In October 2017, the sex crime scandal involving famous Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein shook the world. The revelation that Harvey Weinstein had used his reputation and power in the film industry to sexually assault countless women ignited the MeToo movement. The MeToo movement’s beginnings, however, actually started much earlier. What happened from the time when MeToo was first created until the time when the movement shook the world?
The Beginning and Development of #MeToo
The Founder of MeToo, Tarana Burke.
Tarana Burke was born in 1973 in the Bronx, New York. Since childhood, she had been interested in activism and helping her community. From her teen years, she had participated in various activities to address problems such as housing inequality, racism and economic injustice. In the late 1980’s she joined a group called the ‘21st Century Youth Leadership Movement’, assisting teenagers in need. After graduating university she continued to be active in youth leadership, encountering many girls and women of color who were survivors of sexual violence and abuse. A survivor of sexual assault herself, Tarana wanted to help these women and those like them.
In 2007, Tarana founded a non-profit organisation called Just Be Inc, for underage girls of color. The program hosted by Just Be Inc was so effective that it was adopted by all public schools in Selma, Alabama, where she lived. Not long after, the ‘MeToo’ movement was born. The phrase was used to emphasize “empowerment through empathy”, for women of color sharing their stories. The first ‘MeToo’ movement was designed to help women of color adapt and contribute to their communities, as well as heal from sexual violence.
Tarana continued her non-profit organization activities afterwards. She served as the executive director of a Black arts organization, created programs for underprivileged youth, and was a curatorial consultant and special projects director at the National Voting Rights Museum & Institute. She also held a consulting position in the film "Selma," which tells the story of Martin Luther King’s voting rights marches in 1965.
While Tarana Burke was working on racial minority and women's rights, Harvey Weinstein's sex crime scandal in 2017 began to draw attention to her MeToo movement.
The Re-Ignitor of MeToo, Alyssa Milano.
On October 8, 2017, after the New York Times reported accusations of years of sexual assault and molestation, Harvey Weinstein was fired by the Weinstein Company. The report signified the moment Weinstein’s horrible crimes, committed over decades, came to the surface through the courage of his victims. Dozens of movie stars and officials stepped forward, asserting that they too had been sexually harassed and assaulted by Weinstein.
While the world was reeling in anger along with the victims, American actress and activist Alyssa Milano was also reading the article about Harvey Weinstein. At that time, her friend, American activist and author Charlotte Clymer, suggested to her…
On October 16, 2017, Alyssa posted a tweet with Charlotte's suggestion, and the caption "If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet." She then fell asleep, and awoke the next day to see the tweet had snowballed.
Starting with Alyssa's tweet, people who had been sexually harassed and sexually assaulted, as well as people with stories about Harvey Weinstein, began sharing their stories on social media with the #MeToo hashtag. There was an explosive response, with more than 12 million Facebook posts, comments and reactions in the first 24 hours. Anger, which had originally been limited to the film industry, spread beyond the levee into the lives of everyone all around the world. It was the very starting point of the MeToo movement that we know today.
Two Starting Lines, One Destination
On October 12, 2017, before Alyssa Milano's mention of "#Metoo," American actress Rose McGowan was suspended from Twitter after uploading posts about Harvey Weinstein. A Twitter official stated that the account was temporarily locked because one of her posts included a personal phone number and violated the terms of service, but people questioned the decision to lock the account instead of deleting the individual posts. Angry at the absurdity, people launched a Twitter boycott campaign with the #WomenBoycottTwitter hashtag the next day.
Black, Latin and other women of color had slightly different ideas. They launched their own campaign called #WOCAffirmation (abbreviation of Women Of Color). There was a difference in the way women of color and white women were treated when they report abuse. They stressed the racist implications within sex crimes, saying that they are less noticed than white women, and that the abuse of women of color is taken for granted. When Alyssa first started the #MeToo movement, some women of color protested, fearing their experiences were once more being erased.
In fact, Alyssa was a white woman who was unaware of Tarana's previous MeToo movement, so she contacted Tarana two days after posting the "#MeToo" post and expressed her desire to join forces. At first, Tarana was afraid that her movement would lose it’s original meaning and be used for unintended purposes, but soon changed her mind. The initial purpose and opportunity were different, but in the end, what they both wanted was the shared goal of feminism and women's safety.
Tarana Burke stated, "I think it is selfish for me to try to frame MeToo as something that I own. It is bigger than me and bigger than Alyssa Milano. Neither one of us should be centered in this work. This is about survivors”, accepting Alyssa's request for solidarity.
After a conversation with Tarana, Alyssa appeared on the American talk show "Good Morning America" and announced that her MeToo movement was the same as Tarana's. The two movements crossed the divides and conflicts of race and finally became a powerful force for change.
- The MeToo movement was first created by Tarana Burke in 2007 for Women of Color
- In 2017, Alyssa Milano re-ignited the MeToo movement, extending the outrage towards the Harvey Weinstein case in the film industry to all aspects of society