Me Too founder says victims shouldn’t be forced to discuss their trauma

Campaign needs to focus on power and privilege imbalances, says Tarana Burke

Tarana Burke: The Me Too founder at the TEDWomen conference in Palm Springs. Photograph: Marla Aufmuth/Ted

Tarana Burke: The Me Too founder at the TEDWomen conference in Palm Springs. Photograph: Marla Aufmuth/Ted

 

The founder of MeToo, Tarana Burke, has said the campaign she began against sexual violence is now unrecognisable to her. “Suddenly, a movement to centre survivors of sexual violence is being talked about as a vindictive plot against men. Victims are heard and then vilified,” she said.

In 2006, the African-American civil-rights activist from the Bronx, New York, took out a piece of paper, wrote “Me Too” at the top and set out an action plan for a movement centered on the healing power of empathy between survivors. And so the Me Too movement was born.

Burke was keen to get back to the original intention she had for MeToo, she said, when she spoke speaker at TedWomen 2018: Showing Up, on Wednesday, in Palm Springs, California.

“My vision for the Me Too movement is part of a collective vision to see a world free of sexual violence,” she told delegates. “This is a movement about the one in four girls and the one in six boys who are sexually abused every year, and who carry those wounds into adulthood,” she said. “It’s about the far-reaching power of empathy and the millions of people who raised their hands a year ago to say ’me too’ , and still have their hands raised.”

In her Ted talk, Propelled by Possibility, Burke asked that victims not be forced to relive their traumas by speaking about them, and she called for the fight against “power and privilege” to continue. She said the Me Too movement teaches survivors it’s okay not to lean in to the trauma. Rather than being forced to replay their experiences in public for others’ awareness, Burke says, survivors should be given space to find and create joy in their lives.

“We have to re-educate ourselves and our children to understand that power and privilege doesn’t always have to destroy and take – it can be used to serve and build,” she said.

For more than a decade after Me Too was founded by Burke , it helped survivors of sexual violence, particularly black women and girls, to find pathways to healing. In 2017 the phrase became a hashtag – #metoo – used all over the world after allegations emerged against the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, and sparked a global conversation on social media among survivors and supporters. But Burke said she feels the campaign is neglecting those it was set up to help.

“This movement has been called a watershed moment, but some days I wake up feeling that all the evidence points to the contrary.”

She talks about the Brett Kavanaugh hearings in the US, the criticism of survivors from the White House, and a media backlash that has framed the Me Too movement as a witch hunt, out to destroy due process or start a gender war.

At times, the movement she sees portrayed in the media is almost unrecognisable to the one she started in 2006, Burke said.

“My vision for the Me Too movement is part of a collective vision to see a world free of sexual violence,” she said. “I believe we can build that world. Full stop.”

How can we reach this world? We start by dismantling the building blocks of sexual violence: power and privilege, said Burke. This starts by shifting our culture away from a focus on individual bad actors or depraved, isolated behaviour. Instead, we recognise that any person sitting in a position of power comes with privilege, rendering those without power vulnerable – whether it’s a boss and employee; coach and athlete; landlord and tenant; or another similar dynamic. “We reshape that imbalance [of power] by raising our voices against it in unison,” she said, “by creating spaces that speak truth to power.”

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