Since #MeToo vaulted into widespread awareness a year ago, a movement rooted in assisting victims of sexual assault has transformed into a global platform for women’s empowerment.
#MeToo has been invoked repeatedly in the many accusations against prominent men, its gaze felt during the confirmation of the Supreme Court’s newest justice. The movement is there even when its name isn’t spoken, between the lines of President Trump’s observation that “it’s a very scary time for young men in America.”
Catchphrases tend to wear out, and hashtags often are fleeting. But to understand why #MeToo is different — why it matters — go back to its start. This didn’t all begin around this time last year. It started with Tarana Burke.
She launched the Me Too Movement back in 2006, 11 years before the New York Times broke the stories of actresses who accused movie mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault. Burke was inspired to create community healing circles to help survivors of such violence, especially black women and girls, who were brave enough to speak up about terrible things that were happening to them.
That grass-roots mission remains the movement’s core, even after Alyssa Milano, Ashley Judd and other celebrities brought #MeToo into the headlines as an avenue for many other victims to share their stories.
That high profile put #MeToo on a fast track to harsh attacks in various media. Plenty of people with a “what’s the big deal” attitude pounced on the chance to make Burke’s movement their scapegoat for a world seemingly changing too rapidly.
The attention has been intense, and appropriately so. A New York Times analysis released last week estimated that the careers and reputations of at least 200 powerful men have been upended amid #MeToo’s rise. And while those cases have come to symbolize the movement’s effort to hold perpetrators of sexual misconduct accountable, they’re just a small part of the widening fallout.
The fight to be heard goes far beyond Hollywood, U.S. Capitol corridors and New York City offices, its reach felt in our own community. The Battered Women’s Shelter and Rape Crisis Center reports that daily calls to its hotline have doubled from 12 to 24 during the past year. Workplaces are shoring up anti-harassment rules. College fraternities are helping to spread the word that consent matters.
On Wednesday, the Cleveland Orchestra announced the firing of William Preucil, its longtime concertmaster, and Massimo La Rosa, principal trombonist, after an independent investigation found the two men engaged in sexual misconduct with several women during their time with the orchestra.
Now Tarana Burke is working to channel the momentum back into her vision of #MeToo as a source of healing and advocacy. Her #MeToo isn’t a banner to carry into gender war. It’s an invitation to adopt a new consciousness. She’s succeeding, in part, because #MeToo is helping to reinforce what should be expected of men — who, after all, are the primary source of the problem.
That isn’t to say all men, or that men must retreat into some form of confinement, without flirting, or romance. They are being asked to honor boundaries, to take responsibility for their behavior, to show genuine respect for women. One virtue of #MeToo is its presence as a persistent and compelling reminder.
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