Tarana Burke and the Birth of the #MeToo Movement

Beyond the unprecedented reach, scale and momentum of the #metoo movement, Tarana Burke reminds us in her memoir, that saying ‘me too’ was always about one thing: letting survivors know that they are not alone. 

For many people, ‘Me Too’ brings to mind the Hollywood actresses who shared their experiences of sexual assault by acclaimed, powerful men who controlled their careers and thereby, felt entitled to their bodies. The arrests and convictions these stories propelled has altered the very language of sexual assault for good. But few know that ‘Me Too’ began as a model of empathy and community support among young Black survivors led by Tarana Burke. 

In ‘Unbound’ Tarana Burke shares the beginnings of this work, along with her own experience of assault and the importance of support and healing she found with fellow survivors. Reading these experiences is not easy, her words stayed with me for days, weighing on my heart, but her journey is also one of incredible hope and joy. 

She shares: 

“The story I’m going to tell is about how we got to those two simple but infinitely powerful words: me too. The story of how empathy for others -without which the work of ‘me too’ doesn’t exist- starts with empathy for that dark place of shame where we keep our stories, and where I kept mine.”   

Sometimes I’m saddened by the backlash this movement gets, when I hear men, and women too, saying ‘me too has gone too far’, code for ‘it’s so annoying that men have to be accountable for their behaviour.’ It’s also easy to feel disheartened by how many women are still denied justice, or whose stories are met with disbelief and judgment. 

But this book reminds me of how I felt when I first read the stories women began sharing. It reminded me that this model is too powerful, and that it is first and foremost about survivors, affirming each other through story and space. 

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