The Woman Who Stood Up To Tony Robbins Weighs In On That Viral Video & #MeToo

Photo: Getty Images.
Over the weekend, a video of Tony Robbins questioning the motives of the #MeToo movement went viral. In the 11-minute clip from a March seminar in San Jose, CA, Robbins tells a story about a “very famous, very powerful man” who didn’t hire a qualified woman for a job because she was “very attractive” and he knew she was “too big a risk” to have around. “I’ve had a dozen men tell me this,” Robbins says, implying that #MeToo is actually hurting women rather than helping them. “I’m not suggesting you have to agree with me,” Robbins at one point tells the crowd. “I’m just suggesting you consider what its impact is.” Robbins apologised for his comments on Sunday.
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One of the people who considered Robbins’ take on the #MeToo movement was the founder of #MeToo, Tarana Burke. On Twitter, Burke laid out why Robbins’ comments are so harmful to the movement, while also praising the woman in the video who stood up to the life coach. “I was made aware of this video BEFORE I ever saw it because Tony Robbins people reached out to do damage control within 24 hours. They wanted to ‘give me context’ apparently. I don’t need any. I have eyes,” she tweeted. “Bravo to this woman.”
That woman was Nanine McCool, who tells Refinery29 she took offense to Robbins’ claims that women are looking for “significance” or importance from telling their sexual abuse or harassment stories. Right before she got up to speak, McCool says Robbins talked about what a great guy Steve Wynn, the casino magnate who was accused of sexual misconduct, is. (Wynn, who resigned as CEO of his company, has denied the allegations.) “I remember sitting there and thinking, ‘You’ve got this wrong, you’ve got this so wrong,’” she says.
In the clip shot by activist and musician Butterscotch, who McCool says was forced to take the video off Facebook by Robbins’ people, McCool tells Robbins, “So I think you misunderstand the #MeToo movement.” Before the New Orleans native gets a chance to explain why she thinks this, Robbins cuts in to tell her that he respects all opinions on the subject. “I’m not knocking the #MeToo movement,” he says. “I’m knocking victimhood.” McCool, who was sexually abused as a child, believes he was shaming victims of sexual assault. “You know, I was a victim, I still am in many ways a victim. I will always be a victim,” McCool says. “But I’m a survivor because I was a victim. That victim, she saved my life. That’s what kept me alive.”
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RAINN says that survivors of sexual violence often deal with depression, flashbacks, and PTSD, which includes feelings of anxiety, stress, and fear. Anger is the emotion McCool felt, she says, and she blamed herself for what happened. During the seminar, Robbins said that anger is hurting the #MeToo movement, but McCool disagrees, saying it’s what helped her work through her trauma and get to a better place. She’s a survivor only because she addressed what it’s like to be a victim. “Being sexually abused, harassed, raped, you’re entitled to your rage,” she says. “I just think that the #MeToo movement is a platform, a place for discussion and empathy.”
McCool says Robbins wasn’t displaying empathy in his understanding of the #MeToo movement, which focused on the accused instead of their accusers. It’s why she needed to speak up, to start a dialogue, even if she’s still surprised she did. “I don’t remember making that decision to stand up but at some point I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m yelling at Tony Robbins. I need to sit down,’ but it was too late.” McCool says she saw “real pain in Robbins before the anger kicked in” and his anger was “quite intimidating” and triggering for her. For many, seeing the six-foot-seven-inches Robbins push back at McCool, not just with his words but physically, was hard, but she says she had to stand her ground for anyone who, like her, was once a victim.
“The video itself could be used to train men who don’t get it because I’m so triggered in that video,” she says. “I totally reject what he said, I think it’s dead wrong, but he spoke his truth and if he had been politically correct and hadn’t been triggered himself, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. I don’t fault him for his opinion, I just strongly disagree with him.”
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While Robbins considers himself a “life and business strategist” he’s not trained to deal with survivors of assault and abuse. Those that are trained are encouraged to offer support and avoid judgment. In RAINN’s tips for talking with survivors of sexual assault they suggest saying things like “I believe you,” “it took a lot of courage to tell me this,” and “it’s not your fault” as a reminder that they’re not to blame, something Robbins never does. Listening is also the best way to show support for survivors, which Robbins also doesn’t do much of in the video. Instead of trying to make McCool comfortable in coming forward, he aggressively takes over the conversation, using his physicality and power to impose over her. Robbins tells her she needs to understand his point of view instead of considering hers.
After watching the video, Burke tweeted Robbins’ “misogyny runs deep.” “If you talk to more SURVIVORS and less sexist businessmen maybe you’ll understand what we want.” Burke wrote. “We want safety. We want healing. We want accountability. We want closure. We want to live a life free from shame. That’s the reality of the @MeTooMVMT sir, do better.”
After attending the seminar, McCool, like Burke, also wants to see Robbins do better. She says she was “horrified” with how he spoke about women and this movement though she also “genuinely see[s] potential in him.” McCool holds out hope that Robbins is capable of listening and even changing.
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“I hope he will sit down with Tarana Burke and other women that can speak for this movement and help him understand it,” she says. “To me the discussion will keep going, and if that discussion leads to Tony Robbins humbling himself and saying he got it wrong and I want to fix it, I would think, Yay, that’s so cool.”
Robbins has since apologized on Facebook for “suggesting anything other than my profound admiration for the #MeToo movement,” explaining he agrees with the goals of the movement and that they are in line with what he’s been trying to do at his seminars. “I teach that ‘life happens for you, not to you’ and what I’ve realised is that while dedicating my life to working with victims of abuse all over the world, I need to get connected to the brave women of #MeToo.”
In his apology, Robbins doesn’t make mention of McCool or explain how he’ll connect with Burke and other women from the #MeToo movement, but says he will work to stay “true to the ideals of the movement.” "That begins with this brief statement but will not end until our goals are reached,” he wrote.
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