Tarana Burke: MeToo is being portrayed by media as 'vindictive plot against men'

‘Victims are heard and then vilified’

Olivia Petter
Friday 30 November 2018 10:45
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Tarana Burke ted talk: Me too is a movement not a moment

The founder of the MeToo movement, Tarana Burke, has said the media’s representation of the campaign against sexual assault and harassment is “unrecognisable” to her, more than a decade after she launched it.

Speaking at the TEDWomen conference in Palm Springs, California, Burke claimed that a backlash was portraying MeToo as a witch hunt that is pitting women against men.

“Suddenly a movement to centre survivors of sexual violence is being talked about as a vindictive plot against men,” the 45-year-old activist said.

She added that there is little respite for the victims themselves, who are often “heard and then vilified” for coming forward.

Burke went on to clarify that her intention for the MeToo movement, which she launched in 2006, was to “see a world free of sexual violence”.

“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.

“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.”

But she explained that recent incidents, such as the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court after he’d been accused of sexual misconduct, made her think we have a long way to go if we’re ever to reach real societal change.

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

Burke concluded her talk by urging victims not to feel forced to speak out about their experiences, explaining how this might trigger traumatic memories. Instead, she said MeToo should be about addressing fundamental power imbalances and championing the need for a zero-tolerance approach to sexual violence.

“We reshape that imbalance [of power] by raising our voices against it in unison, by creating spaces that speak truth to power,” she said.

“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.”

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“We owe future generations nothing less than a world free of sexual violence.

“I believe we can build that world. Do you?”

Burke’s comments at TED come just weeks after she highlighted how the MeToo movement has been accused of excluding women from ethnic minorities.

“Every day, we hear some version of that,” she said at the Facing Race conference in Detroit earlier this month.

“But this is what I’m here to tell you: The MeToo movement is not defined by what the media has told you,” she continued.

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“We are the movement, and so I need you to not opt out of the MeToo movement. I need you to reframe your work to include sexual violence. That’s how we take back the narrative. Stop giving your power away to white folks.”

The MeToo hashtag became a global movement in October last year in light of allegations of sexual assault against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

As more female celebrities, such as Angelina Jolie and Cara Delevingne, came forward with accusations against the producer, people began sharing their experiences of sexual misconduct on social media as prompted by the actor Alyssa Milano, who posted a tweet calling on women to say “Me Too” if they’d been a victim of sexual violence.

Since then, several high-profile men have been accused of sexual assault and/or harassment, including the actor Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis CK and most recently, Sir Philip Green.

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