Motivational speaker Tony Robbins has apologized after suggesting that some women are using the #MeToo movement to gain “significance” through “victimhood,” remarks that drew severe backlash from people — including the founder of the #MeToo movement — who accused Robbins of grossly misrepresenting their intentions.
Robbins made the comments last month in San Jose, where he was hosting one of his multiday self-help seminars called “Unleash the Power Within.” There, in an arena filled with thousands of participants, a woman named Nanine McCool took the microphone and brought up the #MeToo movement, as Now This News first reported.
“So I think you misunderstand the #MeToo movement,” McCool started. “I think —”
Robbins interrupted her mid-sentence.
“Not for you, personally. I’m not misunderstanding you,” he said, then responded with a string of slight non sequiturs. “You can educate me. I’m telling you I’ve read these. My life is about helping people. … I’ve read so many, thousands. Have you read thousands? Or are you going to tell me what your experience with the #MeToo movement is?”
He went on to say that he was “not knocking the #MeToo movement” but suggested some women were using it to play the victim for personal gratification.
“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,” Robbins told the crowd. “All you’ve done is basically use a drug called significance to make yourself feel good.”
After a lengthy back and forth, McCool, who identified herself as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, said she disagreed with him.
“You are a leader and an influential man, and you are doing a disservice, in my opinion, to the #MeToo movement,” McCool told Robbins, to cheers in the audience. “Certainly there are people who are using it for their own personal devices, but there are also a significant number of people who are using it not to relive whatever may have happened to them, but to make it safe for the young women. So that they don’t have to feel unsafe.”
Robbins, 58, is a motivational speaker known for his self-help books and massive seminars that promise to help people “get the life you desire and deserve.” Tickets to his events go for between several hundred to several thousand dollars.
The exchange (captured in the YouTube video above) lasted more than 10 minutes and included other tense moments in which Robbins got in McCool’s face and towered over her. At one point, Robbins relayed an anecdote to the crowd about an unnamed “famous” acquaintance who had passed on hiring an attractive woman.
“I was with someone the other day — very famous man, very powerful man — he’s saying how stressed he is because he interviewed three people that day,” Robbins said. “One was a woman, two were men. The woman was better qualified, but she was very attractive, and he knew, ‘I can’t have her around because it’s too big of a risk.’ And he hired somebody else. I’ve had a dozen men tell me this.”
Robbins did not specify what that alleged risk would have been.
Also during their back and forth, Robbins engaged McCool in an exercise during which he pushed her backward by her fist, an effort to demonstrate that her “pushing back” against his physical actions didn’t make her any safer. Critics later accused Robbins of trying to physically intimidate McCool.
The San Jose session took place March 15 but gained wider attention after Now This News published a video of the exchange last week. The video quickly went viral, shared tens of thousands of times, and Robbins’s comments prompted outrage online — including from Tarana Burke, who founded the “Me Too” movement more than a decade ago, long before it became a hashtag.
Burke condemned the video as “gross” and “deplorable” and alleged Robbins’s representatives had tried to do damage control by reaching out to her before she even saw it.
“They wanted to ‘give me context’ apparently,” Burke tweeted. “I don’t need any. I have eyes.”
“If you talk to more SURVIVORS and less sexist businessmen maybe you’ll understand what we want,” Burke tweeted at Robbins Saturday, referring to the anecdote Robbins had told about the “powerful man” who passed on hiring a woman he had deemed too attractive. “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 [#MeToo movement] sir, do better.
Others soon excoriated Robbins for being sexist and misogynist, for seeming to bully and manipulate McCool and for trivializing victims of sexual abuse and harassment.
Among other things.
On Sunday, as the video continued to make the rounds online, Robbins posted an apology for his remarks in San Jose to his Facebook page, saying he was “committed to being part of the solution.”
“I apologize for suggesting anything other than my profound admiration for the #MeToo movement,” Robbins wrote. “Let me clearly say, I agree with the goals of the #MeToo movement and its founding message of ’empowerment through empathy,’ which makes it a beautiful force for good.”
Robbins also touched on his history as a self-help guru, mentioning he had for more than four decades “encouraged people to grow into the men and women they dream to be,” but that he still had much to learn.
“I teach that ‘life happens for you, not to you’ and what I’ve realized is that while I’ve dedicated my life to working with victims of abuse all over the world, I need to get connected to the brave women of #MeToo,” Robbins wrote.
McCool did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday about Robbins’s apology.
On Saturday, she posted a video statement saying she was overwhelmed by and grateful for all of the attention to the exchange that the original YouTube video had received since Now This News had brought it to light.
“I continue to believe that this is an incredibly important discussion, and it needs to take place,” McCool said.
She told “CBS This Morning” that Robbins’s apology was “a good start.”
“He might come kicking and screaming into the light. But as long as he is headed into this direction, I’m good with it.”