If anyone knows how to live, it’s Tony Robbins. No, really: The 58-year-old self-styled self-help magnate has quite literally written the books on how to live, like Awaken the Giant Within, Unlimited Power and Pathways to Growth. More than 50 million people from 100 countries, per Robbins’s website, have sought strength from his vast volumes of tapes and audio files, and four million people have attended his live seminars. If you need empowerment in a pinch—and Oprah is busy—one could reasonably rely on Robbins to deliver.
That is, unless you are a woman who derives said empowerment from the #MeToo movement. In now-viral footage shot at a March 15 “Unleash the Power Within” event in San Jose (and re-circulated by NowThis News on April 6), Robbins criticizes people who, he implies, leverage “victimhood” and #MeToo to “get significance and certainty by attacking and destroying someone else.” Robbins is then confronted by an audience member named Nadine McCool, a sexual-assault survivor herself, who suggests he “misunderstands” the movement. The unsettling visual metaphor that ensues really cannot be oversold: Robbins instructs McCool to hold out her fist while he pushes his six-foot-six frame against her to symbolize resistance from #MeToo adherents, while saying, “You’re telling me that the more I push, the more I’m going to be safe?” Robbins then relays what I can only presume he considers a sad fact: that “more than a dozen men” in positions of power told him they now felt wary of hiring attractive women because “it’s too big a risk.”
It gets worse, somehow: When McCool later points out that Robbins is “a leader and an influence man” who is “doing a disservice” to the movement, he says, “I’m not gonna be inauthentic and say I’m sorry about something I’m not sorry about.” Tale as old as time.
But Robbins did apologize, almost a month later, perhaps noticing a downswing in his audiobook income and a swell of criticism, the most seething of which came from Tarana Burke, founding mother of the Me Too movement, pre-hashtag.
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. The full video is 11 mins. And it’s gross. Bravo to this woman. https://t.co/gjbm9GF1Mz
— Tarana (@TaranaBurke) April 7, 2018
“Sometimes, the teacher has to become the student, and it is clear I have much to learn,” Robbins said in a statement. You might not expect such a colossal misfire from someone whose website sells him as “the #1 life and business strategist.” But, sadly, the biggest disappointments in this #MeToo moment have been from would-be “woke” men—many with very large platforms—whose support of women precludes those who scrutinize their behaviour or call out instances of hypocrisy. Like Robbins, whose estimated $500 million fortune has been amassed by trading on individual empowerment, they are an ally to women on the sole condition that women are an ally to them.
If this behaviour sounds at all familiar, it’s because this sad misdirection of dominance among “modern” men is frightfully common. You may have even worked for that guy. (I know I certainly have!) You may even be working for that guy right now. If you’re unsure, here are a couple of dead giveaways: One, this man seems like an otherwise open-minded leader, but then uses dare-I-say-victimized words like “targeted” or “punished” with confusing frequency when referencing #MeToo, or talks about his personal freedoms being infringed upon by women demanding what actually amounts to not-harassment.
Two, when their position is questioned, they will invoke intellectual arguments like “free speech,” doubling down, like Robbins, on their right to an opinion rather than electing to engage with humility and empathy. This either-or is the crux of why public (particularly online) discourse about gender relations is such an impossible garbage fire right now.
But favouring rightness over kindness in response to women—or people of colour, or any other disenfranchised group, for that matter—whose lives have been made painful and difficult by the status quo doesn’t make you a hero or the internet’s foremost civil-rights scholar—it makes you an asshole. It makes perfect sense that these men have chosen to wield impersonal legal miscellany to diminish women’s lived experiences: power has historically insulated these men against consequence, and also they haven’t lived the experience.
As Robbins himself found out, doubling down is no longer good advice: Our collective tolerance for powerful men threatening others by protecting themselves with limp references to freedom of speech is waning. Our collective patience for weak apologies from “opinionated” celebrities (i.e., Matt Damon), “cutting-edge” comedians (i.e., Louis C.K.) and “forward-thinking” personal-power gurus (i.e., You Know Who) is thinning.
And yes, in fact, the more we push back with lived experience, the more we are going to be safe, Tony. That there are faux-enlightened dudes like Robbins lurking pretty much everywhere is a sad reality, but if the #MeToo movement has revealed anything, it’s that there may be more of us than them.
Men Support #MeToo—Until It’s About Them
Shitty Men, CanLit and the Legal Ramifications of the Whisper Network
Canadian Millennial Men Are Confused About #MeToo in the Workplace
Dear Louis C.K. & Sexual Predators Hiding in Feminist Communities: We See You