#MeToo wins symbol of the year for 2017

Symbolic Systems affiliates chose #MeToo as symbol of the year for 2017.

Affiliates of the SYMBOLIC SYSTEMS PROGRAM have chosen #metoo as the Symbol of the Year for 2017. This is the program’s sixth annual vote for notable symbols.

The citation for the Symbol of the Year said: “The ‘Me too’ hashtag, popularized in 2017 by Alyssa Milano, and building on the use of the phrase by Tarana Burke starting on MySpace in 2006, united women especially (as well as men) who had experienced sexual harassment and assault. While public attention focused on accusations against famous men in media and politics, the wider message reached wherever power differences had facilitated abuses and misogyny.”

The winning symbol was nominated by a record 17 individuals, including alumni/ae, faculty and current students. One of the nominators, EMILY MANDELBAUM, ’02, explained, “#metoo galvanized a movement of speaking up and being believed. It created a watershed moment this year.”

Other notable symbols from 2017 chosen by voters for their significance were:

  • The kneeling player. The wave of national anthem protests was begun by quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016 and continued in 2017 as a statement against oppression of black people and people of color in the United States.
  • The pussyhat. Pussyhats arose as an anti-Trump counterpart to the prefabricated “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” hats and were featured prominently in the Women’s March of Jan. 21, 2017 – the largest single-day protest in U.S. history.
  • “Fake news.” While the meaning of “fake news” shifted over 2016 and 2017, the slogan “fake news” came to be used to discount or dismiss any unfavorable or disagreeable reporting, regardless of the underlying facts.
  • #resist. The hashtag #resist was often used in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump as a way to unify efforts to oppose his ideas and policies.
  • Bitcoin and the Bitcoin logo. Bitcoin’s spectacular value rise became a major financial story in 2017. But the cryptocurrency itself is arguably a symbol, as is any form of money whose value derives from social agreements about what it represents – as a store of value, a medium of exchange and a unit of account. The prevailing Bitcoin logo serves as a symbol of Bitcoin.
  • Images of the 2017 total solar eclipse. The solar eclipse of 2017 was the first total eclipse visible across the entire contiguous United States since 1918. It was experienced by many as a transcendent moment. Photographs and videos of the eclipse added to a history of recording eclipses dating as far back as the Loughcrew Cairn stone images of a solar eclipse from Nov. 30, 3340 BCE, in Ireland.
  • The Robert Edward Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Unite the Right rally on Aug. 12 in Charlottesville was called to oppose the removal of this statue of Confederate commander Robert E. Lee in the city’s Emancipation Park. Heather Heyer was allegedly killed by a Nazi sympathizer driving into a crowd, and many others were injured.
  • The march. Protest marches have been featured in many eras, but 2017 represented a high point in terms of participation (the Women’s March of Jan. 21 was the largest single-day protest in U.S. history) and the variety of causes represented on the streets during the year.
  • “Unite the Right” tiki torch parade. The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville included white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, Klansmen, neo-Nazis and various militias. An Aug. 11 parade of mostly white men carrying tiki torches featured white supremacist and Nazi chants.
  • Acrostic resignation letters. In August, the 17 members of the U.S. President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities resigned in a letter that encoded “R-E-S-I-S-T.” State Department science envoy Daniel Kammen then resigned with a letter in which the first characters of each paragraph spelled I-M-P-E-A-C-H. Both were examples of the coded writing form known as “acrostic.”

The 11 recognized symbols were chosen from 32 nominations submitted between Dec. 22 and 26, with voting taking place Dec. 27 through Dec. 30. One hundred and forty-five alumni/ae, students, faculty and staff affiliated with the program cast ballots in a system in which each voter could vote for any nominated symbol as Symbol of the Year, Other Notable Symbol or neither.

The idea for a “Symbol of the Year” was inspired by the many annual “of the year” designations and awards that are put out by various organizations, especially the American Dialect Society’s annual “Word of the Year” vote. Stanford’s Symbolic Systems Program focuses on human and computational systems that use symbols to communicate and to represent information.

“Lots of things can be symbols,” said Todd Davies, program associate director. “But relatively few things actually are. Being a symbol is an acquired status that gets established through use. Symbols can obviously become notable because the things they represent are notable. But we wanted to draw attention to the significance that symbols themselves have, as symbols, beyond what they represent, and to get ourselves and others thinking about the role they play in contemporary life.”

See the Symbolic System Program page for more.