When the United Nations backed ‘HeForShe’ campaign was officially launched on the 20th of September 2014, the movement received large amounts of media coverage, especially due to UN Goodwill Ambassador and Harry Potter actress Emma Watson’s appearance and speech. Now, two years on, HeForShe continues to maintain consistent, positive coverage from a range of media sources such as TIME Magazine, The Huffington Post, and Vogue, however; one has to ask what exactly has this highly celebrated and internationally supported campaign has actually achieved in its two years of existence.
On the 21st of September 2016, HeForShe spokeswoman Emma Watson took the stage alongside a number of other HeForShe advocates such as the Prime Minister of Japan, Prime Minister of Canada, and President of Finland, to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of their collective organisation. Within Watson’s speech, she talks about the goals HeForShe has achieved within the past two years, her own personal journey, and the campaign’s ambitions moving forward; to quote Watson,
“We’ve crashed the UN website on multiple occasions…We have lit up the Empire State Building, seen HeForShe in Time’s Square, and made it a term in the Urban Dictionary. After two billion media impressions, one point one million pledged “HeForShes'” have made ‘practical’ commitments, as have some of the world’s leading universities and companies to make gender equality a priority within their work and within their communities”
While the lenght of the list is impressive, the content appears to be lacklustre, especially when you take into account the ‘1.3 million HeForShe activists‘, UN backing, NATO backing, and support from countries, and celebrities, across the world. Both Watson’s speech and the HeForShe campaign’s website give very few details about what exactly the movement has achieved besides extravagant amounts of self promotion. If one was running a business centered around social media presence, the “two billion media impressions” would be an incredible achievement, however; if one was, for example, running a large, multinational, well funded, non-profit organization designed to directly improve the quality of living for millions (perhaps billions) of women around the world; one would expect “two billion media impressions” to only be an achievement if it directly correlated to the amount of money raised, number of lives saved, or laws and regulations changed; instead, HeForShe appears to be platform from which people can announce their good intentions and their support for equality. This criticism is not to suggest that the intentions of these people is bad, however; one could easily set off fireworks in their back garden and claim to support equality, all while doing nothing to actually improve the lives of women, or men, around the world.
The main problem with his entire controversy, however; is that while this online service with large quantities of money, corporate backing and support from countries around the world, specifically designed to allow anyone to virtue signal; smaller charities, movements and organisations with arguably far more direct contact with those they are trying to help, are often struggling to acquire the coverage they need to make a real difference. One such movement, characterised by the hashtag, #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen, is a group dedicated to improving the lives of Saudi women and helping them achieve equal rights they are not given under Sharia. This hashtag, popularised by online independent political analyst and host of ‘The Jihad Complex’, Isaac Cohen, has been a point of controversy, especially on social media, where a number of affiliated accounts were temporarily suspended, including Cohen’s, adding to the number of occasions in which Twitter has been accused of censorship. As of the 29th of September 2016 (the date of the publishing of this article), no official explanation has been given for this event, making an already concerning situation even more worrying for the future of non-Second Amendment ‘Free Speech’ on social media.
Moving on from the potentially deadly consequences that the glorification and over-funding HeForShe can achieve, it is interesting to note something else Emma Watson says during her speech,
“We already have some amazing things happening, some amazing female leaders, but I don’t know if I would have believed you if you had told me two years ago, before I made my HeForShe speech that we might have the first female president of the United States.Please don’t let me down America!“.
While it is not surprising such a point would have been made during a ‘Women’s Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality’ speech, it is arguably very important to bring up the fact that Watson considers it to be preferable for the next President to be a women rather than a man. Why are the genitalia of a next president so important? The answer is that it’s not. Watson almost certainly doesn’t think that Clinton’s genitals are important, however; Watson probably does think that Clinton’s life experiences as a woman are important. For this argument to be true, one would have to prove that the life experiences of all women (or at least women in America and the United Kingdom) are, in fact, the same.
No one would ever think that, if I were to become Prime Minister, that I would be able to represent the views of all men or the experiences of all men; so why would anyone think Clinton would be able to do the same for women? I’m not sure I can fully answer that question; furthermore, I’m also not sure that there would be any concrete reasoning even if I did intend to investigate more closely. My main assumption would be that those who make the argument; ‘a female president would be able to represent the experiences of all women’, are not applying their logic and reasoning consistently, and are, instead, simply trying to justify their own positive bias towards Clinton simply because she is a woman.
As HeForShe reaches its second anniversary, I am left wondering what the future holds for such a movement; will people catch on that this well funded and hugely endorsed ‘charity’ is not actually helping the lives of those it says it wants to improve, and is, in fact, subtracting from real groups and individuals that go out of their way, potentially risking themselves, to help others. How long will this group last for? What has to happen for them to be called out on their false promises that bring hope to millions of disenfranchised, legitimately oppressed women from across the globe? What about us? How long will we stand ideally by while this group damages the reputation and future of grassroot movements, while legitimate oppressive structures exist, and while those of us who do not subscribe to groups such as this are mocked and maligned as racists, sexists and bigots in the media and general political discourse?
Finally, to end, I would just like to bring up something that can be found on the HeForShe website. Near the bottom of the home page, one can find an atlas, and just underneath it, a list. A list of five countries that the HeForShe campaign deems to be of top priority. Number 2? The United States of America. Number 4? The United Kingdom. Two of the most egalitarian, most enlightened, most equal countries on the planet are on HeForShe’s list of countries that need the most work before they can achieve ‘Gender Equality’. After this, it is very difficult to legitimize such a movement, especially when they have just held their second anniversary celebrations at MOMA; the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, USA; the second most ‘oppressive’ country on earth.