This past week, a movement has taken over social media. A hashtag has been sweeping across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more: #MeToo. The spark began with actress Alyssa Milano tweeting from her account to encourage women to use the hashtag if they have been victims of sexual violence, harassment or assault.
“Me too. Suggested by a friend: If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” read the picture Milano shared with her tweet. “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”
According to Twitter, the hashtag had been tweeted more than half a million times in only 24 hours. The words had become a means for women, and men, to share their experiences publicly, giving as many or as little details about their stories as they wished. The hashtag provided solidarity with just two words.
Celebrities including Anna Paquin, Debra Messing, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union and Evan Rachel Wood joined the movement as well. The movement comes right after the uproar over Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault allegations, but sheds a more positive and unifying light on the subject. People were waking up to social media feeds dominated by people’s personal stories and support for each other.
Even as the social media movement has been growing in popularity over the past few days, people don’t seem to be aware that the campaign has been around for about 10 years now.
Being a survivor of sexual violence herself, Tamara Burke created the movement 10 years ago, as she embarked on a personal journey of healing. She wanted to create a way for victims of sexual and gender-based violence to find and give empathy.
“Me Too is largely about empathy. We use a term called empowerment through empathy,” said Burke in an interview with Mic. “It’s short and succinct, but it’s powerful.”
Burke shared that, as a survivor, she felt the safest when people were able to empathize with and understand her experience. Her movement is primarily about giving people a voice and starting a conversation.
“I also believe in the beauty of Me Too. I believe in the beauty of people being in community and supporting each other,” Burke said. “There’s no story that’s unimportant. There’s no person whose experience shouldn’t be validated. There’s nobody who can’t express or disclose what has happened to them and …everybody is important.”
Burke explains gender-based violence can be anything from sexual harassment to murder, and can occur to both women and men. The spectrum is a large one, which is what has made this movement so popular. People are sharing a wide range of experiences and connecting to others.
“So I say to those women (who are afraid to speak out), you can stand up and talk about it,” Burke said. “There’s somebody else who’s had your very experience who doesn’t want to talk about it who you might help when they hear ‘Oh, that’s exactly what happened to me.’ Tell your story if you feel compelled to tell it because not only will it help someone else, it will help you.”
Burke’s daughter is also a survivor and she explains how difficult that conversation was for them to have. But it ultimately led to her daughter becoming more heavily involved in her work.
“It was the first time after saying it (that I was a survivor of sexual violence) that I didn’t feel like it was my fault,” said daughter, Kaia Burke. “She’s made us feel like it’s not our fault and you’re not alone.”
Burke has been using her campaign as a platform to spark empathy as well as to inform. She frequently speaks about her experience as well as educating about consent and the definition of gender-based violence. She also believes in changing the cultural narrative. According to her, it’s often assumed that women are the only one that go through this, but men are starting to open up and speak out about this, which she says is “phenomenal.”
“We should have a conversation about consent, we should be having conversations about what men can do to stop sexual violence.”
The “Me Too” campaign has shown how social media can be an excellent outlet for activism in today’s society. But, as powerful as the movement has been, people have been keeping quiet, which they are entitled to. The hashtag is just the tip of the iceberg. As many people that have been being vocal, there are even more people keeping quiet and people following the movement need to understand that.
“Survivors are really the only ones who truly understand other survivors, and I think that’s been one of the most wonderful things to come out of the hashtag blooming,” Burke said. “It’s a massive movement and I just hope we don’t stop talking about it when the hashtag dies down. What’s next is to keep going.”
Julia Mancini is the associate life editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at Julia.email@example.com.