Tony Robbins is an incredibly powerful man. But a video that went viral over the weekend revealed he has a major weakness when it comes to understanding women.
The 6-foot-7 self-help phenom, whose philosophy is based on strength, empowerment, and straight talk, regularly fills stadiums with devotees. But this time, while speaking to another sold-out room in late March, he went a little too far.
"I'm not knocking it," he said, but "if you use the #MeToo movement to try to get significance and certainty by attacking and destroying someone else, you haven't grown an ounce. All you've done is basically use a drug called significance to make yourself feel good."
Fortunately, one woman was brave enough to stand up to Robbins.
"I think you misunderstand the #MeToo movement," Nanine McCool said into the microphone. "Certainly there are people who are using it for their own personal devices, but there are also a significant number of people who are using it not to relive whatever may have happened to them, but to make it safe for the young women. So that they don't have to feel unsafe."
Robbins advanced on her with a fist out and then questioned whether resisting him is helping. He even suggested that he knew "a dozen men" who'd had to opt to hire men over a "more qualified" but "very attractive" woman "because it's too big of a risk."
"I think you do the whole movement a disservice," McCool replied to a torrent of applause.
Days later, McCool still refuses to back down.
In a conversation with Refinery 29 about the viral video published on April 8, McCool stated that as a survivor, she believes Robbins' assertion that anger was hurting the movement was wrong.
"Being sexually abused, harassed, raped, you're entitled to your rage," she told the outlet. "I just think that the #MeToo movement is a platform, a place for discussion and empathy."
Standing up wasn't easy, she said, but as she watched another powerful man display a startling lack of empathy for those who had been silenced, she felt like she had to do something.
"I don’t remember making that decision to stand up but at some point I was like, 'Oh my god, I'm yelling at Tony Robbins. I need to sit down,' but it was too late," McCool told Refinery29.
McCool says it was a painful experience; she could feel Robbins' anger. But she didn't sit down. Because she wasn't just standing up for herself — something #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, who weighed in on the controversy over the weekend, understands all too well.
"We need a complete cultural transformation if we are to eradicate sexual assault in our lifetimes," Burke explained in a statement on the movement's website. "It means we must build our families differently, engage our communities, and confront some of our long-held assumptions about ourselves."
There's a simple reason why Robbins' take on #MeToo is inherently flawed.
#MeToo isn't about attacking. It isn't about destroying. It's about bringing to light the sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault that's been kept under wraps for so long.
The goal is to provide empathy for those who have been harassed and to hold those who have committed these terrible acts (often powerful men) accountable. While the movement may make some men (including, apparently, Tony Robbins) uncomfortable, it's changing the landscape of how our society views and talks about sexual violence.
McCool's bravery should be a catalyst. And this moment is a reminder of how much the movement has yet to do.
In the days following the video's viral spread, McCool has been celebrated, and Robbins has been both vilified and defended. Soon after the video went viral, Robbins issued an apology, stating that he has much more to learn.
But no apology is as important as a commitment to do better. And watching the video, understanding its dynamics, and then vowing to listen to those who are pushing the movement forward is something that we all need to do.
As she told Refinery29, McCool hopes the video itself will be used to train men "who don't get it." She thinks we can all do better.
Because this isn't about punishment — it's about change. It's about listening to and believing survivors. It's about empathizing with those who are finally brave enough to come forward.
McCool just wants us all to keep the discussion going.