#MeToo creator answers 10 questions and perfectly explains what the movement is all about.

This black woman started #MeToo years ago. Now, she's paving the way toward change.

Photo by Kris Conner/Getty Images for Comedy Central.

Tarana Burke has been working as an activist for years, but her work has become internationally recognized in recent months after #MeToo went viral.

A longtime advocate for sexual assault survivors, Burke has devoted her life to improving the lives of young girls from marginalized groups. Historically, women of color have often been left out or virtually ignored in conversations around sexual assault and abuse. Burke has made black and brown girls the center of her work and is a driving force in making the #MeToo movement intersectional.

Burke’s visible leadership points to an important shift in feminist causes: Women of color must participate and create, but also be elevated as leaders and innovators.  

Burke talked with Upworthy about this need and the importance of intersectionality in the #MeToo movement.


(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

Was there anything that affected your journey early on for working with survivors?

I'm a survivor of sexual assault and sexual violence multiple times, and that was a catalyst for sure. Seeing how much trauma there was in our community was also definitely a catalyst for wanting to use my organizing background to do something to confront this issue.

How has the public response to survivors of sexual assault changed since you began working with them?

In these last several months, it’s changed exponentially. You have to really fight to get people to pay attention to sexual violence as an issue, specifically as a social justice issue.

It’s changed exponentially since it’s become so public and there’s so much media attention to it. People now have the space and the capacity to talk about this in a different way, and those of us who do the work have been fond of taking advantage of the moment to support survivors.

Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for National CARES Mentoring.

How has social media impacted this huge change within the last few months?

Well, I mean, it’s the catalyst for the change, right? The message has been carried forward and ... has helped shape the public narrative. Mainstream media has done a lot to shape the general dialogue, but I think social media is a great tool for undoing what the mainstream media gets wrong.

When #MeToo gained traction online, many white feminists jumped on this and someone distorted the message and its origins. Social media resurrected your work on influence on this movement. Can you speak to how you felt during that experience and what your response was?  

I felt concerned about what was going to happen to the body of work that I'd created, how it was going to be understood in this moment of pop culture meeting that work. But that was quickly dispelled within days ... I was able to insert myself into the conversation.

Intersectionality has been central to the movement's progression today. How do you think that your leadership as black woman visibly creating and leading this movement affects it as a whole?

I think that we have a dearth in black women’s leadership in general, and particularly in large-scale social justice movements in the country. So what we’ve seen over the last several years is that black women have been central to some of the larger social justice movements that have happened in the United States and abroad.

I think that my position as a leader of this work will contribute to that tradition of black women in leadership. Hopefully, what we'll see is a shift in people’s response to leadership.

Why did you make the decision to work with black and brown girls specifically?

Because that’s the work that I do and I’ve always done it. I’ve always worked in my community, and I’ve put my people first. The work expanded over the years and has expanded to deal with all kinds of survivors, but I have always centered the most marginalized people.  

Photo by DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images.

How do you think making intersectionality so central to the movement impacts feminist causes overall?

Any work — social justice work, any kind of work that is involving justice — has to have an intersectional lens. I think people have learned a word, but I don’t know if they’ve learned a practice. I think the word is used abnormally at this point for people that are having conversations, sort of like white privilege. But understanding the word and being able to regurgitate the definition is very different from amplification and actual action happening. So that remains to be seen.

There’s a growing understanding around it, and I think the younger generation really has a stronger grasp of the need for that approach to doing the work than (possibly) people in my generation.

Why do you think that young people have that stronger grasp?

People from my generation have been talking about it for 20 years, and people in this generation have picked this up. And now we have things like social media, and people can create their own media to continue to push those things out so that people can learn on their own.

It’s not so much of what people are learning in school — it’s those people that are speaking out on how to do this work. They know have access to this work that other folks didn’t have access to. It’s starting to shift the way that people think and interact.

The #MeToo movement has grown quite a bit in the last few months. How do you feel about the state of the movement today?

I think that there are positives and negatives, like anything else. I think there are huge misconceptions about what this movement is about. And the biggest part of the work for those of us who are doing the work is to change the narrative. But it's also gives us an expanded platform to talk about sexual violence in ways that we have been determined to since the beginning. So we have to take advantage of that.

Some critics have insinuated (or plainly stated) that the movement has lost its way or has been diluted, even comparing it to a witch hunt. What would you say in response to that criticism?  

I would say that they don’t know what this movement is.

First and foremost, not even including my body of work before this moment took place, Alyssa Milano’s tweet had nothing to do with anything but people making a declaration about what they experienced, so that the world could see the magnitude of it.

Everything else that has happened, every consequence, every fallout, has nothing to do with the work that we have to do to support survivors. And that’s all this movement is about. It’s about supporting survivors and doing the work to end sexual violence.

Burke is the founder of Just Be Inc. She has a forthcoming memoir on her life and the ways in which sexual violence impacts the lives of black and brown girls in America set for release in 2019.

More


Hollywood is finally moving closer to equality. The past few years have seen a growing number of films starring, written by and directed by women. There's still a lot of progress yet to be made, of course. But there's one area where women have been kicking butt and taking names for decades: action films. Ironically, action films are stereotyped as the launching pad of the manliest of manly men: Schwarzenegger, The Rock, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone and so on. But some of the biggest action hits, both critically and commercially, are led by women.

If you're looking to expand your home video library for the holidays or just searching for a great holiday playlist while taking out some healthy aggression, here are 12 of our all-time favorite films featuring strong women front and center.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

One in five pregnancies end in miscarriage. It's a sad and heartbreaking experience, but there still is a lot to learn from going through something so tragic. Beyoncé recently shared what she learned from her miscarriages in an "ask me anything" published in the January 2020 issue of Elle Magazine.

A fan asked Beyoncé if she was disappointed she didn't win awards for Lemonade and Homecoming. Beyoncé said her miscarriages helped put it in perspective. "I began to search for deeper meaning when life began to teach me lessons I didn't know I needed. Success looks different to me now. I learned that all pain and loss is in fact a gift," she said in Elle Magazine.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

Even though 68% of women in America where size 14 or above, plus sized women tend to draw more heat for the outfits that they wear, especially if those outfits are even remotely racy. Earlier this week, Lizzo was spotted at a LA Lakers game wearing the dress heard round the internet. Dubbed the "thong dress," Lizzo's t-shirt dress was straightforward in the front, but the back featured cutouts featuring her thong and fishnet stockings.

During the game, Lizzo twerked when the Laker Girls danced to her song "Juice," giving the crowd a full view of her ensemble.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

The Miss America pageant was started in 1921, but women of color were barred from participating until 1940. It took another 30 years for the first black woman to participate in the pageant in 1970. In 1983, Vanessa Williams became the first black woman to win Miss America. Now, the winners of all four major beauty pageants are all black women.

Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa was crowned Miss Universe, making this the first time in history that Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, and Miss Universe are all black women. Tunzi is the first black woman to win Miss Universe since 2011, when Leila Lopes took home the crown.


Keep Reading Show less