6: Tarana Burke and the #MeToo Movement

April 2, 2024 | Akshaya Aalla

In 2005, Tarana Burke, a well-known women’s rights activist and community advocate, conducted a wellness program for middle school girls in Selma, Alabama at the end of which she distributed sticky notes to the children. She asked the girls to either write about what they had learned from the session or “me too,” indicating that they were a victim of  sexual violence.

That was how the Me Too movement began, with Burke discovering how widespread sexual assault was.

Burke’s passion for the me too movement arose out of her childhood experiences of sexual assault. She stated in an interview that in her youth, she did not identify as a ‘survivor’ of abuse, due to the shame and guilt she felt. 

“For all those years as a child, I felt complicit in my abuse. The men who molested me, in my mind, were not wrong or bad. I was a bad girl who had done a bad thing,” Burke said. 

In 2017, the movement took off on social media, specifically on a variety of social media platforms with victims of sexual abuse rallying around the MeToo hashtag after Alyssa Milano, an American actress,  tweeted asking her followers to reply with ‘#MeToo’ if they had been sexually harassed or assaulted. 

The social media phenomenon raised awareness and gave survivors a platform to voice out their experiences, which led to extensive changes in workplace, social and cultural history. The #MeToo movement brought into light gender inequality as a result of the prevalent power dynamics between men and women in society, and sparked a reckoning for abusers around the globe, with new efforts to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. Further, it created an atmosphere on social media for women to confidently share their personal experiences with sexual violence in a space where they would receive necessary support. 

Additionally, lawmakers proposed bills that attempted to remove the barriers that survivors faced in reporting abuse in the workplace and in the criminal or civil courts, such as the Survivors’ Bill of Rights in the States Act. The act made it so survivors of sexual assault were guaranteed rights in federal legislation.

However, for Burke, she felt the emphasis of the #MeToo movement should be on survivors and their personal healing.

Unfortunately, the #MeToo movement has had its criticisms and unintended setbacks.

One common critique of the movement included an increased number of sexual assault allegations, which included false allegations. Another was that people believed the movement did not adequately represent women in certain minority and social circles.

In addition, the movement has had unintended consequences against women in the workforce. One survey found that employers became less likely to hire attractive women and were more likely to exclude them in social situations out of fear of false accusations.

Regardless, The #MeToo movement has left a lasting impression on how society approaches the topic of sexual violence. It has helped women across the world speak up about their experiences on all platforms, as well as (recap other info brought out earlier) 

Though tremendous progress was made, activists still work daily to ensure to not take steps away from the main goal: bring awareness and support survivors.

Image Credit: CNBC