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Empowerment Through Empathy

On Sunday, October 15th, two words went viral in response to a powerful tweet by the actress Alyssa Milano. She invited women to tweet #MeToo if they had been victims of sexual harassment or assault, a request that resulted in tens of thousands of replies. Some women simply wrote the hashtag, while others went into more depth, explaining the story or acknowledging the frequency of these encounters.

The political activist Tarana Burke had launched the “me too” movement ten years ago, as a way to provide “empowerment through empathy.” She used the phrase to reach out to women of color who had been victims of sexual abuse.

“As a survivor of sexual violence myself,” said Burke in an interview on the television show “Democracy Now,” “and as a person who was struggling trying to figure out what healing looked like for me, I saw young people, and particularly young women of color, in the community I worked with, struggling with the same issues and trying to find a succinct way to show empathy.”

Although Milano didn’t claim to start the movement, the media has credited her with the idea. That’s just “how media works,” Burke told the “Democracy Now” interviewer.

Milano brought the movement back in response to the allegations that have emerged about the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. In the past few weeks, many women have spoken out about Weinstein’s illegal sexual activity, some of which dates back two decades. Cara Delevingne, Kate Beckinsale, and over 40 other women have come forward with stories of their own regarding Weinstein’s abuse.

“To the women who have suffered any form of abuse of power, I stand beside you,” Milano wrote on the website Patriot Not Partisan. “To the women who have come forward against a system that is designed to keep you silent, I stand in awe of you and appreciate you and your fortitude. It is not easy to disclose such experiences, especially in the public eye. Your strength will inspire others.”

Milano upholds that the movement will not cease until the issue is resolved. “We are going to be vocal until this stops,” she told an interviewer on the television show “Good Morning America.” “Not one more. It stops here.”

Najwa Zebian, a poet and the author of Mind Platter and The Nectar of Pain, tweeted: “#MeToo And I was blamed for it. I was told not to talk about it. I was told that it wasn’t that bad. I was told to get over it.” This along with many other #MeToo remarks have received over thousands of likes and retweets. Countless women share similar thoughts, and the extensive acknowledgment of experiences has been incredibly helpful to so many of them who had previously been too ashamed to share their stories.

Dana Schwartz, the author of And We’re Off, admits that she had feelings of trepidation when considering joining the movement: “I didn’t tweet #MeToo bc I was scared it was attention-seeking or that my assaults weren’t Bad Enough, which feels like part of the problem.”

These strong women have united to stop this seemingly everlasting problem. From Bill Cosby to Harvey Weinstein and now to James Toback, more and more women are revealing their stories. Though the #MeToo trend is helping acknowledge the glut of women who have been assaulted, it isn’t necessarily helping stop it, which is the ultimate goal. To accomplish that, we would need every man who has ever taken advantage of a woman to come forward and admit to what he’s done. Maybe a #MeToo for the guys?

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