It was a perfect storm.
Many of us learned last week that at an Unleash the Power Within event held in San Jose on Mar. 15, self-help “guru” and motivational speaker, Tony Robbins dismissed the #MeToo movement as “a way for women to gain significance through victimhood”.
But Robbins underestimated the power of survivors' voices, like audience member Nanine McCool, who challenged him on that notion.
Music sensation Butterscotch was in the audience that day. She filmed the cringeworthy exchange and posted it on her Facebook page — it's since been removed — but she preserved it and gave a copy of the tape to McCool, who in turn posted it on her YouTube channel.
And then NowThis got ahold of it.
In the clip, Robbins claims he’s not attacking the entire #MeToo movement — only the women he says celebrate victimhood, or use their victim status for personal gain.
Side note: the discerning viewer might see the irony in the way that Robbins talks about his history of childhood abuse. In an interview with Piers Morgan (which gives you a hint of the stellar people he likes to associate himself with), he says “I know what suffering feels like, and that gives you a hunger to make sure other people don’t suffer”. It’s worth noting that McCool gives a similar response to his dismissal of #MeToo, saying it’s not about victimhood, it’s about speaking up, and showing up for other survivors.
When McCool first confronts him, Robbins responds as if sexual harassment is just a small blunder that we all make.
"Who should throw the stone? You shouldn't throw that stone if you live in a fucking glass house." — cool guy Tony Robbins
Watch here, from 01:25 – 01:55.
Like sexual assault is akin to throwing up in the kitchen of your campus bar or accidentally making a snarky comment about your friend before you’ve hung up the phone — blunders we’ve all made. Whoops. Oh, wait. It's a violent crime that harms over half the population, destroys potential and needs to be taken seriously.
When McCool doesn’t back down, Robbins comes into the crowd to demonstrate why her (and by extension, our) resistance is futile.
He asks McCool to raise her fist and then begins to push her backwards. The optics are chilling.
Watch the section from 03:15 – 04:05.
So women shouldn’t speak up because men will push back and retaliate — and that is somehow women’s fault.
Next, Robbins shares a story of a "very rich, very powerful" man he coaches, who didn’t hire the woman who was most qualified for a job, because she was attractive. He was too nervous to have her around the office. So he hired a man, to be safe.
I honestly thought he was going to use this anecdote to share his support for the underlying principles of the movement. Alas, I would be wrong. Apparently, his client’s inability to control himself, or to distinguish sexual harassment and assault from normal, consensual human interaction, is the #MeToo movement’s fault rather than the reason we need it.
Robbins continues to insist that “it just won’t make you happy. It won’t make them better. It won’t make you better.”
But I disagree.
Calling out rape culture makes us all better, and creates a world in which all people — not just rich, white, straight, cis, Judeo-Christian, men — can be empowered.
The same is true for all forms of systemic oppression and injustice.
Robbins’s characterization of the #MeToo movement as “embracing victimhood” makes me cringe, because it shows a) a complete lack of understanding of the movement (Standing up to people in power, people who would otherwise control your career options, income, etc., seems pretty empowered to me), and b) is such a tired response to women and other marginalized folk speaking up about injustices.
He thinks he’s saying something new, intelligent and inspirational. But he’s regurgitating a response we’ve heard thousands of times for hundreds of years: that people are responsible for their own suffering.
Robbins and others like him fail to recognize the difference between individualized hardship, abuse and discrimination, and systemic oppression and discrimination.
I recently listened to a podcast on how law of attraction's concept of "manifesting" is only for certain privileged groups. Manifesting is the idea that you can will yourself into success and good fortune through positive thinking and focused meditating. The problem is, this only works if you’re already in a position of power. If the CEO is going to pass you over for ‘being too attractive’ or an employer refuses to hire you because you’re Roma and ‘they’re all lazy,’ no amount of positive thinking is going to help you.
That's one of the things Robbins fails to grasp about the #MeToo movement.
On Sunday, nearly a month after the event, Robbins published an apology on Facebook on par with the other stellar apologies we’ve seen since the #MeToo movement began. The timing of the apology after the story went viral — rather than after the incident — speaks louder than any of the words in his statement.
Instead of an apology, I’d like to see what action he’s going to take to support the movement. Calling out his ‘dozens’ of rich, powerful, and famous clients who won’t hire attractive women because they’re afraid they won’t be able to control themselves would be a good start.
Tony has direct influence over a lot of powerful men.
As McCool said last month, "You're a leader, and an influential man and you are doing a disservice, in my opinion, to the #MeToo movement.”
If Robbins is really sorry, I’d like to see him use his power and influence to stop sexual harassment. After all, you can’t whoosh away sexual harassment and assault.
Kayla is a social media marketer, writer, and yogi working towards social change. She's a spoonie turned triathlete and never quite in one place. Follow her on Twitter.