Now we know the issue that unites women across workplaces is abuse by more powerful men, how do we come up with demands that move beyond naming and shaming?
You never can tell where a social movement is going to come from. They’re built of a million injustices that pile up and up, and then, suddenly, spill over. I’ve spent years covering movements, trying to explain how one incident becomes the spark that catches, turning all those individual injustices into an inferno.
When the New York Times ran a story about Harvey Weinstein’s repulsive—and long—history of sexual harassment and assault in October last year, no one knew what it would start. But soon a wave of people, most of them, though not all of them, women, began to wield their stories like weapons in a battle that, for once, they seemed to be winning. Well, if not winning, then at least drawing some blood. When #MeToo began to circulate on Facebook I was beyond cynical; I was actually angry that the men around me might be shocked to learn that yes, it had happened to me, it had happened to almost every woman I know. Yet #MeToo defeated my cynicism and became something else: a watershed moment in contemporary feminism, one that has made sexual violence into big news.
Like so many movements that appear spontaneous, the #MeToo moment is built on the work of longtime organizers. Tarana Burke has worked for decades with young women of color who survived sexual violence, and in 2006 she named her campaign “me too” as an expression of solidarity. But when she found the words trending on social media last year she worried that they were being used for something that she did not recognize as her life’s work. Burke’s “me too” campaign was designed to support survivors, to get them resources and help them heal; despite #MeToo hinging on survivor stories, it has, Burke noted in a recent interview, been more focused on outing the actions of perpetrators.