In October of last year, 13 million stories were shared with just 2 words… #MeToo. In celebration of International Women’s Day, and Women’s History Month, this is an article I wrote for Inc.com immediately after the movement was born.
On a superficial level, we can learn new branding lessons from this groundswell, understanding how to tap into an instant movement. We can see how media and culture explodes with the right message at the right time.
Yet on the highest level, the #MeToo movement reveals a message that has permanently changed how we communicate about sexual abuse.
One day, I hope the following article will be irrelevant and unnecessary. But today, that’s not the case. So I’m sharing this with you right now.
In 1921, Ernest Hemingway wrote a tragic novel in just six words: “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” In 1984, Desmond Tutu said that the three hardest words to say are “I am sorry.”
Add another one to the list. This fall we learned that two words can spark a movement, and those words are “Me too.”
Few of us grew up with the words to express our deepest, darkest experiences. “I told no one and lived with the shame and guilt, thinking all along that I, a nine-year-old child, was somehow responsible for the actions of a grown man,” posted actress America Ferrera.
To describe what I mean by “giving a voice,” allow me to illustrate the point with an example from the opposite end of the emotional spectrum.
Years ago, I worked on the famous DeBeers Diamonds campaign, “A diamond is forever.” I’ll never forget one piece of market research, because it was such a raw look inside human nature.
According to this research, the main reason a man gives a diamond gift to his significant other is because he can’t find the perfect words to articulate how he feels. His gift opens the conversation.
The ring symbolizes a feeling too beautiful for words. #MeToo symbolizes an experience too ugly to be spoken. Yet they both demonstrate a lesson we can all apply in work and life:
In our crowded, busy, overwhelmed world, the most powerful messages are also the simplest.
A hashtag became a movement.
No advertising campaign has matched the emotional intensity of this grassroots cause. It’s the exact opposite of a carefully crafted TV script or a glossy logo. It’s real. And not like reality TV-real, but real.
#MeToo didn’t succeed in spite of not having an ad agency behind it, but because of it.
The idea of “me too” isn’t new, but the intensity is.
A decade ago, Tarana Burke created the first Me Too campaign.
In her massively popular TED talk, Brené Brown says, “If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three things to grow: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in a struggle? ‘Me too.'”
#MeToo might not be a silver bullet, but it could be a silver lining.
It might be too early to start talking about the “bright side” of this whole story. But I think I can make a prediction. In a tiny sliver of irony, an abuse of power against women has begun a shift in the other direction.
In a few short months the hashtag itself has faded from our Twitter streams and Facebook feeds. And that’s probably okay, because it doesn’t just live in social media.
It will live on in our families, at dinner tables and bedtime stories read with our sisters and daughters. It will live on in the spaces that women gather to share their stories with each other: in living rooms, coffee shops and parks. It will live on in the wave of activism that is taking hold of our country, particularly among our youth.
The conversation will continue as long as the abuse of power does.
The hashtag may become quiet, but the bell cannot be unrung
You may have joined the #MeToo movement in social media, or you may not have. Either way is fine — as long as you’re not silent.
We can’t raise strong daughters if we’re afraid to speak out.We can’t be leaders if we’re afraid to actually say something.
One day, I hope this article will seem archaic and forgotten. I hope sexual abuse is a thing of the past.
But until that day comes, I have just two words for you: