in 1952 and Corazon Aquino in 1986.

The other female winners, including Madame Chiang Kai-shek (1937) and Belinda Gates (2005), accompanied their husbands or other women. In 1975, "American Women" tout court were judged the most influential person – and it only took around 100 million or so of them to be noticed. Since then, we have been forgotten all over again. Not until 1999 did Time change the honour's title from "Man of the Year" to "Person of the Year" and, ironically, of the 13 covers since then only two have included females, unless we include "You".

But blaming Time for sexism would also be shooting the messenger: no doubt it's true that since 1927 men – primarily white men – have had far more influence upon the world stage than have women. Looking at the list of the people Time has selected, from Charles Lindbergh to Adolf Hitler, from Richard Nixon to George W Bush, from Martin Luther King Jnr to Ayatollah Khomeini, what becomes clear is how difficult it is to locate milestones along the global trudge toward women's equality. Nearly all of the women who have ever won have found their route to influence through domestic or dynastic corridors: only the 2002 "Whistleblowers" cover, featuring three women who took on Enron, the FBI and Worldcom, could be said to honour women for "achievements" that were not in clear ways bound up with their relationships to powerful men.

In explaining their choice, the magazine's editors emphasised Zuckerberg's youth: at only 26 he is younger than any winner except the first, 25-year-old Charles Lindbergh. Zuckerberg is also, by no coincidence, very, very rich. The majority of 20th-century winners were national leaders and politicians, whereas Zuckerman becomes the fourth winner since 1999 to be the CEO of a multibillion-dollar US corporation. That is the true way in which Zuckerberg reflects how our lives are changing: the shift of global power not from men to women, or from white to non-white, or even from America to other nations, but the rise and consolidation of corporate global might in the hands of a few men, alongside gestures toward the democratisation of power that seem ever less convincing.

If Zuckerberg wins for "creating a social entity almost twice as large as the US", in 2006 we were told "You" won for similar reasons: "The World Wide Web became a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter"; it showed "the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing... that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes." Heady words, but judging by the rich, powerful men who've won each year since then – Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama, Ben Bernanke and Zuckerberg – the more the world changes, the more it stays the same.

Sarah Churchwell is senior lecturer in American literature and culture at the University of East Anglia

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Critics of Fiona Woolf say she should step down amid accusations of an establishment cover-up  

Fiona Woolf resignation: As soon as she became the story, she had to leave

James Ashton
 

Letters: Electorate should be given choice on drugs policy

Independent Voices
Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities