Social activist Tarana Burke started using the phrase “Me Too” on MySpace in 2006 as part of a campaign to empower black women through empathy. Burke said she was inspired to use that phrase in response to a 13-year-old girl who told her that she had been sexually assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend. The confession, making Burke feel helpless, encouraged her to respond with “me too”, according to the Washington Post.
In October 2017, American actress Alyssa Milano reused the phrase as part of an awareness campaign to highlight the magnitude of sexual harassment and sexual assault as pervasive issues and encourage sexual assault victims to come forward and show solidarity with one another. 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.” This quickly helped the hashtag gain momentum.
Soon, celebrities including Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rose McGowan, Lady Gaga, Reese Witherspoon, Christina Perri, Heather Graham, Sheryl Crow, and Ellen DeGeneres tweeted using the hashtag, causing it to spread on an even wider scale. The hashtag #MeToo was used more than 200,000 times on Twitter when it first came to prominence, but soon the number of tweets jumped to 500,000, BBC reported.
On Facebook alone, the hashtag had been used by more than 4.7 million people in 12 million posts in 24 hours, according to CNN. The hashtag trended in at least 85 countries, used in different languages according to each victim’s country.
Interestingly, lots of men have also taken part in the movement and tweeted about being exposed to sexual harassment themselves.
#WhatWereYouWearing, #YouOkSis, and #SurvivorPrivilege were all similar movements that were started by women of colour as well, but have not gained the same reach as #MeToo.
Time magazine recently named its “Person of the Year” for 2017. as the ‘Silence Breakers’, referring to the women who spoke out about their sexual abuse experiences, including through the #MeToo campaign. Time’s annual distinction recognises the person, group, or idea that had the largest influence on events and news throughout the year.
The list of potential winners included Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s 31-year-old leader; Patty Jenkins, director of “Wonder Woman”, being the first woman to direct a film that made more than $100m in its opening weekend; Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the youngest of 16 princes in Saudi Arabia; Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon; Robert Muller, the man leading the investigation of possible Trump campaign-Russia collusion; US President Donald Trump, who was chosen as Time’s Person of the Year in 2016 and who was previously accused of sexual harassment himself; Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China; and the “Dreamers”, thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the US by their parents facing uncertain futures if the Trump administration continues with its plans to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme that allows non-American citizens who entered the country as minors to be eligible for work authorisation in the country and shields them from deportation.
“This is the fastest moving social change we’ve seen in decades, and it began with individual acts of courage by hundreds of women, and some men, who came forward to tell their own stories of sexual harassment and assault,” Time’s editor-in-chief, Edward Felsenthal, said, commenting on Time’s choice for 2017’s Person of the Year, according to Vice.
While the “Silence Breakers” are Time’s favourite group for 2017, critics remain sceptical of the effectiveness of such movements as #MeToo, claiming that it could devolve into another aspect of “an individualistic neoliberal feminism”, leaving men like Donald Trump and Roy Moore—a former US Senate candidate accused of sexually assaulting teenagers—unscathed.
CNN reported that the hashtag received criticism for putting the responsibility of publicising sexual harassment on those who experienced it, which could easily re-traumatise the victims. The Huffington Post said that some have found the hashtag to inspire outrage and negative emotions, rather than foster good communication.
Noteworthy, Time’s choice of the “Silence Breakers” is not the first time the magazine chose a group of unnamed people for its “Person of the Year”. In 2011, the magazine chose “The Protester”, and in 2014 it chose “Ebola Fighters”.