The Me Too movement has given power back to hundreds, if not millions, of women and yet girls are being left out of the conversation. A rising movement entitled, “Girls Too,” created under the organization Girls Inc., aims to change that narrative. The Girls Too movement was created after the Me Too movement’s popularization, and it is important to recognize the impact of the Me Too movement when discussing the Girls Too movement. The Me Too movement was started by Tarana Burke and popularized by actress Alyssa Milano’s reaction to the Harvey Weinstein case. Burke cites a conversation she had with a 13 year old girl in 1997 regarding the girl’s experience with sexual harassment as the beginning of the movement. Ten years later, in 2006, Tarana Burke founded the nonprofit organization entitled, “Just Be Inc.,” as well as a movement named “Me Too.” The goal of the Just Be Inc. and Me Too is to help survivors of sexual violence find pathways to healing.
On October 15th, 2017, actress Alyssa Milano published this tweet: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” The response was overwhelming. Famous celebrities and household names retweeted and replied as well as thousands of everyday citizens. Milano’s goal was to create a space for candid conversations and representation after the Harvey Weinstein case. She more than achieved that. However, the thousands of responses in under 24 hours to Milano’s tweet overshadowed Tarana Burke’s Me Too movement that had been a decade in the making. In that decade, Burke did not receive the same resounding support from the white community as Milano did in under 24 hours. This instance is an example of a lack of intersectionality within social movements and a struggle that people of color have faced for years. Burke described her reaction to seeing Milano’s tweet as “panicked,” as she felt that her hard work would be erased. However, Milano claimed that she was unaware of Burke’s campaign and very quickly reached out to Burke after the #metoo tweet in hopes of a collaboration. She also publicly credited the Me Too movement to Tarana Burke on live TV. In 2017, Tarana Burke stated that she wanted the Me Too movement to focus on survivors, not on who owns the movement, and is continuing her work to help survivors of sexual violence.
The president and CEO of Girls Inc. is Judy Vredenburgh. The organization was created to provide a safe space for girls to be able to speak out. The organization also has a teaching program dedicated to education in communication, consent, and healthy relationships, to name a few topics. This education is vital as the American school system has a notoriously lacking sex education program, nationwide. Girls Inc. aims to help our society understand that for every woman who has experienced sexual violence, so has a young girl. Therefore, the perspectives of girls must be recognized and represented in the movement against sexual harassment. It is too often that the youth in our community are left out of conversations of importance. Vredenburgh reiterates the importance of youth in movements, citing the Parkland students who spoke out after the Parkland school shooting. However, Girls Inc. understands that in order to prove successful, a movement of young girls needs adult support to utilize the political power and community influence that is not accessible to those under the age of 18. The ultimate goal of the Girls Too organization and movement has been to provide a space for girls that they were unable to find within the Me Too movement.
Girls Too was created after an overwhelming number of teenage girls reported feeling as if their place within the discussion of Me Too would be difficult to distinguish. The high-profile and viral cases that popularized the Me Too movement, such as the Harvey Weinstein case, involved predominantly career-age women. Therefore, the conversations that have arisen from such cases, while including very important dialogue, have been dominated by a particular age category of women. The discussions have not been focused on the youth and the damages young children can incur when they are assaulted. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center has reported that 1 in 4 girls are sexually assaulted by the age of 18 and 2 out of every 3 girls are harassed. Girls who have experienced sexual harassment before the age of 18 are considerably more likely to experience a variety of problems immediately after the event as well as into the future, including but not limited to depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, school absenteeism, and PTSD. Girls Inc and Girls Too aims to change the conversation and focus the discussion on helping girls who have experienced sexual harassment and the subsequent effects that may occur. The organization also aims to change the societal norm that allows girls to be viewed in a hyper-sexualized manner.
Despite the successes of these movements in giving women and girls platforms to have their voices heard, Burke also details the increasing, monumental backlash the movements have received as the years progress. She states that Me Too, and Girls Too as a consequence of Me Too, is becoming considered as a plot against men, a witch hunt of sorts. Burke sites Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings as an example of the new view of Me Too. High profile people have embraced and encouraged the negative perceptions. The President of the United States, Donald Trump, said that the Me Too movement represents, in the context of the Kavanaugh hearings, “a very scary time for young men in America.”
For young girls, it has been difficult to find their place in a movement that has been dominated by middle aged women. They have similar experiences with sexual harassment as the women who have been vocal with the Me Too movement, but do not have the political power or societal prestige that comes with being an adult. Girls in middle schools and high schools create lists among their friends of boys who have become notorious for treating women badly, just so they and their friends can avoid them. Word spreads among girls in colleges and universities about which fraternity parties should be avoided, which fraternities can be labeled as the “date rape frats,” because the use of date rape drugs become so prominent at those parties. Girls are given pepper spray, whistles, and alarms as graduation gifts to provide a semblance of security against the inevitable moment of fear that can occur when walking alone. It is important to remember the goals of the Me Too movement and the Girls Too movement as being safe spaces for women and girls to share their stories. The movements are also movements of empowerment, giving power back to women and girls who have had it stolen from them. We must continue to support Me Too and Girls Too by acknowledging and understanding their work and importance in order to further the progress the movements have initiated.