Many women can recall when they first saw #MeToo trending on social media. The social movement that amplifies the pervasiveness of sexual assault appeared to begin when Alyssa Milano used the phrase “me too” in a tweet. After asking people to reply with “me too” if they had experienced sexual harassment or assault, Milano replied to her own tweet with the words. Within moments, #MeToo went viral and women everywhere used it to give themselves a voice.
However, “Me Too” wasn’t invented on October 15, 2017 with Milano’s tweet. The “Me Too” movement began over a decade earlier. In 2006, Tarana Burke, an activist and organizational leader, began the movement. She would use the phrase “me too” when young women and youth of color would disclose that they had been sexually assaulted. But in 2006, hashtags didn’t exist, and social media was still in its infancy. It would take another eleven years for the movement to garner worldwide attention.
‘It’s Beyond A Hashtag’
When Burke first saw #MeToo trending on social media, she immediately thought of all the work she and others had done leading up to this moment. The activist experienced a range of emotions at the time, thrilled to see women empathizing with one another, but also understanding that the hard and difficult work was just beginning. Her years of experience had taught her that survivors of sexual assault would need ongoing support after finding the courage to speak up.
Burke also recognized that she needed to say something if she didn’t want her work to be overlooked. As a Black woman, Burke was concerned that she would quickly be erased from the movement. In an interview with the Washington Post, the activist shared her immediate response when #MeToo went viral. “I had to ring the alarm,” she remarked. “One, before my work is erased, and two, because if I can support people, I have to do that.”
Shortly after Milano tweeted, Burke went on Twitter to share the meaning and impact of #MeToo. “It’s beyond a hashtag. It’s the start of a larger conversation and a movement for radical community healing. Join us. #metoo.”
Burke didn’t stop there. Instead of just adding her voice to the conversation, the activist was able to break through the hashtag and receive the credit she was due. Within days of #MeToo trending, Ebony shared an article crediting the organizational leader with starting the movement. Other media outlets soon followed and even Milano began giving Burke credit.
From Unknown Activist To Silence Breaker
Indeed, Burke’s work has been recognized over the past five years. In 2017, she was recognized as one of Time’s silence-breakers and received the award as Time’s Person of the Year. She’s won several awards since then. In fact, she received the 2018 Ridenhour Prize for Courage for the work she has done with sexual assault survivors.
Burke is also now the author of two books. In 2021, she co-authored You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience. The same year, Burke also released a memoir. She shares her story of sexual assault experiences in Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement.