Why Angela Merkel’s “Person Of The Year” Win Is So Rare

A very select group of women have been named person of the year

The many shades of Merkel. — REUTERS
Dec 09, 2015 at 2:49 PM ET

Angela Merkel has been named Person of the Year for 2015 following a 28-year stretch without an individual female winning the award. As the “chancellor of the world,” Merkel beat a controversial group of mostly male contenders highlighted within TIME’s shortlist for the number one spot. Among those also considered were including Vladimir Putin, ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, and Donald Trump.

Though Merkel is the first individual woman to hold the spot since former president of the Philippines Corazon Aquino in 1986, TIME magazine’s loose definition of “person” means women haven’t been entirely absent from the line-up for 28 years. After playing it straight for the first 10 years of the tradition, TIME decided to mix things up by announcing two people of the year: Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek and his wife Soong May-ling, in 1937. Years later, TIME loosened up its definition even more to include “men and women 25 and under” in 1966, and has dappled its winners with offbeat, quirky group picks—just one of many ways the magazine has trolled its readership with its picks for Person of the Year.

More The Appalling Thing About People’s “Sexiest Man Alive”

The list includes multi-person picks that see men and women share the accolade (such as the Middle Americans, “You”, “The protestor”, Ebola fighters, and “The good samaritans”) and wildcard non-gendered choices like “The computer” and “Endangered earth.” With those excluded, leaving only individuals and groups of one single gender, Vocativ found that only eight percent the selections were female individuals or groups. Merkel is only the fourth woman to receive this accolade without having to share it, after Aquino and Queen Elizabeth II in 1952.

By means of explanation, TIME deputy managing editor Radhika Jones wrote that the Person of the Year franchise tends to favor those with institutional power. For instance, there have been four U.S. Presidents chosen (three of whom appeared twice), and three popes to make the list. Looking forward, she predicts that “as more women assume roles of power around the world…we will have more female candidates in the Person of the Year pipeline.”