Unless you’ve been living under a stone you’re probably familiar with #MeToo. But, like me, you probably thought it all started with Alyssa Milano. Not so … read on to find out more about the powerful origin of #MeToo.
Where did #MeToo originate?
It started with activist Tarana Burke. She created the phrase “Me Too” on social media in 2006 as part of a campaign to promote empowerment through empathy among women of colour who had experienced sexual abuse, particularly within underprivileged communities.
What or who inspired the phrase?
When asked, Tarana said she was inspired to use the phrase after being unable to respond to a 13-year-old girl who confided to her that she had been sexually assaulted. She later wished she had simply told the girl, “me too”.
Tarana said that #MeToo is a “bold declarative statement that ‘I’m not ashamed’ and ‘I’m not alone.'”
Why is #MeToo associated with Alyssa Milano?
In October 2017, Alyssa Milano encouraged using the phrase to help reveal the extent of problems with sexual harassment and assault, especially in the workplace, to demonstrate how widespread the problem is and show how many people have experienced these events themselves.
She tweeted “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
What happened next?
#MeToo spread virally in October 2017 and since then, the phrase has been posted online millions of times, often with an accompanying personal story of sexual harassment or assault.
It was tweeted by Alyssa around noon on October 15, 2017 and had been used more than 200,000 times by the end of the day. During the next 24 hours it was tweeted more than 500,000 times and the hashtag was used by more than 4.7 million people in 12 million posts on Facebook.
Is #MeToo only used in connection with sexual harassment and assault?
No. Now it has spread across the world and means different things to different people but remains essentially supportive of any person, people or communities who feel marginalised.
Has #MeToo had any social impact for change?
Tarana stated in an interview that the conversation has expanded, and now in addition to empathy there is also a focus on determining the best ways to hold perpetrators responsible and stop the cycle.
Thoughts on changes to workplace policies.
Tarana has advocated a change to “legitimate things like policies and laws”, including the review and updating of sexual harassment policies.
Alyssa Milano has also stated that there should be a universal code of conduct and a standard protocol across all industries so victims are able to file complaints and be taken seriously without fear of retaliation. She stated that a priority for #MeToo should be changing the laws surrounding sexual harassment and assault.
She supports a legal framework that makes it harder for publicly listed companies to hide cover-up money from their shareholders and opposes the practice of requiring new employees sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (that would silence future victims from talking about what happened in the workplace) as a condition of their employment.
Indeed one could also extend that to reviewing the appropriateness of allowing Non-Disclosure Agreements for Sexual Harassment when a victim either leaves or receives compensation.
And what about the role of HR?
There are those who will point the finger at HR and say not enough has been done and that HR needs to be braver on this matter. That may be the case in many instances but not across the board.
Fairer would be for us all to take responsibility and be braver in rejecting all forms of sexual harassment at work. So the next time you see it happen, jump in, intervene ……. ‘Time’s Up’.