Founder of the Me Too Movement, Tarana Burke was in Kelowna to speak to students and the public Wednesday. Sydney Morton/ Kelowna Capital News

Founder of Me Too movement speaks in Kelowna

Tarana Burke says the movement has the ability to shift society’s perception of sexual violence

Tarana Burke, the founder of the Me Too Movement, says she hopes society will one day view sexual violence in the same way they view smoking.

“If someone lit up a cigarette (in a building) you would be appalled. But that wasn’t the case 30 years ago. They didn’t even think about it, they would smoke on planes and in offices. So you can change people’s thinking and shift the way people relate to one another,” said Burke, who spoke in Kelowna Wednesday

“It’s not about your own health, it’s about other people’s health. So we have evidence in our world that there are shifts in understanding, thinking and in our culture, it can happen. We need to be aware of how do we re-imagine our lives so that we look down on sexual violence as something so distasteful, like smoking, like drug use… to make sure people don’t have this experience in their lives.”

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Burke has been in sharp focus lately, but the activist has been pounding the pavement for her grassroots movement for 25 years. She first wrote “Me Too” on a piece of lined paper in 2006 when she was frustrated with the amount of sexual violence in the world and the way it is spoken about.

What the movement has become most known for, however, does not resemble what she set out to create.

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“I don’t think it will ever be what it was when I started because it started as a grassroots movement in the (U.S.) South (Alabama),” said Burke.

“So, I think that coming up on two years (since then), we are able to shift the narrative so more people understand it’s more expansive than what the media would lead you to believe. It’s more expansive than a hashtag. It’s all-encompassing in ways we don’t really get to see represented on a day-to-day basis.”

People who said, “Me Too” were talking about the entire spectrum, she said, not just being harassed at work or what is happening in Hollywood.

”They were talking about their real lived experiences,” Burke said.

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Burke said the media, while it has helped amplify her voice, has failed to share the narrative that features the spectrum of sexual violence.

The movement has not scratched the surface, questioning authority, sharing stories of people with different sexual violence experiences and expanding the coverage of the topic instead of focusing on the celebrity angle.

“I think the media’s role is a big one. I think that people have also been socialized in a way to think about sexual violence in a way that is incredibly small,” said Burke.

“The other side of things is I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the media. We wouldn’t be able to have this platform and talk about sexual violence the way that we do.”

Burke spoke at UBC Okanagan Wednesday to help students understand their role in the Me Too Movement as students, as well as how to handle sexual violence on campus. Later she spoke at the Kelowna Community Theatre.

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