HeForShe, Emma Watson and gender equality on Twitter 🕊

In my previous posts on #RESIST I’ve attempted to bring focus to issues found both inside and out of specific global south development contexts, more specifically those of norm-criticism and its possible (non)effects on the status quo; far-reaching consequences of alternative facts on social media; and pocket (smartphone) activism re: Trump in the US, a matter of social change most admittedly, but not one located in the global south.

To relate my posts to the field of development perhaps a bit more coherently, I’m dedicating this final blog-post to some tweets and celebrity-initiatives as activism. Out of the three initiatives that first come to mind: the ALS Ice bucket challenge; the 22 Push-up challenge; and the HeForShe initiative, only the latter translates well into the field of social change (and goes beyond that really). I am however singling out celebrity activism through the means of tweets specifically, in part in relation to HeForShe, but also focusing on the celebrity activism by UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson in relation to the initiative, as in approaching her tweets and profile through that almost as a lens in which to view them in relation to, but also on gender equality more generally, looking at what is relatable to development work especially in the global south.

In approaching digital activism through the lens of tweets and blogs, Denskus and Esser (2013) find that the ways that dominant development discourses are challenged through these types of channels are not very effective in influencing discursive power relations found within development approaches.[1]

However, as the focus of my post is on activism and in extension then also on bringing awareness to issues regardless of outcomes, I will look at some selected tweets, either shared or tweeted by Emma Watson; not to see if/how they may question dominant discourses in development theory, but rather reflect on where they stand in terms of activism and processes for development in relation to gender:






In relation to the women’s march specifically, to read more here on #RESIST that goes over it in more detail, click here to start with the introductory post to the movement by Cecilia. On an interesting note, Cecilia also delves into the role of new media in relation to this march, but also beyond, and I thought this passage by her was particularly suitable to include here as well, as the mention particularly of the organisational aspects of digital activism for movements, is equally as applicable to Tweets in general  (in light of particular movements and/or events of course) as they are to #womensmarch:

“New media may also affect the potential for individuals and groups to organize, protest, or take other forms of collective action” [2] I would argue this can directly be reflected in the potential of the #womensmarch movement, while using the social media platforms to disseminate their actions. Finally, the report continues by saying that “Social media may reduce the transaction costs for organizing collective action, by facilitating communication and coordination across both physical and social distance” [3] Regarding this statement, I think #womensmarch is a great example of how new media has helped to mobilize the actions of a new social movement.


These are just some of many tweets that can be related to both the HeForShe capaign and to promote gender equality in both the developed and develping world. But in what context exactly are you supposed to ‘put’ the above tweets re: gender equality in the developing world?

Denskus discusses the “numerous issues around celebrity discourses in the global market of development (re)presentations” in his blog book-review of Lilie Chouliaraki’s book The Ironic Spectator-Solidarity in the age of post-humanitarianism that specifically touches upon that, and other, use of new media as part of online activism. Chouliaraki argues that in new media scenarios you are no longer required to ‘actually’ participate in person, but rather you can simply stay alert and aware of what is going without necessarily having to act upon it. [4]

She also relates new media to the concept of celebrity activism, noting that “it may not be able to provide these publics with a more enduring orientation to action. (…) (it) runs the risk of inspiring talk about the celebrity herself and so of inserting aspirational performance into registers of ineffective speech” [5]

And whereas an initiative as globally applicable as the HeForShe campaign, with Emma Watson tweeting from not only her perspective as a person and actor, but also as the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador dedicating “her efforts towards the empowerment of young women”..and..” promoting gender equality” it might seem uncomplicated and overall a positive action for online activism for women’s rights and the fight for equality. However, in re-tracing my steps back to my last post; what of underlying discourses and expectations for change within the field of development “when NGO work focusing on development in the global south challenge whiteness or gender norms; thus critiquing prevailing norms in a society”?

Hmmm, I think this will have to be addressed more in detail in my individual assignment, it is seemingly another 4 or 5 blog posts in itself 🙂




[1] Denskus, T., Esser, D. 2013: Social Media and Global Development Rituals: a content analysis of blogs and tweets on the 2010 MDG Summit, Third World Quarterly 34: 409-424

[2] Aday, S., Farrell, H., Lynch, M. et al. 2010: Blogs and Bullets: New Media in Contentious Politics, Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace. pp.10-1

[3] ibid.

[4] Chouliaraki, L. 2013 Ironic Spectator,  Wiley. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/malmo/detail.action?docID=1166843. p.18

[5] ibid, p.103



One comment

  1. Thanks for this interesting post Emma and for highlighting such an important topic as the digital activism for gender equality by a celebrity like Emma Watson. Interested in gender issues as I am, I studied the HeforShe Campaign in a previous assignment , mainly focusing on how gender was represented in the campaign images disiminated by HeForShe mainly on Facebook 🙂 I then come across the amazing speach by Emma Watson which went viral and was seen by millions of people on Youtube. This was without no doubt an encouraging beginning of her journey as a goodwilll ambassador for Un Women.
    However, I totally agree with you that the celibrity acitivism on social media is not totally free from obstacles. Because as you say, on the one hand it is probably a huge inspiration and a positive action for empowering women and promoting gender equality. Just look at the tweet by Emma Watson from the Women’s March: 132 302 likes, which is way more than the organizers of Women’s March got on any of their tweets I’ve seen. And for Un Women, counting with the support of such a worldwide famous young women with a brilliant disocurse is probably a huge advantage for promoting women’s rights and might also inspire to a lot of digital activism on social media. But on the other hand, as you also adress according to Denskus and Esser (2013) “these types of channels are not very effective in influencing discursive power relations found within development approaches”. So one can ask how much influence in changing social norms and stereothypes, as well as implementing actual policies for gender equality could Emma’s digitak activism have? And I Think it’s Worth to also have in mind, as Chouliaraki, (2013), argues that celebrity activism runs the risk to just draw attention to the celebrity herself and not the cause.
    Finally, I Think It would be intersting to study the comments on the the tweets by celebrities to see if the reactions of people tweeting or commenting onthem is about the celebrity or about the actual cause. Thanks for this interesting Reading!

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