Now that the #MeToo movement has received its richly deserved recognition through Time magazine’s Person of the Year selection, I hope Tarana Burke is not erased from the movement to which she gave its name.
Since 1927, Time editors annually have recognized people who have most influenced the news during the previous year, for better or for worse. This year the magazine named “The Silence Breakers,” women who have spoken out against sexual harassment and assault.
First there was the massive Women’s March on Washington in January that dwarfed the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd the day before, despite Trump’s claims to the contrary (I’ve got pictures to prove it).
After allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual abuse and harassment broke in October, actor Alyssa Milano urged women to post #MeToo on social media if they’d experienced sexual harassment or assault. The movement went viral, with more than 12 million people responding in its first 24 hours, the Associated Press reported.
Since then, at least 80 public figures by Time’s count, posted on their website, have since faced accusations.
Yet unknown to Milano at the time of her first #MeToo post, another similar movement with the same slogan had been formed 10 years earlier by Tarana Burke, with much less fanfare or exposure. The name came from a troubling conversation the Philadelphia activist had had several years earlier with a 13-year-old girl at a summer camp for disadvantaged teens where Burke was working as a counselor.
The girl’s personal story of “monstrous” sexual abuse by her mother’s boyfriend horrified Burke so much, she later wrote in an online essay, that “right in the middle of her sharing her pain with me, I cut her off and immediately directed her to another female counselor who could ‘help her better.’”
“I didn’t have a response or a way to help her in that moment,” Burke wrote, “and I couldn’t even say ‘me too.’”
From those sentiments, she says, the “Me Too” movement was born. But after Alyssa Milano began to receive widespread credit for launching the #MeToo hashtag, Burke and her allies feared her name and efforts might be erased from the same national conversation – and history.
Fortunately, Milano soon shared the national stage with Burke. Burke was not included in Time’s cover photo of “Silence Breakers,” for some reason, but she is profiled inside.
Since Burke is African-American, such black-oriented websites as The Root and Ebony complained about her possibly being pushed to the backseat of history, along with the disadvantaged communities in which she has worked for years.
That’s a legitimate concern. Most of the news coverage and national chatter since the Weinstein scandal has centered on the sort of powerful men who walk the corridors of power in Hollywood, Washington and major news media as varied as Fox News, NBC and NPR.
But what about the other victims, overwhelmingly women, who do not have celebrity jobs or ritzy status to draw attention to their complaints?
That’s the next big arena into which the “Me Too” movement and its many allies, regardless of gender, needs to expand. Burke says so, too. Working-class women in such unglamorous jobs as farm workers and hotel housekeepers need sympathetic ears — and action — too.
Such ears too often are hard to find, but that is changing. For example, in a Chicago survey of 500 hotel workers by the Unite Here hospitality union, more than half said they had been sexually harassed by a guest, and 49 percent said they had experienced guests answering the door naked or otherwise exposing themselves.
The city passed a measure in October that requires hotels to provide panic buttons and sexual harassment-related training. New York earlier included panic buttons in a collective bargaining agreement with hotel unions.
Yet in Seattle, opposition from the hotel industry has stalled enforcement of a similar panic-button measure that voters approved in a referendum. As many wonder what’s next for “#MeToo” and its allies, I say we should look away from the celebrities and toward the less fortunate and most vulnerable. They, too, are saying “Me, too.”
Reach Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.