#Metoo: How a Hashtag Failed to be Intersectional

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Illustration by Anna McGrew

What’s on your mind, Georgia?” my Facebook status update glares back at me.

Going on social media the days following the “MeToo” hashtag trend was a triggering experience for me. Between my family, friends and myself, the magnitude of sexual violence we have experienced and will continue to experience is overwhelming. And for a week, opening Facebook meant confronting this reality.

Actress Alyssa Milano called for the “MeToo” hashtag on Oct. 15 to bring visibility to the immensity of sexual assault and harassment following the Harvey Weinstein allegations in Hollywood. But Milano didn’t know that Black activist Tarana Burke began the “Me Too” movement 10 years ago for young women of color, intending for the words to be shared among survivors.

Milano has since apologized and accredited Burke as the creator, but there are important distinctions between the meanings of Milano’s hashtag and Burke’s movement.

Burke created her movement in 2007 for survivors to connect with other survivors by recognizing how difficult it is to share experiences. She specifically began this movement for young women of color, many of whom don’t have access to resources and support.

While the movement existed on Myspace, it was founded on the idea of personal, rather than public, conversations between survivors. Burke believes that by saying “me too” to each other, empowerment can be built through knowing you are not alone.

“What’s happening now is powerful and I salute it and the women who have disclosed,” Burke said to Ebony magazine, “but the power of using ‘me too’ has always been [about] the fact that it can be a conversation starter or the whole conversation — but it was us talking to us.”

Milano’s intent was to use social media to show how many people have been affected by sexual assault. She used her platform of white economic privilege to ignite other white feminists to come forward, creating a movement that was not intersectional.

This is a typical example of white feminism because sexual assault disproportionately affects people of color and low socio-economic status, but the conversation on social media only gained momentum once white Hollywood actresses came forward.

Though I am not a woman of color, I don’t want to participate in a hashtag phenomenon that is not intersectional and inclusive.

The “Me Too” movement versus #MeToo initiate different conversations — one focused on solidarity, the other on visibility. The hashtag allows people who hold power to talk openly about sexual assault but the internet is not a brave space for those without power. Many people face shame from their communities based on social and cultural factors. Survivors may also have very real fear of their perpetrators.

Other than a lack of intersectionality, the hashtag exemplifies another important social problem. Like most campaigns regarding awareness to sexual violence, the burden is put on the victims, not the perpetrators.

It should not be my job to inform other people why sexual assault is oppressive, a problem and a crime. Choosing not to post made me feel my experience was invisible, that I was not jumping at the opportunity to share my experience. As writer Alexis Benveniste tweeted, “Survivors don’t owe you their story.”

I felt my trauma was being trivialized — my experience cannot be equated or expressed in a two-word hashtag. #MeToo was blowing up news feeds for a week and now Facebook pages have reverted back to memes and BuzzFeed videos. Sexual assault is a crime as old as time, not a hashtag that is here today and gone tomorrow.

As a society, we need to talk about and destigmatize sexual violence, and I am happy that many people found power in the community #MeToo built. But viral hashtags overlook the barriers to power that many survivors are not granted.

We can’t pretend the issue comes without invisibility for people of color, lower socio-economic status and all of us working through the trauma of sexual violence.