Sarah Churchwell: 'Time' waits for no woman

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

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little