The #MeToo Tweet That Changed Everything
Alyssa Milano — actor, activist, mom, wife, force of nature — charts the future of #MeToo.
It was just a little over one year ago when, as Alyssa Milano was getting ready for bed, she hit the send button on an 86-character tweet.
The television star had been reading about the putrid Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal engulfing Hollywood. Every day brought new and appalling allegations against the Oscar winning super producer — now, publicly accused serial predator.
Milano’s tweet read:
“If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Milano dashed off “Me too”, and went to sleep.
When she awoke the next morning, the 46 year old mother of two (daughter, Elizabella, age 4, and son, Milo, age 7) was astonished to discover that her #MeToo tweet had exploded across social media. Overnight, tens of thousands of sexual abuse survivors had poured out their personal and often harrowing #MeToo Twitter and Facebook replies. And their stories kept coming.
Milano — best known for her starring roles in the television confections “Who’s the Boss”, “Melrose Place”, and “Charmed” — told the Associated Press that watching the replies steadily ticking upwards brought tears to her eyes. For her, “The most important thing that it did was to shift the conversation away from the predator and to the victim.”
The veteran Democratic activist instantly became one of the #MeToo movement’s most visible and vocal leaders. Her advocacy eventually led her to Capitol Hill where, this past September, she sat solemnly behind then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh during his explosive Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
A month later, at the annual Politicon political conference, I shared the stage with Milano in the Los Angeles Convention Center to discuss the #MeToo movement. Dressed for battle in an olive green, military-style jacket and platform combat boots, Milano was deliberate, measured, and controlled in her remarks even in the face of an obsessive heckler.
Afterwards, backstage, as the petite powerhouse was being whisked to her next panel to debate gun control, I seized the moment to ask if she would participate in an email Q & A with me for DIE WELTWOCHE. Without hesitating, Milano said “Yes.” What follows is our exchange — her first extensive interview on #MeToo for a European publication.
What inspired you to send that fateful #MeToo tweet, October 15, 2017? Where were you? What was the inspiration? What made you hit send? Within 7 hours, you had 35,000 replies. Within 24 hours, it had been re-tweeted over 12 million times. Within 48 hours, it had been re-tweeted in 82 countries.
It was at a time when so many stories were coming out about the horrible things that Harvey Weinstein had done to women. He was a serial abuser in my industry, and very quickly there were stories about a lot of abusers in my industry. But I knew it wasn't just a Hollywood problem - this was a problem in every industry, in every corner of the world. And that night, as I was reading some of these stories, I was in bed with my daughter Elizabella, and I just didn't want that to be the world in which she grew up. She was three at the time, and it broke my heart.
Right then I received a screenshot from a friend that read "Suggested by a friend: if all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem." It seemed like a perfect way to take attention away from the abusers and back on the women and men who had been on the receiving end of the abuse. And I looked at Elizabella, and added a sentence asking people to reply with #MeToo if they had experienced harassment or abuse, and I went to bed. The tweet did not – and it hasn’t stopped.
What did you think when you woke up the next morning and saw that extraordinary reaction? What did you tell your husband? What did he tell you? Who did you call? Who called you? Was your phone ringing nonstop?
I was heartbroken and awed. So many people sharing such traumatic experiences - but there was power in that sharing. All of a sudden we were more than individual victims. We were a collective. We were bigger than our abusers. We were stronger for sharing. It was overwhelming, but it was powerful.
I have the most supportive husband in the world. When we talked about it, and this was that morning when I was getting a number of interview requests, it was all tied in with the Harvey Weinstein story, and I said I had to do them, and he's been behind me all the way.
As far as my phone ringing nonstop, I've always been extremely active politically and we were coming up into an election year. So my phone was already ringing, but this took it to the next level.
Were you ready that morning, that week, to take up this very public, high profile mantle? To be the public face and voice of #MeToo? Did it make you nervous?
I know just how blessed I am to have a big microphone and the ability to be a public face for a movement, but it was important from the start that this was a movement that wasn't about me. MeToo is about every person who's experienced sexual abuse or harassment, so I tried right away to lift the voices of other people who don't have my microphone. And then I learned about Tarana and her amazing work, and I hope that my having some degree of celebrity has been able to lift her, and everyone else who has been doing this work for so long without the visibility it deserved.
I wasn't nervous so much as honored. Honored to have the opportunity to share these stories and to be a part of making this huge cultural change that we're currently experiencing. It's humbling.
What were your very next steps?
I think the most important thing I tried to do was to listen. I tried to hear as many of the stories as I could, to internalize them. I tried to reach out to others who were doing this work, and I tried to give credit and visibility to them. And then I translated that into the political and cultural work I do. I was able to use my visibility right away to keep this movement in the news and in the public eye, and to not let it fade into the background.
You were a very high profile, outspoken #MeToo activist and supporter of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford during the Senate confirmation hearings of Judge, now Justice, Brett Kavanaugh. You literally had a front row seat to these highly charged, nationally televised proceedings.
In the aftermath, you described feeling “rage” (W Magazine), and the conclusion of the hearing as “that moment of total despair”. Do you still feel rage and despair over Kavanaugh’s confirmation (50 yea, 48 nay)?
Yeah, definitely. At the end of the day, we had an incredibly credible witness with nothing to gain and so much to lose who came forward to tell her story about a man in power who acted against her. And again we had a group of men who did everything they could to silence her, to humiliate her, to minimize her experience. I mean, the line that "I believe she was abused, but I don't believe she was abused by Kavanaugh?"
That's such disgusting pandering. It's cowardice. It's insincere, and it's for politics. And not only will this man who had multiple credible allegations of sexual abuse raised against him sit on the court, he'll do so at a time when he could very well be the deciding vote on matters of critical importance to women and women's health. And he was nominated by a man who has many, many credible allegations of sexual misconduct against him.
Yes. I feel rage. But I feel more resolve than ever. They gave us Kavanaugh. They're going to pay for that dearly in 2020.
After Kavanaugh was confirmed, you were emphatic that, “We’re going to take back the House. We’re going to take back the Senate. And once that happens, I’m going to lobby my heart out to get Kavanaugh impeached.” Are you working toward his impeachment, now?
I think Trump has committed impeachable crimes. I don't think that should be the focus of this Congress, mainly because the Senate showed us that they have an almost supernatural ability to look the other way when it comes to his misdeeds. Trump could actually shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, and this Senate wouldn't convict him. I'm thrilled we took back the House. It will give us some ability to thwart what I see as the President's most dangerous impulses. But I am going to spend the next two years doing every last thing I can do to make sure we take the Senate and the White House in 2020. The GOP has a very tough map to defend in the Senate. I'm not going to stop until that map becomes impossible.
What is your reaction to Justice Sonia Sotomayor who says she has welcomed Justice Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court “family”? She told David Axelrod for CNN: “The nine of us are now a family… This is our work family, and it’s just as important as our personal family.” She even credits Justice Clarence Thomas for imparting this perspective.
I think that the Supreme Court has to do all it can to maintain the image (and, I would hope, the reality) of impartiality. The institutions of this nation are under assault from the Executive Branch. Trump is going after the appellate courts in a way no president ever has. He's attacking the media. He’s undermining trust in those very things which are able to hold him to account for his wrongdoings and his shortcomings. I believe Justice Sotomayor sees this, as does Justice Roberts and the rest of the Court, and is trying to counter that.
I hope that Justice Kavanaugh can rise to that need. For the sake of America, I sincerely do.
Does Justice Sotomayor’s public embrace of Justice Kavanaugh influence your feelings in any way?
Not about him. He showed us who he was. I hope he'll show us he can be better than he has been to date.
Many women are concerned that #MeToo has gone too far in assigning collective blame (i.e. “all males”, “testosterone poisoning”, etc.), and deepening the distrust between men and women. Pamela Anderson, who has made a lucrative career being a sex siren, believes “this third wave of feminism is a bore”, and that it “paralyzes men.” Do you agree with Ms. Anderson that “feminism can go too far?
No, not at all. If women are earning much more than men, if men have to struggle to have access to power; if men have to overcome the societal hurdles women currently face while women hold onto power and do all they can to keep men out; if men have to worry about reporting abuse and harassment at work or at home for fear of retaliation? Then feminism will have gone too far.
It's important to get things right. It's important that the courts convict the guilty and acquit the innocent. But we live in a time when most victims of sexual assault and harassment never come forward. Where most rapists are not convicted. Where victims are blamed and perpetrators are free. Look at the Brock Turner case in California. We have states in America where rapists are given parental rights, where victims have to not only life with their rape, they have to remain tied to that rapist. Women make up more than 50% of the population but less than 30% of the Congress.
Feminism has not gone too far. It's not gone far enough yet.
Brigitte Bardot, one of the sexiest actors ever to grace film, has said that most female actors who protest sexual harassment are “hypocritical” and “ridiculous”, and that many “tease” producers to land film roles. Is there any truth to what she says?
No. Absolutely not. Look at Harvey Weinstein and his horrible deeds. Listen to the stories of women. So many men in power have used that power to force women into sex. Listen to the effects of his actions on them. This is not something women seek out.
Is there any room for sexuality in the work place? Is it permissible, whether or not one believes it inevitable, for women to leverage sexual attraction and desire for professional gain?
We need to cure the culture that sets women up for this. That men will dish out rewards for women based on sexuality. We can do that when more women in all industries are in positions of power. When women-led companies are a significant part of the Fortune 500 or women-led studios make up Hollywood. Or women are president, instead of men who abuse them.
Sex is not bad. Power dynamics being used to manipulate people sexually is.
I watched A&E’s documentary “The Clinton Affair.” It reexamines former President Bill Clinton’s affair with the then, very young, White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Ms. Lewinsky bravely sits down to offer her perspective all these years later.
There were moments when my heart was breaking for her. The vitriol, contempt, nastiness, personal insults she had to endure (and still does!). She and I are the same age, and I was in DC when all of this was unfolding. I was sympathetic to her even at the time. If the President of the United States had been interested in 22 year old me, I would have been totally dazzled and at his beck and call. I would have believed every lame and recycled line, treasured every lame and recycled gift. It would have been totally overwhelming as it still is for many women.
Ms. Lewinsky says, now, that she’s not disappointed in him for never apologizing to her personally, as all normal thinking adults know he should have done. She writes that she’s “disappointed *for* him. He would be a better man for it.”
Reading this “triggered” my #MeToo reflex. I understand needing to be Zen and find a personal place of forgiveness, especially when the perpetrator’s lack of remorse requires you dig deep to find closure. We’ve all been there, sister! But… And here’s my question:
Do we, women, pay far too much attention to the personal and public consequences for the harasser? Are we inhibited, or disadvantaged, by our reluctance to hurt a transgressor’s “feelings” and permanently harm their “reputation”?
Honestly, I don't give a damn about public consequences for the harasser. So much of what has come of this past year is bringing these bad actors out into the light. We need to make victimizing a shameful act instead of making the state of being a victim a shameful act. Is there room for someone to turn their life around? Sure. But sexual abuse should be permanently barring from public office. From fame. From fortune.
Public shaming is a deterrent.
I think of my own experience with a former colleague (a woman, actually) who was abusing me every single day at work. Constantly nasty. Constantly making cracks to undermine my confidence right before I had to go on live TV. This went on for a year. It wasn’t until a colleague finally reported her to HR (without me knowing) that it was addressed. And even then, despite the trauma and through sobbing, I pleaded that she not to be fired because I knew she had bills to pay and a family to help support. Looking back, I was way too nice for far too long.
Men are able to mete out justice without concern for any of that. A generalization, to be sure. But they seem to be much more comfortable confronting jerks. Do women need to toughen up? Who cares if Bill Clinton could be better man? Why is that anyone’s concern but his and his family’s?
Instead of women "toughening up," the consequences need to be stronger for men who commit these acts. Women have a harder time confronting jerks because the consequences have for so long been directed at the women making the accusations. When it's safe for women to report abuse, women will report abuse. Companies need to do a much better job of this.
On the flip side, is there room for redemption? Forgiveness? Louis C.K. is already back on stage. Judi Dench recently defended her “good friend” Kevin Spacey. What are the conditions and requirements for a comeback? For public redemption and forgiveness?
Listen, I think there are degrees of wrongdoing. Forgiveness can only be given by the victims, Did someone make off-color jokes that made someone uncomfortable? Learn from it and come back. Teach other men. Do better. Was someone Harvey Weinstein, or committing acts like Harvey Weinstein? Disappear forever – hopefully after a public trial and long, long jail sentence and financial restitution to their victims. Again, I think there's room for people to reclaim a life. To find penance and do better. To become a positive influence. But for abusers? Especially for serial abusers? They should not be lauded, they should not be revered.
What public figure, if any, is an example of someone who you think can and should be forgiven for his (or her) sexually harassing behavior? Where do you stand on Roman Polanski and Woody Allen?
I think to some degree we have to understand the time people came up in. George H.W. Bush comes to mind - he's done some not great things. He's admitted to it. They were wrong. I don't think it should forever tarnish things. for him. Woody Allen and Roman Polanski can disappear. Their careers should be done.
You’ve made a notable effort to hold everyone to the same ethical standards regardless of party, politics, vocation or even past alliances. You’ve spoken out regarding the current leadership of the Women’s March for their silence regarding anti-Semitism. You’ve said that Bill Clinton should have been investigated by the FBI. You say, “accountability is at the very heart of the #MeToo movement.” Hillary Clinton rejects characterizing her husband’s relationship with Ms. Lewinsky as an “abuse of power” and says that Monica was an adult. Do you feel that Secretary Clinton is well positioned or suited to lead the #MeToo effort moving forward?
I don't think she is a leader of the #MeToo movement. She's also a victim of Bill Clinton's behavior. Do I wish she handled these parts of her life differently? Do I think she could have and could do better on these matters? Sure. I bet she does too. But I also think we should look at the 2016 election: Hillary Clinton was accused of defending her husband against allegations of sexual abuse and sexual abuse of power. Donald Trump was accused of sexual abuse. And we're demonizing her. If she had come out and said "I believe it was an abuse of power," she would have been slaughtered by the right for supporting an abuse of power. This is part of the cycle of victimization.
Would you like to see her represent the Democratic Party in a rematch against President Trump in 2020?
I’d like to see progressive with a brain and a heart. There are a lot of great potential candidates. At this point, anybody in the field would be a huge improvement over the current president. That said, I hope neither Secretary Clinton or Senator Sanders run again. There is too much division in our party between the two camps that has not yet healed. We need to find a nominee, and get united behind them, not relitigate 2016 over and over again.
An October poll by The Economist finds that over the past year there has been a “small but clear shift against victims” of harassment. How do you explain this? What have you seen?
I've seen the right-wing "new" media go after victims, over and over again. I've seen social media troll farms again attack women who come out against their abusers. I see the same demons in our culture, the same toxicity, fighting for its life and its entrenched power. Any time those entrenched in power find their power threatened, they fight, hard, to maintain that grip. In this case, that’s at the expense of victims. It’s pathetic and weak and temporary, and ultimately will not be effective.
Last December, you let Matt Damon have it with both barrels after he suggested that there’s a spectrum of behavior that should be addressed proportionately. One USC business school professor, Kathleen Kelley Reardon, writing for the Harvard Business Review this past June, has developed a scale of harassing behavior. She recommends that we discuss “the grey area when it comes to delineating mild to serious forms of gender-based offenses.”
What are your views, now, a year later about what Matt Damon said about a “continuum” and “We have to start delineating between what these behaviors are”?
I think Matt's probably a good guy who, like many men in this nation, were never taught better. He said something that I found harmful and dangerous. I think we need to call out men when we see them get it wrong. I laughed like crazy when he played Kavanaugh. There’s not bad blood there.
And we have a continuum of offenses, enshrined in our law and in our morals. We need to teach it in our culture, in our schools, in our homes - and it needs to start with inviolable consent. We need to teach about these things at very young ages, and for many years to break this. If we start at inviolable consent, though, there is no grey area.
As you know, I had my own #MeToo experience with the head of a cable news network, many years ago. As I said on our panel at Politicon in Los Angeles this fall, I don’t even like saying his name. It’s like invoking “Voldemort” or “Sauron”. It makes me nervous and anxious, and even fearful that his earthly minions will come after me. The pain of that experience is still very real all these years later.
Where do conservative women fit into the #MeToo movement? Many of us are sisters in arms, but don’t necessarily agree with the sweeping Feminist agenda. Can we be #MeToo without being #BelieveWomen or #SJW?
#MeToo is not about politics, and I think inserting politics into it undermines us all. I think we don't need to agree on everything to see that these behaviors hurt us all. That you may disagree ways to address the pay gap and still say what Matt Lauer did at NBC was unbelievably toxic. Just as #MeToo raced across national, societal, language, religious, cultural, and economic barriers, it also transcends political barriers.
What is your message to women who work in unglamorous jobs in unglamorous fields that will never make headlines at the New York Times?
I see you. I hear you. I see the stories you share, I carry them with me. You deserve headlines, and more than that you deserve a culture which believes and honors you and a government which protects you. I take that with me to every interview, to every meeting with an elected official. You matter so much.
You recorded a very emotional video for your daughter, Elizabella. You told her how “you gave mama the strength”; that you hope the world values her “for her brain, big heart, sweet soul and talent”; and that your biggest hope “is that you never have to say #MeToo”. It makes me emotional just typing that!
Are you optimistic that your little girl, Elizabella, and your son, Milo, will inherit such a world?
It's going to take a lot of work. They may not inherit it, they may have to finish building it. But I believe these painful times will make for a healthier world for them.
Are you optimistic that your industry, specifically, will change for the better? In what specific ways, if any?
Yes. Again, the public shaming with consequences has already changed it. We're seeing more films led by women, directed by women, written by women, in more genres than "rom-com." We're seeing men refuse to take more pay than women. We need to see more of that.
You have been a political advocate almost your entire life. At the tender age of 16, at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, you kissed a young HIV infected Ryan White on the cheek on national TV to inspire your fellow citizens to be strong and compassionate. How has motherhood changed or intensified your political advocacy?
Every day, it reminds me of why I am an activist. My kids are amazing, beautiful, powerful beings. They are why I do everything that I do.
Your bio says you were raised Catholic. You’ve been highly critical of the Catholic Church over the years. Do you see a role for faith, religion, religious institutions in advancing the goals and principles of #MeToo?
I think the Catholic Church has failed the Catholic faith. That the institution has enabled and even encouraged such terrible abuse. But that is separate from faith. I believe that whatever guides people, whatever gives them strength, whatever they can draw on to be the best version of themselves has a critical role in the goals and principles of #MeToo.
What is next for actor, activist, mom, wife, force of nature Alyssa Milano?
I'm very involved in fighting for the rights of immigrants coming to America, and in the fight against the epidemic of gun violence in this nation. I'll never stop fighting for victims of sexual abuse, and the 2020 elections will really start kicking off early next year. And then I will soon start filming the second season of my Netflix series Insatiable in the spring, too.
What do you want Swiss readers to know and understand about-#MeToo, and your work as one of its most prominent and widely regarded leaders?
That #MeToo is for all of you. That you matter. That what I do in America I hope makes waves of positive change around the world. And that if you are a human, we need your help. Please, help all of us do better.