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Tony Robbins Offers a Flimsy Apology for His Irresponsible Attacks on the #MeToo Movement

Tony Robbins has spent decades working as a life coach, reaching millions of people with his books and live seminars. But if the above video, taken at one of those seminars last month, is representative of a typical Robbins pep-talk, then those millions of people have been subjected to some misogynistic bullcrap.

In the video, Robbins is addressing the #MeToo movement. He’s not a fan. “If you use the #MeToo movement to try to get significance and certainty by attacking and destroying someone else, you haven’t grown an ounce,” he says. “All you’ve done is basically use a drug called significance to make yourself feel good.”

Clearly, Robbins has a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Me Too movement is. And one attendee named Nanine McCool, herself a victim of sexual assault, called Robbins out for his comments. Not surprisingly, he immediately interrupts her to tell her he’s “not knocking the Me Too movement, [he’s] knocking victimhood.” He also claims that he’s read “thousands” of Me Too stories, and asks if McCool has also “read thousands, or if you’re going to tell me what your experience in the Me Too movement is?” That’s some Grade-A sexual assault mansplaining but (after Robbins’ one minute and 40 second interruption) McCool persists, explaining that this movement helps women feel safety in sharing their stories. She tells Robbins that he is doing a “disservice” to those women and the entire movement by categorizing it as being only about revenge and rehashing victimhood.

If it already sounded like Robbins misunderstood the movement before, it gets so much worse when he tries to defend himself. You can watch the shortened interaction above or the full version here, as McCool uploaded it to YouTube. It’s not easy to get through.

First, Robbins engages McCool in an incredibly uncomfortable physical exercise in which he pushes her across the room, asking her why she’s pushing back because when you push back “it doesn’t make you more safe.” So, in relating this to issues of sexual harassment and assault, is the message to just let men do whatever they want because women will lose either way?

That seems to be the message in the anecdote Robbins tells about a man he knows who refused to hire a highly qualified woman for a job because she was attractive “and he knew ‘I can’t have her around because it’s too big of a risk’ and he hired someone else.”

Well, that’s appalling. It’s appalling that it happened and it’s so completely effed up that Robbins is repeating it as an example of the Me Too movement’s folly. In addition to allowing survivors of harassment and assault to share their stories with the amplified voice of widespread solidarity, #MeToo asks us all to challenge the systemic societal issues that allow abuse to happen, and that silence victims. It asks us to look at why an employer doesn’t consider not harassing an attractive female employee to be an option for himself or his team.

What that man is saying is that before #MeToo, when women were less likely to speak up, he could have hired her because sure, she’ll experience harassment, but she won’t make it a problem for anyone else. #MeToo did not invent abuse. It just demanded that we take it seriously. If some men are using that as a reason not to hire women, they are the problem and it’s not just disgusting, but irresponsible for someone as influential as Tony Robbins not to understand that.

Tarana Burke, creator of #MeToo, says that within 24 hours of the event, Robbins’ team reached out to do “damage control.”

Again, that was last month. But now that the video has gone viral and threatens to affect revenue, Robbins has released an apology statement.

It’s bad enough that it requires widespread outrage for Robbins to express contrition. But even worse is the flimsy language he uses–phrases like “my comments failed to reflect the respect I have” and “I apologize for suggesting anything.” You can write this off as semantic nitpicking but that’s presuming that this statment wasn’t deliberately crafted by Robbins and his team of professional semantic nitpickers. His apology requires us to believe that his words and his beliefs are two different things, a strange order from a professional speaker. “I apologize for suggesting anything” is a close step away from “I’m sorry you misinterpreted” and neither is a true apology.

In the statement, Robbins does admit that “sometimes, the teacher has to become the student and it is clear that I still have much to learn.” I think we can all agree on that. Though I can’t believe he’s learned enough for it to matter that he’s “committed to helping to educate others so that we all stay true to the ideals of the #MeToo movement.” Maybe he could take a moment to pause and listen before continuing to insist on being an educator of an issue he so clearly misunderstands.

(image: Taylor Hill/Getty Images)

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