TIME magazine’s Person of the Year features a person or group of people who “for better or for worse, have done the most to influence the events of the year”.

It began in 1927, originally as Man of the Year or Woman of the Year, and by the time it was changed to Person of the Year in 1999 only four women had been given the title.

This year’s cover features those who have spoken out against sexual harassment and abuse, dubbed The Silence Breakers, and it has been heralded as a sign that things are finally changing for the better.

It is certainly a fitting irony. In 2016, Donald Trump was featured. This came after the newly elected president had been heard on tape admitting to sexually assaulting women. In the eight decades since its inception, fewer than 10 women have appeared solo on the cover.

This is illustrative of where power is traditionally held. It encapsulates the inherent power imbalance that is at the heart of every #MeToo and sexual harassment experience that has been shared; and the pervasive inequality that underpins it.

The Time cover is largely symbolic, but it does signify a recognition of the wider cultural changes that are needed for attitudes to change. The Silence Breakers of this year have forced a long-overdue conversation about how we view sexual harassment and abuse: what is looks like and how society’s reaction to it enables it to flourish.

It is crucial that we understand the series of events that preceded this now-viral movement. It required women to stand up to powerful men, in Hollywood, Westminster and beyond. They did that knowing the backlash that would follow and the accusatory questions and aspersions likely to be cast on their characters.

When women began sharing their experiences of sexual violence and harassment on social media, using the hashtag #MeToo, the noise of so many speaking together became impossible to ignore. It was a show of solidarity that helped women be heard in a way they often aren’t. But the emotional labour involved should be recognised for what it is. Women relived trauma: they opened the wounds of the past and exposed themselves to the cruel disbelief of people who felt entitled to pass judgment on their experiences. Over a number of weeks, women were collectively bombarded with the jagged shards of one another’s pain. At the time, I was one of those who wrote about some of the instances of male violence that have marked my life. But those few weeks were far from freeing or cathartic for every woman.

That is what we need to remember if the hype around the cultural shift we are told is happening is to materialise. Women have spoken; it is now imperative that we are properly heard. That will require a lot more than sympathy, outrage or assurances from men that they would never harm a woman. Women already know and love these men.

They are in our lives. And to turn a well-used phrase on its head; they are our sons, our brothers, and our partners. As such, the tendency to be defensive about the discussion of sexual violence and harassment is something that we really need to get a grip on.

Indignation is not enough, though this is not to say that women are expecting or asking good men to dress in capes and become our guardians. In order for the events of 2017 to have lasting and meaningful impact, we need small actions of defiance against the status quo. Societal attitudes around violence against women must be addressed and challenged as a first step. To put it simply, if women continue to be treated with an air of suspicion about their perceived motivation for speaking out, then they may feel better protected by remaining silent. If the media representation of violence against women is sensationalised, skewed and reported without context or care, the damaging myths will prevail. If the legacy of #MeToo is nothing more than thousands of women reliving trauma, then we will have missed an opportunity and frankly, we will have let them down.

I am cautiously optimistic that things are changing, though I think the speed of progress will be a lot slower and bumpier than the celebratory commentary on token gestures like the Time’s Person of the Year coverage would suggest, as eminently understandable as that hopeful optimism is. People want to believe that we can uncover the darkest recesses of society and fix them within the space of a year. Unfortunately, knowing is not enough. The journey we must travel to address systemic inequality will be long and hard; the terrain is unfavourable and we will undoubtedly stumble along the way. But as we head into another year, let us remember The Silence Breakers and their bravery. We must also remember the many women who have found safety in their silence. And as we do that, let us endeavour to do much better.