In the past year or so (and probably longer) there have been plenty of articles on Internet activism, sometimes derisively called “slacktivism.” Some people are panicked by Internet activism and what it means for the world’s scariest generation: millenials. To wit, the Huffington Post published one piece in October called Slacktivism: The Downfall of Millenials. I think the title is self-explanatory, especially if you’ve been reading the usual fear-mongering/doomsday articles about young people in America, but basically everyone’s worried that retweets will come to take the place of marches/protests, i.e. things proven to cause actual change. This fear has recently manifested in an actual study of whether Internet activism can or will lead to “real” activism. My reading about Internet activism had me wondering about two recent campaigns to engage men in feminism, and how useful they may or may not be for our cause.
You see, some people LOVE Internet activism, even and especially activist groups, who encourage likes, shares, views, repins, etc of their colors, signs, events, and so on. One recent and prominent example of an organization embracing “slacktivism” is…the UN, when they and, of course, Emma Watson, started the #HeForShe campaign.
The campaign invited men to join the fight for women’s rights around the world. Many rightfully said the campaign didn’t go far enough to include intersectional aspects of feminism, and others said the campaign didn’t go far enough at all. That’s because when you go to the HeForShe website you are greeted with a beautiful homepage that encourages you to sign the petition for equal rights.
That’s it? Yes, that’s it, they just want you (well, actually men) to sign up, and spread the word. There are pages for an “Action Kit” and “Strategy” tips for outreach, but HeForShe’s biggest goal is just to get one billion virtual male signatures. The United Nations itself has a whole campaign dedicated to what many people have been deriding: that spreading the word is valuable in and of itself.
Another big online campaign last year was It’s On Us, the White House campaign to help end the culture of sexual assault on college campuses. The campaign’s website has a “Tools” section with tips on how to identify and intervene in situations of potential sexual assault. Like HeForShe, It’s On Us has celebrity promoters, focuses its efforts on men, and mostly just wants one thing from those men — to take the pledge and share support on social media.
Is the ultimate goal of the White House and the United Nations just to get more clicks, a la celebrity Instagrams? Probably not. They really believe that pledging will lead to a fundamental change, not just in their organizations but in society at large. The method seems to be an attempted snowball effect: men who pledge will then act on their pledges, and their actions will inspire other men, and so on.
Personally, I’ve always liked the idea of Internet activism and so I was 100% on board with the campaigns. If nothing else, Emma Watson’s speech took women’s rights to a massive stage, and the tips It’s On Us provides are the small footsteps toward normalizing a zero-tolerance environment for sexual assault on college campuses. The awareness was cool.
My opinion changed when I went to a lecture by Ted Bunch, co-founder and co-director of A Call to Men. A Call to Men is an organization dedicated to promoting “a more healthy and respectful definition of manhood.” They want to call on those men not committing violence against women (i.e. most men in the world) to take action against those who are committing violence. A Call to Men uses the metaphor of the “man box” to discuss how the rigid gender roles we impose on men lead to a devaluation of women and therefore to violence against women.
(Check out co-founder Tony Porter’s powerful TED Talk here.)
Why did A Call to Men change my mind about Internet activism? After listening to Ted Bunch speak, I was inspired. He’s a great speaker and the topic is, of course, close to my heart.
And then I went to the A Call to Men website.
Instead of a sign-up sheet, A Call to Men breaks down their vision into three segments: Educate Yourself, Empower Your Friends and Family, and Engage Your Community. Within each section are actionable ways to bring about “the next generation of manhood,” starting with personal things like “expressing your broad range of emotions” and then expanding to things like hosting an annual event of your choosing. Along with these suggestions come resources for men to educate themselves, find support or print off ready-made posters.
What’s left is a website much meatier than anything It’s On Us or HeForShe has offered. The difference is stark, even for someone like me who supports Internet activism.
While Internet activism and raising awareness for a cause is important and has its place, signatures and retweets cannot replace actual action. All of these campaigns/organizations have awesome goals, but only one of these three is providing tools and instruction to empower people interested in the cause. I’d rather have one man do one of the things on A Call to Men’s list than have one billion men sign and then forget about HeForShe.
We can’t make men, or really anyone, care enough to actually do anything suggested, and some people will only sign to look or feel a certain way. But for those who really want to make a difference, one click of a button on the computer won’t be good enough. I think it’s ok for us to set the bar a little higher.
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