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#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.

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

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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