Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, offered dating advice to hundreds of women who filled a gym at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
“If you hear a man saying, ‘I don’t even know how to date in the era of #MeToo,’ don’t date that man,” she said, inspiring laughter and applause.
But most of her 90-minute presentation Tuesday night did not draw laughter. Burke spoke with wisdom and passion and honesty and nuance.
She founded the movement in 2007 to offer healing to women and men who had been sexually violated. A decade later, actress Alyssa Milano promoted the #MeToo hashtag and asked that those who had been sexually harassed or assaulted share the tag.
Over the next 24 hours, it was shared or posted 12 million times, according to The Associated Press.
In an instant, Burke transformed from diligent, little-known New York City crusader to international celebrity. She was on the cover of Time magazine. She signed a contract to write a book. She became the face of a burgeoning movement.
The movement helped topple Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and singing star R. Kelly. The movement also headed in directions Burke never intended. It’s not, she emphasized, solely a women’s movement. It is, as it always has been, for male victims, too.
Her message remains simple and powerful. Sexual abuse victims should not carry a burden of guilt or shame. They should, Burke said, place the burden at the feet of those responsible.
And, she emphasized, each person’s road to recovery is different and intensely personal. She’s uncomfortable with the current emphasis on public disclosure.
“The victims are talking about the worst thing that ever happened to them,” she said. “ … People are talking about their deepest, darkest secrets.
“Public disclosure is not necessary.”
She realizes this view clashes with that of other advocates. She’s heard some suggest that disclosure is “not valid” unless it’s made public.
“It’s not the pathway for everyone,” she said. “Be careful who you tell your story to. We own the stories. We get to say who gets to know and who doesn’t.”
Her path to fame has included uncomfortable lessons. She had spent her life out of the spotlight. When she was out in public, she didn’t worry about anyone taking photos of her.
She worries now. She groaned Tuesday when a large image of her face flashed across a screen. “I hate that photo,” she said, as she’d been caught without makeup.
And her words carry new weight, which is blessing and burden. Burke recently publicly supported Lucy Flores, who caused a firestorm when she revealed that former Vice President Joe Biden made her uncomfortable by smelling her hair and kissing the back of her head.
Burke’s explanation is complicated.
“I adore Joe Biden,” she said. “I consider him an ally.”
And yet …
No one is above rebuke, she said, not even a “true advocate.”
A woman must be able to tell any man his actions are inappropriate and make her uncomfortable.
Even, Burke said, “the best guy in the room.”