In 2006, Tarana Burke founded the Me Too movement. The movement aims to create a community and support system for sexual assault survivors. This platform allows for survivors to share their stories in the public eye, accompanied by the hashtag #MeToo, with the purpose of informing the public and empowering survivors. The sharing of these stories allows for the public to be informed of the magnitude of the issue, while recognizing the personal impact it has on individuals, in order to begin an entire societal shift to change the current state of the sexual violence epidemic. In addition to informing the public, the movement allows for survivors to recognize they are not alone, feel more comfortable coming forward with their own stories, feel empowered to break their silence, and ultimately find a starting point to begin the healing process. Tarana’s ideology behind the movement is “empowerment through empathy”.
In October of last year, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Within 24 hours, there were over 12 million posts and interactions involving #MeToo. To the millions involving themselves with the trending hashtag, Alyssa Milano had seemingly started a movement. What was ignored was Tarana Burke’s movement, under the same name and ideology, that had been founded ten years earlier. Burke was shocked to see Milano’s tweet and the explosion of #MeToo, stating, “Initially I panicked. I felt a sense of dread, because something that was part of my life’s work was going to be co-opted and taken from me and used for a purpose that I hadn’t originally intended” (qtd. in Garcia). The widespread popularity of this movement being initiated by a white, famous woman, without the credit given to the actual founder, a black woman, creates an inherent issue with the hashtag that leaves women of color out of the conversation, while the spotlight is held over famous, white cisgender women.
Another group that remains marginalized by the #MeToo movement are trans and non-binary identifying people. First, the language involved in the movement, with the usage of “women and femme”, centers the conversation around the gender binary. This frames the dialogue as a cis men vs. cis women issue, leaving trans/non-binary people out of the conversation. Trans women are still not viewed as women in many circles of society, and as a result, their stories are often invalidated, pushed to the side and ignored. Last year, on RuPaul’s podcast Whats The Tee?, Rose McGowan, actress, Weinstein accuser and an active member in the #MeToo movement, said, “They [trans women] assume because they felt like a woman on the inside . . . That’s not developing as a woman. That’s not growing as a woman, that’s not living in this world as a woman.” If people with power involved in the movement perpetuate the idea of trans women not being women and invalidating their experiences, this idea will also embed itself in the movement. “Welcome to womanhood” is a phrase trans women are often met with when they come forward with their experiences of sexual violence (Mamone), rather than being met with support, as cis women are. Many trans and GNC people do not feel comfortable participating in this conversation because of the fear of the lack of support they will receive, or even backlash. They also don’t feel comfortable asserting themselves into the conversation because they do not see themselves represented in the conversation. No trans/gender nonconforming people were featured in Time Magazine’s profile of the #MeToo “SilenceBreakers” last year.
The #MeToo movement ignores the fact that trans and gender non-conforming people experience the greatest amount of violence due to gender. According the the National Center for Transgender Equality, “47 percent of trans people say they experienced sexual violence sometime during their lives” (qtd. in Talusan). Not only are trans people at risk of unwanted sexual advances, but they are also at greater risk of physical assault and murder because of their identity. Intersectional journalist, Meredith Talusan, discusses how the MeToo hashtag only aims to help cis women, as the experiences of trans and GNC people are not brought to the forefront, even though they experience the greatest oppression. Talusan states, ”We continue to be footnotes in discussions of gender-based violence, even when we’re the most affected.”
While the #MeToo movement leaves women of color, trans women and non-binary people out of the conversation, the structure and goal of the conversation itself may not even help to make a change within our society. Although the movement absolutely has the potential to bring a sense of solidarity to victims, an issue lies with the movement’s goal of raising awareness of the problem. Wagatwe Sara Wanjuki describes this issue:
“”Me, too” is framed as an attempt to convince people that sexual violence is a problem. It implies that sexual violence is pervasive simply because (mostly) men don’t understand that it’s so prevalent, which I don’t believe. It reinforces the idea
that if there are enough numbers on your side, then we should believe and listen. One victim should be enough for us to care. One survivor is already too many. Listening and believing survivors is great, but it should be the first step of many in doing our part to end sexual violence. We need everyone to participate in raising awareness and taking concrete actions against rape culture, rather than leaving it to survivors to do the heavy lifting.”
The #MeToo movement places the work on the survivors; relying on them to come forward with their stories in order to initiate change in society. The problem lies within the abusers, and we must target them directly to initiate change. We must also work to put the most marginalized groups, women of color, trans and gender non-conforming people, at the forefront of the
conversation. Problems will exist within any movement, and it is important to examine and address the issues head-on in order to create a more inclusive, intersectional, and successful movement.
Feature Image Credit: Google Images