The Whisper That Learned to Roar
by Cindi D. Pietrzyk
It started in heartbreak. It is the whisper that has turned into a roar. They are the words so difficult to utter that they can often only come out as a whisper full of pain and shame.
More than a decade ago, youth worker Tarana Burke was hosting a bonding session at a youth camp in Alabama when a girl named Heaven approached her with “a deep sadness and a yearning for confession that [Burke] read immediately and wanted no part of.” The girls Burke worked with were predominately girls of color from broken homes. “I had seen and heard my share of heartbreaking stories from broken homes to abusive or neglectful parents when I met Heaven,” she says on her web page, JustBeInc.com. But something about Heaven touched something deep inside Burke, something she wanted to keep quiet, something she wanted to leave alone, to ignore. Heaven persisted, though, and all but begged Burke to listen to her until Burke relented. “For the next several minutes this child, Heaven, struggled to tell me about her ‘stepdaddy’ or rather her mother’s boyfriend who was doing all sorts of monstrous things to her developing body,” writes Burke. “I was horrified by her words, the emotions welling inside of me ran the gamut, and I listened until I literally could not take it anymore . . . which turned out to be less than 5 minutes.” She then stopped Heaven and referred her to another counselor who Burke told her could “help her better” than she.
As this young, precious girl left Burke she “watched her walk away from me as she tried to recapture her secrets and tuck them back into their hiding place.” As she struggled with what she had just done, how she had rejected this little girl so in need of help and understanding, she couldn’t bring herself to even whisper the two words this little girl so desperately needed to hear; the two words that would bring healing, support, identification, compassion; the two words that would tell this child she was not alone. Burke could not form the words, but inside she was screaming, “Me Too.”
But Burke did eventually find her strength. She understood that victims of sexual violence need to know they are not alone. That knowledge is a first step in healing. So Burke launched the #MeToo movement on social media as a way to reach out to her immediate community. She encouraged women or men who had been the victims of sexual violence to respond to her post with “Me Too” so that the magnitude of the problem might be realized. It was 2006 and her platform was Myspace. As she says in a video on Business Insider, “There was no such thing as viral back then. But if there was, this would be as close to that as possible.” The idea took off and so many people reached out to say thank you to Burke. That’s when she realized how big the issue of sexual violence is in our country, and around the word.
The hashtag floated around for the next several years on Facebook and other platforms. But it took Alyssa Milano’s October 15, 2017, retweet to really get the ball rolling. And roll it did. “I sent the tweet and went to sleep,” said Milano in a December 6, 2017, interview on Today. “I woke up and there were 53,000 replies.”
According to a December 1, 2017, article in The Guardian, #MeToo is active on Twitter in 85 countries and has been posted 85 million times on Facebook. It is still going strong and the numbers have surely risen.
What started as a campaign to help one woman’s community has blossomed into a world-wide movement. Burke’s initial response was panic. “I definitely panicked at first,” she explains. “And then I had another layer of panic, because I was like, God there’s millions of women disclosing their experience, or people disclosing their experience with sexual violence, and there’s no container to process this. There’s nobody here to help them, to walk through what disclosure feels like. What do you do after you put #MeToo?”
There is much work to be done. The issues coming to the forefront over the last few months, be it Black Lives Matter, Times Up, Me Too, etc., are not going to flash and burn out. None of these are going to be simply moments in our history, they are movements. There is work to be done, work that needs to continue even after the spotlight fades and people’s interest is hijacked for the next big thing. Check The Woman’s Report often for articles on ways you can get involved and make a difference.
As people across the world begin to whisper, “Me Too” others will hear and take strength. Kindred spirits will fortify each other and the whisper will persist. It will roar. It will not be silenced again.
So when the Hollywood elite stop wearing black in support, when the white roses wither and fall out of fashion, when people get tired of hearing about the Harvey Weinsteins of the world, people like Burke will be working still. They will fight to get laws passed to protect the victims, to get laws passed to make coming forward easier and a little less painful, to get education to those who need it so they know how to process the emotions disclosure brings and so they know they are not alone and that there are people willing to listen so that no one ever needs to “tuck their secrets back into their hiding place,” to get the word out to those who would perpetrate violence on another without consequence. No more. Time’s up. We hear you. I know you hurt. #Me Too.