#MeToo began last year as a social media call to arms in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal in Hollywood. The hashtag movement is the offspring of the larger Me Too movement that was founded by Tarana Burke in 2006. Tarana’s life work has been to create a better world for survivors of sexual violence, both with Me Too and her non-profit Just Be, Inc. When “Me Too” was co-opted for the hashtag movement on social media, Tarana, who found out on Facebook the term was being used independent of the movement she’d started, embraced it and quickly aligned her work with the hashtag, calling it “empowermental empathy.” Together, Me Too has been able to expand the fight much farther. Tarana’s been recognized by Time Magazine twice since and remained visible from the Golden Globes red carpet to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony last week. Jezebel interviewed Tarana on the one year milestone of #MeToo blowing up. Tarana is optimistic about their work building momentum but cautions us that the conversation needs to stay on the needs of the survivors and get away from the perpetrators.
On the past year and the popularity of #MeToo: This has been a year for the record books, right? I think that, certainly, from last year to this year, the level of awareness has grown exponentially. So I think it’s two things: on the one hand, there’s been a great shift in the way we talk about sexual violence. And the fact that we talk about it at all. The conversation about sexual violence, in general, is expanding. We have never really had a national conversation about this. I think that’s probably the biggest change. But on the flip side, there hasn’t been enough of the right kind of conversation, if you will. There hasn’t been enough conversation about the needs of survivors, of what people actually need. Solutions. It’s been mostly about perpetrators. That has been really difficult, I think.
But I could not have asked for, I could not have paid for, the kind of publicity and exposure that has been brought to this work. So I take the good with the bad.
On #MeToo becoming short-hard in the media: They have definitely watered it down. I had a really interesting conversation with a male celebrity who referenced somebody as being “me too-ed.” In his defense, he wasn’t saying it to poke fun at the movement itself. But when we had a private conversation about it—I was disappointed because I felt this person understood based on conversations we’d had—he asked me how it was offensive. He was surprised I took offense to it. I said, you know, the problem here is that it takes away from what the words are for. But it also has this connotation as if there’s a target on a person’s back or a way that people get entangled. Like they’re being ensnared in something: Oh, they got me too-ed. All of that makes it harder to do our work.
On Henry Cavill’s #MeToo comments: I mean that was just a dumb comment. But the important part is that it is reflective of what so many men think and say now. Because they jump to the part that’s like, Oh well now we’ve got to act different. All these women are super sensitive. It just highlights how the media talks about #MeToo.
On not letting the media dictate the narrative We cannot as a movement depend on the media to catch up with us before we decide that we’re legitimate. The way that those things live side by side is that they just do.
On what’s next for Me Too: We know the reality, we know the statistics, we know the community, we know the landscape. It’s up to us to strategize about how we move forward despite the fact that the media is saying one thing. Because the media will come along, eventually, at some point. People who are thoughtful and who really committed to the fullness of the issue will pick it up and run and help us get traction.
I could take several lessons from Tarana’s book on checking my ego for the sake of the work. I appreciate how she phrased her response about Cavill. His were stupid comments, but the message we should take is actually the larger context of how he looked at it. Not only is it the knee-jerk reaction for many men’s thinking, it also speaks to how the media is presenting the message. In this and other interviews, it is clear that Tarana’s interest lies in the needs of the survivors. And yet, that’s never the story, is it? The story is always the atrocities of the attackers and it wasn’t until I read this interview that I understood the difference.
I am inspired by Tarana. I’m inspired by how gently she refuses to let someone else control the narrative. I’m inspired that she is so dedicated to her cause that she openly embraces those who, unwittingly or outright, try to erase her contributions. And I am especially inspired by her patience and grace. Not only will I frame my discussion of Me Too and sexual violence differently, I know what to listen for when speaking with others.
Photo credit WENN Photos