#MeToo Is More Complicated Than Imagined At Burning Man

The event will test the momentum of the movement as it nears its first anniversary.

Burning Man
Burning Man participants dance on and around "The Penetrator" art car near the effigy of "The Man" (L) on the 2nd day of the annual Burning Man arts and music festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, U.S. August 29, 2017. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

The #MeToo movement is approaching its one-year anniversary, and there is no better test of its momentum than Burning Man. The massive festival in the Nevada desert, originally started by a group of San Francisco artists as an experiment, is historically anarchic. But now, more than 30 years and several thousands of attendees later, Black Rock City’s temporary residents have largely submitted to the laws of the state. Even so,  the event is still not necessarily orderly. How will the community, which revels in alcohol-fueled dance parties and few rules, address the #MeToo movement?

Five years before #MeToo became a mainstream idea, activists began calling for an addendum to Burning Man’s 10 guiding principals. They wanted the 11th principal to be consent. It has yet to be officially adopted but Vogue questions if that will change in the #MeToo era. Sex positivity, along with raising awareness about consent issues on touching, has been part of Burning Man since 2004. Las Vegas Review Journal tweeted that this year, Burning Man ticket holders got an email that reminded attendees consent is need for any kind of touching, gifting or photography.

There have been issues with sexual assault at the festival in the past. The 2012 After Burn document, which is distributed each year after the event, said that the Mental Health Branch of the Emergency Services Department, which deals with sexual assault–related cases, had “the busiest year on record,” an 85 percent increase in calls, and 10 sexual assault cases, two of which resulted in rape kit exams for attendees administered in Reno, according to Vogue. 

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