Time's editor Nancy Gibbs -- who, last we checked, was a woman -- announced today that Pope Francis would be honored as the magazine's 2013 Person of the Year. This, of course, is the perfect excuse for the sort of folks who get their knickers twisted over these sorts of things to complain that, yet again, a man was named for the honor. As insult to injury for left-wing feminists, the man in question holds an office which only men can exercise, not to mention that Francis affirms the male-only priesthood is a settled matter.
For some of the predictable outrage, we turn to Mashable Associate Managing Editor Amanda Wills, who, at least, did refrain from making any swipes at the Church for its stance on women priests (emphases mine):
Of the 86 "Person of the Year" issues TIME has published since 1927, only five featured a woman.
Two of those women were famous for their relationship with a male world leader. Wallis Simpson, who won in 1936, "captured the heart of Edward, the Prince of Wales," which eventually led to his resignation and made her the most famous woman in Britain. Madame Chiang Kai-Shek had to share her "Man and Wife of the Year" award in 1937 with her husband, China's Premier Chiang Kai-shek. The third female winner was Elizabeth II in 1952, and we didn't see another woman take the cover on her own until 34 years later when Philippine President Corazon Aquino won in 1986. The final three women, Cynthia Cooper, Coleen Rowley and Sherron Watkins, were grouped together in the 2002 issue for their role in exposing Enron.
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.
TIME has featured groups that included women — "The Good Samaritans" in 2005 and an illustration of a woman for "The Protestor" in 2011 — and it had a whole POY issue dedicated to American women in 1975. (You can see the list in full below.) But never was there another woman deemed valuable enough to stand alone on that top tier.
That's not for a lack of contenders.
Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus in 1955, starting one of the biggest movements in protest of racial segregation. Harlow Curtice, president of General Motors, won POY that year. Margaret Thatcher became the first and only female British Prime Minister in 1979, but she never won throughout the 20 years she held office. The inaugural Person of the Year issue — at the time dubbed "Man of the Year" — was awarded to Charles Lindbergh in 1927 for his solo flight across the Atlantic. Amelia Earhart did it one year later. But by then it was old news, and POY went to Walter Chrysler.
It's not about naming a female for the sake of the gender equality. It's about recognizing people beyond the status quo, such as Mother Teresa, Golda Meir, Helen Keller, Maya Angelou, Madeleine Albright, Sally Ride, Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton — all of whom the publication has overlooked.
When TIME's current Managing Editor, Nancy Gibbs, announced this year's award on the Today show Wednesday morning, she described the ideal winner as someone who's had "the most impact on our lives — for better or worse." Did none of these women fit that bill? Or is it because their cover wouldn't sell?
You could argue that other notable women have been highlighted in the issue as part of the "shortlist" of runners-up. Edith Windsor, who has been a force in the gay rights movement, came in third place this year. Malala Yousafzai was heavily featured in last year's issue when she took second place. But can you honestly recall who came in second place three years ago? How about 10? Certainly not 20.
It's not just the men who are taking risks and making headlines. If TIME truly wants to live up to its name, it has to look at this 86-year list and ask itself, is this the record we want?
As a print magazine in an already moribund industry, selling magazines is not exactly a consideration that can be sloughed off. And, yes, it's certainly arguable that women like Malala Yousafzai, Helen Keller, Sally Ride, Oprah Winfrey, and Margaret Thatcher were woefully overlooked in years gone by. It's certainly true that Time has punted the ball a few years by naming "you," the planet Earth, and the computer in years gone by (2006, 1988, and 1982 respectively) instead of an actual person. And, let's not forget there have been years when Time has named someone that isn't a household name (David Ho in 1996). But, as they say, them's the breaks.
Time's track record with person of the year may be disproportionately male, but that's not evidence of any sexist conspiracy nor is it necessarily an indictment of the magazine's editorial wisdom, although, as we can attest, the latter is often times suspect to say the least.