Who Do You Think Is “Person of the Year?”

It’s that time of year again: On Monday, TIME published its list of nominees for 2012’s Person of the Year. This annual designation recognizes a person or group that has significantly influenced the year’s events. The title is “bestowed by the editors on the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year.”

In 2011, the year that brought with it Occupy Wall Street and world-changing uprisings throughout the Middle East, “The Protestor” was aptly the “person” of the year. Facebook visionary Mark Zuckerberg claimed the honor in 2010 for connecting half a billion people via the Internet and ushering us into the social networking age, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was named in 2009 for helping stave off an economic catastrophe in the year of a weak global economy. The year 2007 exemplified that the appellation is not necessarily an honor: Vladimir Putin was deemed Person of the Year for his influence both on Russia and global affairs, despite standing for “stability above freedom.”

Keeping in mind TIME‘s criteria, 2012 features public figures good and bad, including several political familiars (Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Joe Biden and Barack Obama were each nominated). Other notables include President Bashar Assad of Syria, President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, Undocumented Immigrants, Austrian super jumper Felix Baumgartner, the Higgs Boson (really) and our favorite political satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

As for the women who made the list, there are just eight among the 38 nominees–despite the fact that women make up half of the world’s population. In fact, women have fared dismally ever since TIME first began designating a Person of the Year: Of the 84 who have been named since 1927, a woman or group of women has only been honored seven times, the most recent in 2005 when Melinda Gates was included (along with husband Bill Gates and Bono) among “The Good Samaritans.” The last time a woman without her husband was named Person of the Year was in 2002 (unless you count You in 2005 or “The Protester” in 2011), when the Whistle-blowers (Sherron Watkins of Enron, Coleen Rowley of the FBI and Cynthia Cooper of WorldCom) were granted the distinction.

Though we wish they were greater in number, the women who were nominated this year deserve great credit for their accomplishments. Here they are:

Sandra Fluke

When Rush Limbaugh eloquently called women’s rights activist Fluke a “slut” last spring after she advocated for health insurance coverage of contraceptives, Fluke became a clear example of the War on Women, which greatly influenced the outcome of the national election. Fluke was given a large amount of media attention, and the Democratic party even gave her a speaking slot at their national convention in an effort to push reproductive rights to the forefront of its platform.

Gabrielle Douglas

Gabrielle’s stellar gymnastics, coupled with her charisma and charm, captured hearts around the world this summer at the 2012 London Olympics. Douglas’s captivating performances led her to become the first U.S. gymnast to win gold medals in the all-around and team events, and the first African American gymnast ever to win the all-around title.

Hillary Clinton

Clinton’s final year as Secretary of State has certainly been eventful. She has been a staunch spokesperson for women’s rights globally, and  has been tested again and again by numerous crises in the Middle East, including the ongoing civil war in Syria and, most recently, the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

E.L. James

Let’s be honest–The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy is no literary masterpiece, but it quickly became the talk of the town, selling more than 30 million copies and garnering James a movie deal. Pardon our snarkiness, but here‘s our favorite response to the phenomenon.

Marissa Mayer

When Mayer was announced as the new Yahoo CEO last July, heads turned: A 37-year old woman was named just the 20th woman CEO to make the Fortune 500 list, and by the male-dominated tech industry to boot. And she was six months pregnant! Though the reaction of shock and awe to the fact that Yahoo would hire a pregnant CEO and that Mayer would take the job despite being weeks away from having a child was disheartening, Mayer has proved that the hype was unnecessary. TIME writes that following the birth of her son, Mayer became Fortune 500’s highest-profile working mom.

Pussy Riot

After the feminist punk rock group engaged in an act of public political expression, two of its members were found guilty of “hooliganism” and sentenced to two years in prison. Their disproportionate punishment instigated a public outcry from those who believe in free speech, uniting Pussy Riot supporters from around the world.

Aung San Suu Kyi (together with Burma’s President Thein Sein)

A fearless opposition leader and global feminist and human rights icon, Aung San Suu Kyi was sworn in as a member of Burma’s parliament last May along with other members of her party, the National League for Democracy. Though there is much work to be done, Suu Kyi, together with her party and President Sein, continue to work toward a reformed Burma free of the gripping military rule that terrorized the country for more than five decades.

Malala Yousafzai

When Malala was 11 years old, all schools for girls in the Swat region of Pakistan, including the private school owned by her father, were forced to close by order of the Taliban. Malala began blogging for the BBC about conditions for girls in Swat and their determination to resume their education, speaking out against the ban on girls’ education. As she rose to prominence, the Taliban began to view her as a threat. On October 9, 2012, the Taliban boarded the now 14-year-old Malala’s school bus and shot her in the head; amazingly, she has survived, and continues her recovery in the U.K. Today, Malala is revered for speaking out when she experienced injustice, and serves as a public symbol for all the young women around the world seeking empowerment.

What do you think, Ms. readers? Which of these women deserves the title? Or are there other women you think most deserve to be Person of the Year?

Two of the Person of the Year candidates appeared on Ms. covers this year!


Rachel Kassenbrock is a writer who works at the Feminist Majority Foundation and blogs for Ms. Follow her on Twitter at @rkassenbrock.