An Open Letter to Tony Robbins #MeToo

An Open Letter to Tony Robbins #MeToo


Dear Tony,

I can only imagine what your world has been like since your March 15th San Jose event. The posting of the interaction between you and Nanine McCool regarding your #MeToo comments led to a tsunami of Facebook posts, tweets, articles, etc., very few of which were in your favor. Many people, myself included, had a strong reaction to that video. I’m sure it was not easy to take in the backlash from your interactions and comments. You are Tony Robbins, though, and so I thought to myself that this will be a great growth opportunity for you. I assumed you would rise to the occasion, face this distress head-on, repair the damage and learn how to do things differently.

But you did not rise to the occasion or face this issue head-on. Surprisingly, you went radio silent for over two weeks. The video started to disappear from Facebook, along with many posts written in response to that video. My post was one of those removed. Poof. Gone. You even deleted the thread on your own site immediately following this fallout. How does that happen? I won’t begin to go into all the ways this action did not serve you, your followers or free speech, but suffice it to say that your actions hurt, rather than helped, you. You recently issued an apology for your characterization of the #MeToo movement. While that apology was much needed, I believe, you woefully missed a full understanding of all the places you were off. The mischaracterization of the #MeToo movement was only one disturbing aspect in that now-infamous video. Below are several other areas in which I believe you went awry and from which I believe it would benefit you to learn:

First and foremost, in the video you took down, you did with the female audience member Nanine McCool what our world does with females all the time—silence, dismiss and move in power over them. Here’s how you applied these behaviors in front of 12,000 people:

  1. When you insinuated that the #MeToo movement was about victimhood, Nanine McCool courageously spoke up, saying, “I hear you mischaracterizing the #MeToo movement” at which point you immediately shut her down and attempted to discredit her. You do this by moving in power over her, saying, “I’ve read thousands of #MeToo stories. Have you? Or are you just going to tell me your experience?” BAM, gauntlet down.
  2. Power-play #2—After quickly shutting her down with your put-downs, you then hastily move away from her and begin to speak to the audience about your beliefs. You tell the audience your views and occasionally pause to ask the audience to agree: “Raise your hand if you understand.” And “Raise your hand if you agree—say yes.“

Of course, the audience dutifully complies. This move serves the dual purpose of inflating you as the expert while simultaneously discrediting Ms. McCool. The second gauntlet has been thrown down.

  1. In a further silencing move toward women, Tony, you then state “Anger is not empowerment.” And “Who should throw the stone? You shouldn’t throw that stone if you live in a fucking glass house. Is there anyone of us that hasn’t done something that we prefer we’d not or that we’re embarrassed by or that was hurtful even if we didn’t intend it to?”

Tony, what does that even mean? Are you saying that women should not say anything about sexual harassment if they’ve ever made a mistake in their lives? This is an incredibly dangerous message to women and it sounds an awful lot like trying to silence them. Speaking up about sexual harassment is a MUST for women. Without our voices, we will increase the risk to all of us. This comment was irresponsible on your part and you, of all people, should know this. This statement needs to be repaired because, quite frankly, it’s a crazy statement that can do a lot of damage. Encouraging women to speak up with a grounded strength, rather than a reactive or aggressive one, is a great message, but “don’t throw stones if you’ve ever made a mistake” is a dangerous message that frankly serves men by keeping females victims.

  1. Following that statement, you dig yourself even deeper by protecting—men?! In an ironic turn of events, you tell a story about men who struggle post #MeToo about whom to hire and how to keep themselves safe. You relate the story of a man in a high-level position having to choose among three candidates for a position in his company. You tell the audience, “One was a woman, two were men. The woman was better qualified, but she was very attractive and the employer believed that, ‘I can’t have her around because it’s too big a risk.’ You go on to state—with tremendous compassion for the man—that the employer didn’t hire the woman. You add “I’ve had a dozen men tell me this.”

Tony, there are so many things off about this. First, your key message was about victimhood. It’s victimhood when you say that men say they can’t hire attractive women (or any women, for that matter) due to the #MeToo movement. Why would this man, or any man, feel at “risk” hiring a female?

  1. He doesn’t trust that he can control himself around an attractive female.
  2. He thinks he might not get away with the behaviors he used to get away with.
  3. He can’t trust any females and believes they will falsely accuse him of sexual harassment.

To say that ALL of these reasons are incredibly unhealthy and toxic is an understatement. To further state that your passing on this message is doing men and women a tremendous disservice is an even further understatement.

Tony Robbins, if you ever happen to read this or similar posts, I encourage you to take your own advice and take a step back and humbly listen to the experiences and messages of women. You so comfortably moved in power over Ms. McCool because that’s what our world teaches men to do. You silenced her with your choice of words, your expert status and even music. You dismissed her with your guru status and manipulation of the audience, and then you covered it up by removing the video evidence. For change to happen—for the benefit of men AND women—we need more men to courageously listen to the experiences of women, rather than shutting them down, patting them on the head and telling women to stop playing victims. How about we have men dare to look at their part? Think of how powerful a message that would be coming from you. Telling women to not throw stones is just another way of encouraging their silence. And excusing the decision of men to not hire women is about playing to the fragility of men. I personally believe men are strong enough to handle hard messages, look at their own behaviors and be able to control themselves around women—do you?

The #MeToo movement is about awareness, not victimhood. Did you ever stop to take in the sheer numbers of women AND men who have been on the receiving side of sexual harassment or worse? Coming to the defense of men—the perpetrators—is what has encouraged this abuse for so long. Stop contributing to this problem and start contributing to the solution by helping turn the tide for a healthier culture in which men and women can thrive. You’re supposed to be the relationship guru, so lead, don’t collude.

On a final note, your recent apology was a step in the right direction, but it fell far too short of what is necessary for healing to occur. You have some serious repairing, not just learning to do. Go back to the men who claimed to not be able to hire “attractive” women and call out that bullshit for what it is—don’t collude with it. Tell those men, and all men, that not hiring women is about men not taking accountability for their actions. Make a statement:

“To all the men out there who are nervous about how to proceed after #MeToo and believe that not hiring women is the path forward, while I understand your fear, this is NOT the path to take. All men, myself included, need to place the blame for sexual harassment, assault and rape squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrators—overwhelmingly men. The path forward is not to exclude women, thereby punishing them for OUR abuses, but rather to raise the bar on ourselves. Going forward it is our job to control ourselves, manage ourselves and respect the women in our lives, our offices and our world. Let us all be strong enough, powerful enough and courageous enough to learn from our mistakes and do our part to change the culture and raise the bar for ALL of us.”

Tony, you did to Nanine McCool what men do to women all the time and with the same level of oblivion. You silenced and dismissed her, while simultaneously elevating yourself. If you don’t believe me, watch the tape. While you may not have done this with malice, it had the same effect.

You have some bold repair moves to make—MAKE THEM. Dare to step up beyond your apology words. Truly listen to women—and speak to men. You have researched getting to great much of your life; here is an excellent opportunity for you to humbly learn and be bravely accountable. It is also another chance to practice courage in your repair moves. The world is thirsty for a man in a position of power to have the courage to show up accountable, humble, strong and respectful toward women and in our world. Will you rise to the occasion? I hope so.


Lisa Merlo-Booth