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‘Patriarchy has us all by the throat’

Along with combating sexual violence, Tarana Burke advocates for the black community and women of color. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM.

The lecture ended with tears.

Though there was no shortage of laughter throughout.

Tarana Burke, creator of the “me too.” movement, addressed a completely packed Oval Theater in the Marshall Student Center on Tuesday night as the first spring speaker of the University Lecture Series. During her moderated lecture, she gave insight on how her movement began, where she wants to take it and how to learn from it.  

The moderator, Dierdre Cobb-Roberts, an associate professor of social foundations in the Department of Educational and Psychological Studies at USF, began by asking Burke about the origination of the “me too.” movement prior to it becoming a viral hashtag.

Burke began discussing, in general terms, an encounter she had with a young person years before coining the phrase and creating the campaign.

“I wish I could have said ‘me too,’” Burke said. “I wish I could have at least told her that this thing that she was pouring her heart out … Real courage is being 12 or 13 and knowing you deserve to be heard.”

Burke went on to discuss that the origin of “me too.” is often mistaken to have started on MySpace, rather, according to her, it started in a junior high school in Selma, Alabama.

“We were just broke 20-something-year-olds — well actually I was 30-something, but still broke — you needed a website, though, starting this time in our lives when you had to be on social media,” Burke said.

Social media then became a source of initial anxiety for Burke. Over a decade after the “me too.” creation, it became a viral hashtag that allowed survivors of sexual violence to bond and share their stories.

This happened after actress and activist Alyssa Milano shared a tweet in which she implored her followers to say “me too” if any of them had experienced sexual violence.

“I started having a full-blown breakdown. ‘Oh God, I've been working on this my whole life and the white lady is going to come and take it,” Burke said while feigning sobbing.

However, after Burke and some of her close friends shared what she called “receipts” confirming “me too.” was her creation, Burke began contemplating how the virality would affect her movement.

After reading a story posted with the #metoo, Burke said she realized she had to make a choice.

“I had to make a decision whether I was going to be in conflict or whether I would be in service,” she said.

Burke, after realizing that this was because of her work, chose to be “in service.”

“My work was spilling out over the internet all day,” she said.

In between these more serious moments, Burke often took time to interact with and poke good-natured fun at the audience. On one occasion, she told a student “bless you” after a sneeze. After another student dropped something, Burke looked at the student and said, “Don’t worry we're not all looking at you.” Both instances resulted in audience-wide laughs.

One of the funniest moments came when a phone rang in the audience and Cobb-Roberts jokingly said that someone needed to silence their phone. Burke went on to playfully chide this mystery person by saying, “and you have an old school ringtone.”

Burke also spoke of the challenges that women of color face after experiencing sexual violence, particularly the erasure of their stories from popular media.

“We are socializing this country to respond to the vulnerability of white women … Let’s be real, the media doesn't want to tell our stories,” Burke said.

Burke stressed that rape culture is prevalent in society and its eradication requires a re-socialization for everyone around these issues.

“Patriarchy has us all by the throat,” she said.

At the end of the lecture, an unnamed USF alumnus presented Burke with a painted portrait he created that brought her to tears. The two embraced in a hug, exhibiting the large painting, as the crowd began to leave.

But not before Burke attempted to sum up her and others' social activism around sexual violence.

“This is work that ultimately is about human dignity,” she said.