Tarana Burke, activist, survivor, best-selling author, and ‘me too.’ Movement founder, embarked on her mission against sexual violence back in 2006. Burke recounts that she began the campaign from her all-too-human failing of not being able to bear the story that a 13-year-old Black girl, who attended an Alabama youth camp where Burke worked, told her about her mother’s boyfriend sexually violating her. Burke recalls:
“I just watched her walk away from me, visibly struggling to recapture those secrets and tuck them back into their hiding place. I watched her put her “mask” back on her face and return to the world. And as I stood there, I couldn’t even bring myself to whisper the words circling my mind and soul: “me too.”
During those nascent years, according to the ‘me too.’ Movement’s website, “We developed our vision to bring resources, support, and pathways to healing where none existed before. And we got to work building a community of advocates determined to interrupt sexual violence wherever it happens.”
The group invited women to tell their own stories about dealing with the plethora of sexual violations using the two words that haunted Burke since her encounter with that young girl back in 2006: ‘me too.’ Burke used MySpace as the first witnessing space for young women. But the story was—and still is—so common that older women also wrote about their experiences. The strategy migrated to other social-media platforms—most famously on Twitter.
‘me too.’ went viral on Twitter eleven years later as Harvey Weinstein’s sexually inappropriate behavior towards his female employees, be they actors or assistants, became more public. Women, including Alyssa Milano, used the hashtag to disrupt the misogynistic chatter that the women must have been lying. The people making that accusation, particularly men, said Weinstein’s accusers must be doing so because those guys didn’t know anyone who was molested, coerced, raped. The sheer number of women, and increasingly men, who stated otherwise turned a witnessing into a collective reckoning. That’s also when the media started crediting Milano as the creator of #MeToo, eclipsing and erasing the work that Burke began a decade prior.
Burke wasn’t having it, though. According to a profile about her in the Washington Post, she reached out to Black Twitter to correct the historical record and Black Twitter happily obliged. Even Milano directed people to Burke’s work and credited her and her organization’s online and offline activism as the genesis for the #metoo Movement.
The movement grows from the rich historical soil of Black women who, in a myriad of ways, have fought to give victims and survivors of sexual violence a voice on the way to end the violence itself. This includes legendary journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett reporting back in the late 19th century about white men raping and lynching Black women with impunity while white women lied about consensual relationships or mere social interactions with Black men by leveling false rape accusations, which led to white people lynching those Black men and boys; Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks conducting field investigations during the mid-20th century about the white men who raped Black women as a part of her movement work; Alice Walker writing about intraracial sexual violations in The Color Purple; Anita Hill speaking her truth—30 years ago this week!—to an all-white-male Senate judiciary committee about then-Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas sexually harassing her while they worked at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and then at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission back in the 1980s.
‘me too.’ like quite a few renowned human-rights movements, has had its share of valid critiques and a bad-faith backlash. In 2019, two years into the national movement, a Vox writer acknowledges the crusade’s “undeniable impact,” including seven ways it positively changed current society while some of its unfinished business includes “changes in federal law to real safety for survivors who speak out, many of whom still face harsh repercussions.” That same year, LGBTQIA+ people stated the movement didn’t include their experiences with sexual violence within and outside their communities.
Ironically enough, some Black female survivors felt their experiences have been unheard as the media cast the movement as only white women bringing powerful white male perpetrators to accountability, if not justice. In the meantime, according to a 2019 Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, the statistics where “19 percent of men said they were reluctant to hire attractive women, 21 percent said they were reluctant to hire women for jobs involving close interpersonal interactions with men (jobs involving travel, say), and 27 percent said they avoided one-on-one meetings with female colleagues” spoke of the aforementioned backlash.
Washington Post declared in 2020 that the #The MeToo movement “is at a crossroad in America.” However, the same article features how the movement is gaining global traction. From an Afro-global perspective, Karen Attiah, one of WaPo’s Global Opinions editors, reports on how the hashtag activism behind #Sex4Grades exposed how faculty sexually harass female students at some Nigerian and Ghanaian universities, which opened a conversation among women and girls across the African continent about the issue. Danny Roberts, who leads the University of West Indies’ Hugh Shearer Labor Studies Institute, stated in 2020 that Jamaica “needs the equivalent of a #metoo Movement to allow groups, like household helpers, to publicize their concerns regarding allegations of physical, mental and sexual harassment, whenever they occur in private households which represent their places of work.” Meanwhile, Black Brazilian female feminists had their homegrown ‘me too.’ Movement in 2014 when they started blogging about the rampant misogynoir in cosmetic surgery and held the 50,000-strong Black Women’s March Against Racism and Violence and in Favor of Living Well in 2016, right before the United States’ own reckoning.
The ‘me too.’ Movement remains a powerful movement precisely because misogyny in all of its permutations continues to be so pandemic–even more so during this COVID-19 pandemic. We’ll continue to see such movements until that horrid reality ceases.
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