Tarana Burke is tired.
The activist who founded the Me Too movement talked about her exhaustion and how the movement she created over a decade ago has taken a different trajectory, during a riveting TED Talk at TEDWomen on Thursday in Palm Springs, California. Burke, a youth activist from New York City, discussed how she has seen her work take off this past year since the Me Too hashtag went viral, sparking a global movement to end sexual violence.
“The reality is,” Burke began her 16-minute talk, “after soldiering through the Supreme Court nomination process and attacks from the White House, gross mischaracterizations, internet trolls and the rallies and marches and heart-wrenching testimonies, I’m faced with my own hard truth: I am numb.”
The Me Too movement has made great strides, taking down Hollywood executives and uncovering systemic sexual abuse in different communities around the world. Still, Burke said, it’s hard to really feel the movement is progressing.
“This movement is constantly being called a watershed moment or even a reckoning, but I wake up some days feeling like all evidence points to the contrary,” she said. “It’s hard not to feel numb. I suspect some of you may feel numb too.”
The backlash against the movement has not been easy. From President Donald Trump — accused of sexual misconduct himself — mocking sexual assault survivors to pundits calling the movement a witch hunt or sparking a gender war, the road has not been easy, Burke said.
“Suddenly a movement that was started to support all survivors of sexual violence is being talked about like it’s a vindictive plot against men. And I’m like, ‘Huh? How did we get here?’” she said.
Suddenly a movement that was started to support all survivors of sexual violence is being talked about like it’s a vindictive plot against men. Tarana Burke
“We have moved so far away from the origins of this movement that started a decade ago,” she continued. “Or even the intentions of the hashtag that started just a year ago, that sometimes the Me Too movement I hear some people talk about is unrecognizable to me.”
Burke reminded the room why it’s so important to right the course of the Me Too movement, adding that this reckoning is about “about the far-reaching power of empathy.”
To be clear, this is a movement about the 1 in 4 girls and the 1 in 6 boys who are sexually assaulted every year and who carry those wounds into adulthood. It’s about the 84 percent of trans women who will be sexually assaulted this year. And the indigenous women who are three and a half times more likely to be sexually assaulted than any other group. Or people with disabilities who are seven times more likely to be sexually abused. It’s about the 60 percent of black girls like me who will be experiencing sexual violence before they turn 18. And the thousands and thousands of low-wage workers who are being sexually harassed right now on jobs that they can’t afford to quit.
She added that the world is experiencing “collective trauma” in the wake of Me Too and that what we do with that trauma will determine whether the movement can truly effect change.
“This accumulation of feelings that so many of us are experiencing together, across the globe, is collective trauma. But it is also the first step towards actively building a world that we want right now,” Burke said. “What we do with this thing that we’re all holding is the evidence that this is bigger than a moment. It’s the confirmation that we are in a movement.”
Watch Burke’s full TED Talk above.