HeForShe: Just Another Case of Slacktivism?

In today’s digital world, anything we would every need or want to know is at our fingertips, just a scroll or a few clicks away. With all of this information easily on hand, oftentimes, we learn about social justice issues, charities, or causes that we may want to support. From liking posts on Facebook, to tweeting support on Twitter, to making YouTube videos and posting Instagram pictures, people express this support and activism through their personal social media profiles.

This was very much the case when the HeForShe campaign was announced. Emma Watson’s speech was uploaded to YouTube, and soon it spread like wildfire. From thousands of shares on Facebook, to numerous tweets using the hashtag #HeForShe, everyone, everywhere, heard about Emma Watson’s powerful speech and showed their support through social media (Marie Claire).

Although social media has allowed people to become more supportive of charitable causes, there has been some criticism of this type of involvement. People have argued that through social media, “we continuously absorb social justice messages, but we don’t take the time to act upon them” (Seay). This inaction is commonly referred to as “slacktivism”, and also sometimes called “hashtag activism”, “armchair activism”, or “clicktivism” (Robertson & Lee). Slacktivism’s name explains itself, but could use some clarification. The term was coined to refer to those who pledge support online, but don’t show much support through their physical actions. Posting a photo showing support for a charitable campaign like HeForShe requires a very small cost for participants to get involved, thus concluding that it is just a form of slacktivism (Robertson). More formally, slacktivism is defined as “a willingness to perform a relatively costless, token display of support for a social cause, with an accompanying lack of willingness to devote significant effort to enact meaningful change” (Kristofferson, White, & Peloza).

What differentiates slacktivists from “true” activists? Laura Seay from The Washington Post says it pretty bluntly by stating that “Slacktivists don’t have to spend a Saturday doing hard labor to build a home or sacrifice a portion of their monthly entertainment budget to a cause. They don’t even have to move from behind the screens of their electronic devices” (Seay).

Several recent charitable and social justice campaigns have been strongly supported by slacktivists, while at the same time gaining some criticism because of that. #BringBackOurGirls began in an effort to find and return 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria who were kidnapped by the Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group (Robertson). People around the world, from the general public to celebrities, showed their support of #BringBackOurGirls via social media, but within weeks, the campaign was largely forgotten (Robertson).


(Photo: Forbes)

More recently, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has been given flack for being just another form of slacktivism. The campaign called for people to donate money to ALS research, or dump a bucket of ice water on their heads. Those who chose the latter filmed the act, then post it online. The campaign did have widespread success, raising $100 million for the ALS Association (Diamond). Compared to the $1.8 million raised the year before, that’s pretty remarkable (Lee). What the campaign has been criticized for and what has caused it to be categorized by some as slacktivism is the lack of knowledge about the disease and the little that was done to educate the public on the importance of donations. In addition to this, some believe that “participants in the challenge completed it for shock-value” (Robertson).

HeForShe has had the same reactions as #BringBackOurGirls and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Many have pledged their support, but other than showing this support online, what else are they going to do to help HeForShe’s mission to achieve gender equality? Although it may be just another case of slacktivism where results and education aren’t achieved, some have found that promoting a cause on social media is as useful has promoting causes offline. A study by Georgetown University “shows that people who promote causes on social media are twice as likely to volunteer their time than someone who doesn’t post about a cause digitally” (Lee).

We’ve seen the support for HeForShe in thousands of pictures, posts, tweets, but when or how will we see the results of this support? How will it be measured? Hopefully updates from UN Women and the HeForShe campaign will gain as much traction as the initial announcement of the campaign, and results will be evident.


Diamond, Dan. “The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Has Raised $100 Million — And Counting.” Forbes.com. 29 September 2014. Web. 26 October 2014.

“Emma Watson’s #HeForShe Campaign Gains Hollywood Support.” Marie Claire. 25 September 2014. Web. 26 October. 2014.

Kristofferson, Kirk, Katherine White, and John Peloza. “The Nature of Slacktivism: How the Social Observability of an Initial Act of Token Support Affects Subsequent Prosocial Action. “Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 40, No. 6 (April 2014), pp. 1149-1166.

Lee, Jolie. “What’s the Real Impact of Viral Ice Bucket Challenge?” USA Today. 18 August 2014. Web. 26 October 2014.

Seay, Lauren. “Does Slacktivism Work?” The Washington Post. 12 March 2014. Web. 26 October 2014.

Robertson, Charlotte. “Slacktivism: The Downfall of Millennials.” The Huffington Post. 14 October 2014. Web. 26 October 2014.


Defining Gender Equality

Although the definition may seem obvious, gender equality is something that could have many interpretations. Because of this, I think it is important to define what gender equality means in the HeForShe campaign. When looking at the campaign through a critical lens, it will be important to examine it with its particular definition in mind, rather than what I understand gender equality to mean.

emma watson

(Photo: Newscom)

In Emma Watson’s speech, which I mentioned in my last post, she mentions that feminism has often been misconstrued in the media and in general conversation. Watson notes that “fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating”(“Emma Watson”, UN Women). She goes on to declare that this is wrong and has to stop, and also recites a definition of feminism that reads that feminism is “the belief that men and women should have should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes” (“Emma Watson”, UN Women).

Watson cites several examples of how women aren’t treated equally, but unlike many other remarks for gender equality, she also mentions how men are often “imprisoned by gender stereotypes” and this issue is hardly discussed. For example, men who suffer from mental illness are afraid to seek help, for fear they may look less “macho” (“Emma Watson”, UN Women). 

I believe Watson sums up HeForShe’s definition of gender equality best when she said that “both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong… It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum not as two opposing sets of ideals.If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by what we are—we can all be freer and this is what HeForShe is about. It’s about freedom” (“Emma Watson”, UN Women).

As far as how I define gender equality, I whole heartedly agree with Watson and the HeForShe campaign. The International Planned Parenthood Federation describes this definition as well, but adds the clarification that “gender equality does not imply that men and women are the same” but does insist that men and women are treated equally (“What is Gender Equality?”, IPFF).  In addition to thinking of equality among men and women, I also believe it is important to consider those who identify has neither male nor female. Gender is has many avenues, and all genders should be treated equally. 

Probably the one portion of HeForShe’s definition of gender equality that I most agree with – and am also happy that was emphasized by Watson in her speech – is the fact that feminism is not about bashing or hating men. Especially in today’s world, when social media is inescapable and reaching millions of people is possible within seconds, these false ideas about what gender equality and feminism really mean are so often blurred and exaggerated. Female musicians and celebrities (most notably Beyonce, but the topic of Beyonce and gender equality could turn into it’s own blog project…) who are very present in the media often have helped spread this idea of gender equality, and have been called out for it. These man-hating ideas that people assume are synonymous with feminism have also caused some women to claim they aren’t feminists because they love men, which is so misguided and frankly frustrating to hear. HeForShe has directly addressed this this false definition of gender equality, while at the same time, is rallying people to change that false notion and create a world where men and women are equal in all ways. 

How exactly will HeForShe change people’s understandings of gender equality, while at the same time pushing toward gender equality? They have mapped out ideas for implementation in their action kit, but I am interested to see how UN Women directly tackle this issue – is there an event or social media campaign or what? –  and how other groups they empower will do the same.

Stay tuned for a future blog post! Maybe my questions will be answered…


“Emma Watson: Gender Equality Is Your Issue Too.” UN Women. 20 September 2014. Web. 14 October 2014.

“What is Gender Equality?” IPPF. n.d. Web. 14 October 2014.

HeForShe Explained

Before I go into any sort of analysis of the HeForShe campaign, I thought I better research the basic facts of the campaign: its goals, key messages, and plan for execution.

The public first heard about the campaign on September 20, 2014, when United Nations Women Global Goodwill Ambassador (and actress best known for playing Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series), Emma Watson delivered a moving speech about HeForShe. The campaign is led by UN Women, in which men worldwide are encouraged to speak out against the inequalities faced by women and girls.

If you want to see Watson’s speech, below is the YouTube video of it.

In this excerpt from the transcript of Watson’s speech, she explains the main goal of the campaign:

“It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals. We should stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by who we are. We can all be freer and this is what HeForShe is about. It’s about freedom. I want men to take up this mantle so their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human, too and in doing so, be a more true and complete version of themselves.”

So, how do Emma Watson and UN Women plan on carrying out this campaign? Although there was much buzz about Watson’s speech, she never went into detail of what the campaign entailed. After poking around on the HeForShe website, I found the HeForShe action kit, which lays out the key messages, goals, and a framework for implementation of the campaign.

If you care to read the whole action kit, you will find it is pretty thorough. If you don’t, I will do my best to sum it up.

There are three main key messages in the campaign. 1) Gender inequality among men and women is the “most persistent human rights violations of our time.” 2) HeForShe is specifically engaging men and boys as advocates of gender equality. And 3) “Gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue that affects all of us” (UN Women 3).

HeForShe has the overarching goal of spreading awareness and sparking action in men and boys to eliminate all forms of discrimination and end all violence against women and girls. Within this main goal, there are a few sub-goals. UN Women want all UN entities involved in the campaign. They also collaborate with various “government officials, men’s organizations and other civil society organizations, universities and schools” to plan and hold HeForShe events. HeForShe wants to inspire people to take action against gender discrimination. And finally, they want to highlight those, especially men and boys, who are already taking action in HeForShe (UN Women 3).

As far as how HeForShe would like the public to implement the campaign, they lay out 3 different campaign guidelines for different groups. There is an implementation plan for UN Women and other UN Entities, a plan for Individuals and Civil Society Organizations, and finally a plan for Universities and Colleges. It may be worthwhile to visit the HeForShe website and look at the action kit, but one interesting aspect of the plans – which is included in the plan for Individuals and Civil Society Organizations – that I want to point out is directions for online engagement. In this portion, it includes handles for various HeForShe social media platforms. This includes their Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube page.

In the conclusion of the action kit, HeForShe sets a specific goal of mobilizing “one billion men by July 2015” to help their communities and develop programs and events to raise awareness and end gender inequality (UN Women 11).

After reading through the action plan and getting a better understanding of HeForShe’s messages, goals, and implementation plans, it is clear that UN Women are relying on us to bring this campaign to life. I know I am curious as to what is next for HeForShe. I and the rest of the world will just have to wait and see….


HeForShe. “Emma Watson HeForShe Speech at the United Nations | UN Women 2014.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 22 September 2014. Web. 7 October 2014.

Robinson, Joanna. “Watch Emma Watson Deliver a Game-Changing Speech on Feminism for the U.N.” Vanity Fair. 26 September 2014. Web.

UN Women. “Action Kit.” HeForShe UN Women Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality. 2014. 1-12. PDF File.

Blog Proposal – #HeForShe

For my Sexuality and Social Media class, I want to analyze the newly launched #HeForShe campaign, a movement by the United Nations for gender equality. I would like to used varied sources, some online and some scholarly. I will focus on using keywords and specific tags in my posts in order to drive my content. I will also be sharing my posts via Twitter and Facebook to gain some traction on my blog.
I am very interested in the marketing and public relations field, and I am very curious as to how far this campaign can go since it is relying so much on social media. In addition to my interest on the promotion side of the campaign, gender equality is an important issue to me because I think everyone, no matter what gender (or age, or race, or ethnicity) deserve to be treated equally. It’s an issue I care about, and I think others should care about, and I want to see this campaign succeed. I hope to break down this project into three parts: History, Intent, and the Future. My aim isn’t to criticize the campaign in any way, but to look at it through a critical lens.