Tue. Dec 7th, 2021

Four years after the explosive revelations about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, women around the world have become crusaders to identify and end sexual harassment, abuse and violence against women.

It all started with a simple #MeToo hashtag – but the phrase was used a decade earlier by American activist Tarana Burke.

She tells 7.30 that she woke up to find the #MeToo hashtag being used online in late 2017 and feared her life’s work had been stolen.

“It was very scary for me,” she says.

“I had worked … in the community of marginalized people. And so it was not something that felt like it was part of anything to do with my work.

A woman holding a black and white sign that says '#metoo'.
Women around the world shared their experiences after the #MeToo movement. (Getty: Seung-il Ryu)

“As a black woman in America, I have seen my fair share of discrimination and bias and frankly racism. I have seen black women referred to their backs and our voices were not heard.

“And I did not see how it would be possible for people to think that I have done this work under the same name, you know, in the same way.”

Burke says that despite her initial fears, she realized that the platform the hashtag had created could help more women.

“It was not about taking anything from me. It was actually a gift that was given to me. And I was able to insert myself in the moment and contribute, rather than complain about what was taken from me. . “

She says seeing the reaction to #MeToo revealed that women from all backgrounds had one thing in common – sexual harassment and abuse do not discriminate.

Three photographs of women;  left with long blond hair, middle with short dark hair, right with long dark hair.
Rosanna Arquette, Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd were some of the prominent voices in Hollywood’s #MeToo movement.(Reuters / AP / Reuters)

“What I learned is that the women in Hollywood and the people who were famous and rich … needed the same things that the little black girls in Selma, Alabama needed,” she says.

“They had to be seen and heard and needed an electrical outlet.

“They had to be validated, they had to be believed, and that was what #MeToo gave them.

“We know [about] #MeToo because 12 million people responded to that hashtag in 24 hours. And the majority of the 12 million people were ordinary people. “

‘Healing is an eternal process’

Burke herself is a survivor, and she reveals in her new memoir Unbound that even though it is rewarding at the center, it can sometimes take its course.

“I think it’s a double-edged sword because very few high-profile people, people with a lot of visibility, have been known as a crusader for this subject,” she says.

“This means that people who have experienced sexual violence have not had a person to look at in the eyes of the public … there have not been many masters.

“So I feel a sense of responsibility to be someone you know who I know when I meet a survivor on the street, they know I’m someone who understands them. And that’s why I want to remain that person.

Tarana Burke, an African-American woman who spoke at a rally while wearing a t-shirt that says 'me too'.
Activist Tarana Burke began using the term ‘Me Too’ in 2006.(Delivered)

“But I am also a human being. And I still heal because healing is an eternal process.

“It’s about all the trauma you hold in the days after that. It’s about the people who can’t turn off the lights and the people who can’t leave their homes and who are afraid to wear certain garments.

“All of this is about the violence we carry and the trauma we carry afterwards.”

Teaching license and boundaries

Burke believes that in order to create real change, we need to teach children about consent from an early age.

“If you can teach kids to say ‘thank you’ and ‘thank you’ and not to run with scissors, then you can teach them about healthy boundaries, about not touching people without consent,” she says.

“These are really simple ideas. If we instill it in our children at a very young age, and then we store it year after year. [in a way] it is age-appropriate, then we have young people growing into adults who understand that consent and bodily autonomy or human rights.

“We raise our children to believe that all the adults around them have authority and that the knowledge of adults is absolute.

For example, when we go on vacation, we visit other people and we say, ‘Hug your aunt, hug your uncle’ – or even a friend of the family.

“I think we’re making it something scary and bad, and because sexual violence is not about sex, it’s not sexual to talk to children about protecting themselves. It’s about respect, it’s about borders.”

Prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse

Burke says that when she started this work, she clearly remembers an incident that showed her how pervasive sexual assault and assault really was.

Tarana Burke, wearing a long light blue dress, speaks on stage at a TED conference.
Tarana Burke says she as a survivor is still healing. (Flicker: TED Conference)

“I remember I was in a classroom when we first started using the term ‘Me Too,'” she says.

“We had done a workshop, we gave each of the girls in the classroom – about 60 girls maybe – a piece of sticker and said, ‘Tell us three things we learned in class. And if you have survived sexual violence, write ‘Me too’, if you will, if you feel compelled to do so. ‘

“We did it so that no one was separated.

“I always thought this work would be for children, for young people. And I had grown women from all over the country to me and said, ‘Thank you for starting it, how can I bring this to my hometown?’

“And I thought we’re on to something that’s so important and so necessary, [and] bigger than I had ever imagined.

“What we need to understand is the story of sexual violence. The story of sexual violence is that when people, especially women, come up with an accusation or revelation, they tend not to be believed at the time of revelation.

“When people say ‘I believe in her’, it means taking it seriously. Do not shut the person down.”

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