Are You The Elbow in Time’s Person of the Year Cover? How Planners can Help Women Behind #MeToo

time person of the year movement campaign

Billy & Hells for TIME

Did you hear the news? The winner of Time’s Person of the Year cover treatment is the #MeToo movement.

The five women featured on the Time cover are actress Ashley Judd, singer Taylor Swift, former Uber software engineer Susan Fowler, California lobbyist Adama Iwu, and strawberry picker Isabel Pascual. Each of these women have spoken up about sexual assault in their respective work places this year.

There’s an interesting detail on the cover though, that you just might miss if you’re not looking for it. In the far right of the cover, there is an elbow, perched on a table that isn’t attached to a visible person. It’s a very intentional and symbolic move though, not a photoshop error. Time national correspondent Charlotte Alter says: “That’s an anonymous woman who is a hospital worker, who was experiencing harassment and didn’t feel that she could come forward [publicly].” The elbow represents the women who still feel unable to tell their stories publicly, for fear of losing their livelihood.

Why Now?

The issue of consent, sexual assault, and abuse of power has been around for decades, across all workplaces, but it is only now that women are starting to feel comfortable speaking up for themselves. The implications of this movement are far reaching, both in the events industry and beyond. It began with a tweet by Alyssa Milano. She posted a picture captioned:

“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of this problem.” She suggested that people who had been sexually harassed or assaulted, write “me too” as a reply.

Milano woke up to over 50,000 responses. These responders sparked, not just a moment, but a movement. And as the number of guilty men accounted for in media alone rises past 70, a new light is being shed on the pervasiveness of power abuse and inequality across all industries.

Why is this Significant?

The announcement that a group of women are winners of “Person of the Year” holds tremendous weight when you consider that until the year 1999, Time named Man of the Year. The change to the gender-neutral Person of the Year didn’t occur until 1999 (72 years after the first Man of the Year issue was published.) Even when Wallas Simpson became the first Woman of the Year in 1936, the title was only changed for that issue, and it would take 70-plus years before the permanent gender-neutral change.

Despite the 1999 change to “Person of the Year,” only four women have won the title— two more times than inanimate objects (the personal computer and the environment) and three more than when the world collectively won as “You” in 2006.

What is the Deal with the Elbow?

The absent face reminds us of all the women who still feel too fearful to speak out.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a government agency responsible for processing sexual harassment complaints, says nearly one-third of the 90,000 complaints received in 2015 included a harassment allegation—but the agency notes that that number is far too low to reflect reality. The agency estimates that 75 percent of all workplace harassment incidents go unreported altogether.

And in 2016, the EEOC released a comprehensive study of workplace harassment in the United States, which concluded that “anywhere from 25 percent to 85 percent of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.” It’s a strikingly wide gap, but one that is very substantial even in its most conservative estimate—statistically predicting one in four people are affected by workplace sexual harassment.

What can Planners Do?

You can help the elbow women out there by creating a safe space at your events. Start by creating a comprehensive sexual harassment policy, training your team on what it means and following up on reports of problem behavior.

Never be a bystander. You planned this event, meaning you’re responsible for anything that occurs during it. It’s your job to refuse to let rumors, suspicions or even inappropriate humor slip. Keep your eyes and ears open, follow up, and investigate.

Educate yourself on the issue. What verbiage is best to use? What might trigger victims? How can legal action be taken? Being able to answer these questions adds value to your role in and outside of the industry. Don’t be afraid to ask respectful questions in order to stay informed.

You can also incorporate charitable resources and fundraisers for social justice causes in events. You can also reinforce your position by partnering with companies who donate to the cause.

What Else?

  • Some examples include women’s shelters, RAINN and the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline.
  • Offer support to victims and be mindful of language when speaking to them.
  • Avoid phrases which may sound judgmental.
  • Listen and sympathize.