#MeToo Restoring Optimism for Social Activist
For the first time in a long while, Beverly Gooden has donned rose-colored glasses.
“Me being optimistic is new, because I haven’t been in years. But #MeToo did something for me,” she said, citing a hashtag created in fall 2017 to show just how commonplace sexual assault and harassment have become. A social activist focused on relationship violence and women’s health, Gooden was on campus for an April 12 address to the University community for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Her speech, titled “The Age of Empowerment for Women,” was all about sharing her optimism and catalyzing momentum.
Although her optimism may be new, her interest in catalysis dates back several years. Gooden is known internationally as the creator of #WhyIStayed, a Twitter hashtag that went viral in 2014 in the aftermath of a domestic abuse episode involving NFL player Ray Rice. After observing that too many media pundits were asking not why Rice abused his fiancé but rather why she stayed with him, Gooden took to Twitter to list a number of reasons why she had remained in a marriage marred by violence. And then she went to lunch.
When she returned to her computer, her hashtag had gone viral, with women from all corners of the country chiming in with their own stories and reasons for staying. Two days later, Gooden was sharing her views on Good Morning America.
To many observers, Gooden’s hashtag campaign could well be considered the precursor to #MeToo. After all, it brought an unpleasant topic to social media’s center stage. In fact, #WhyIStayed was listed as one of 2014’s top social change hashtags by Forbes. Time magazine, meanwhile, ranked it one of the top 10 hashtags for starting a conversation. And in March 2015, #WhyIStayed was listed as one of eight hashtags that changed the world.
For all that recognition, Gooden considers her famous campaign a fleeting phenomenon — just “a moment” in the social media story. #WhyIStay resonated for a few weeks and then slipped off the radar screen. But #MeToo, she said, appears to have staying power, to represent the emergence of a new age.
“This feels so different. I’m 35, and I can’t remember [anything] like this,” she explained. “The #MeToo hashtag was started in September or October, and now we’re in April and we’re still talking about it. It could have died out over the holidays, when everybody started thinking about other things, but this hasn’t gone away. I feel like it’s important to call it an age because now we’re seeing things happen. We’re having marches … we’re seeing consequences for the actions that brought about #MeToo. It just feels like an age; if feels like something that is going to last awhile.”
What’s behind all this muscle? It didn’t hurt, Gooden said, that #MeToo was started by Hollywood celebrities or that its debut followed the successful Women’s March in January 2017, just one day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Trump’s campaign, Gooden noted, was marked by any number of sexual assault accusations and by behavior many women deemed offensive. What’s more, his victory torpedoed hopes that the country would finally elect its first woman president.
In addition to galvanizing optimism and turbocharging activism, Gooden targeted her DU appearance at reminding the audience of the many women throughout history who have aided the cause. Knowing history and understanding context, she said, are essential if women are to make progress.
“[History] tells us how to act, how to organize. What works, what doesn’t work,” she said. Just as important, exploring history “allows us the opportunity to give [earlier feminists and activists] credit, when maybe they didn’t get any before.”
And honoring history means continuing the struggle.
“I don’t see misogyny going away; I don’t see men giving up the power they have any time soon,” she said. “But I think my grandchildren will see it. I think my children might see it. That’s why I do activism.”