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“Study says” are two of the most powerful words in journalism, because you can say literally anything in front of them in a headline and people will take it as gospel truth. Like this: “It’s a Wonderful Life” is the most overrated movie of all time, study says. See? Don’t you believe that? I mean, because it’s true, but also the weight of a “study” saying it makes it so much better!
Which brings us to a headline I recently saw in The Independent, a fairly respectable newspaper: “Celebrity feminists are making people care less about women’s rights, study claims.” Oh dear! If a study says it, it must be true.
The article explains that Jeetendr Sehdev carried out a study over two years involving 6,000 adults around the world, showing that “If a celebrity hasn’t demonstrated their commitment to the feminist cause before speaking out about it, 80 per cent of people won’t buy their feminist credentials.”
Hold on, that doesn’t really track with the headline….that actually sounds pretty reasonable actually.
And apparently 20% of people reported that they care MORE about feminism because of a celebrity speaking out about it, which also seems quite positive.
And it’s interesting that the article also reports that 30% of people in the study cared less about feminist issues specifically because of Taylor Swift. I find it fascinating for three reasons: one, because feminism is generally understood by feminists to be the concern of women’s equality, and if you care less about women’s equality because of one woman you don’t like, what does that say about your values in the first place?
Secondly, this makes me wonder what definition of “feminism” Sehdev used in his research. Was it “women’s equality,” or was it “the particular brand of white feminism that people like Taylor Swift pay lip service to while intersectional feminists tend to criticize”?
Finally, it makes me wonder how 30% of all respondents both know about Taylor Swift and care THAT MUCH about what she talks about, considering that Sehdev claims the research spanned at least four continents including South-East Asia and Latin America, where Swift doesn’t have nearly the presence she has here in America. This also makes Sehdev’s list of most and least credible celebrity feminists a bit suspect, since all the names on it are American or English, with the notable exception of Malala Yousafzai, who is known worldwide.
All these questions are easily answered, of course, by looking at the actual study. This is where I ran into even more questions, though. The Independent doesn’t describe what journal the study was published in or if it was published at all, or if it even has a title. They only link to Sehdev’s slick website where he himself only links to other mainstream news outlets, like an interview with Glamour where he reveals what sexy is, and Business Insider where he warns that Victoria’s Secret is losing relevance, or The Today Show where he shares his deep thoughts about Justin Bieber. Nowhere on his site does he list any publications.
His Wikipedia page, which was created by a user whose entire history is dedicated almost solely to creating that page, is similarly barren — no links to any publications, though he is revealed to have paid to have a fully kitted out IMDB page where we can see he was on an episode of Eldorado and he’s also an Aries.
After some exhaustive Googling, I could only find a single paper of his, and it was a marketing case study of Victoria’s Secret. I wanted to read it, but I got a warning when trying to open it so I figured it wasn’t worth accidentally downloading a virus or something.
In other words: there is no study. There MIGHT be a survey of some kind, but the data from it is completely hidden, not peer-reviewed, and most definitely not scientifically rigorous. To put it even more simply: it’s bullshit.
So well done to Sehdev for using his marketing know-how to trick the Independent into running his bullshit as “science,” but please don’t use this as a reason to bash female celebrities who speak up about feminist issues. I assure you that intersectional feminists are already hard at work criticizing their particularly privileged brand of white feminism.