Is Taylor Swift Ruining Feminism?

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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.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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  1. I’ve followed the link from Google Scholar. The warning is not a big deal: the link is an “https” secure link, but the security certificate is not trusted by my Firefox browser. The warning is really “despite being an https link, this is no more reliable than an http link, and as such what you see could have been manipulated by a ‘man in the middle’.” I.e. it is no worse (but no better) than an http link.

    The document is an MSc thesis in Management, written by Polina Ponomarenko and supervised by Paulo Goncalves Markos. It is written in English. It has an appendix which covers survey responses, so there was a survey. (I’ve not read beyond the abstract and table of contents.) Here is the abstract (sorry, cut and paste from PDF has messed up spacing):

    Victoria’s Secre
    t, which belongs to L Brands group
    is the leading lingerie bra
    nd in its home
    US and globally
    , which has substantially shaped the industry of underwear in the last
    es and successfully expanded into other product categories, su
    ch as swimwear,
    sportswear, apparel and beauty.
    It has been performing well
    in the resent years under
    the management of its CEO
    Sharen Turney
    , who has left the brand
    in the beginning of 2016
    and delegated to Leslie Wexner, the CEO of
    L Brands
    However, in the last two years
    questionable aspects of Victoria’s Secret marketing
    been raised by media, competitors and

    the brand
    has gained a significant amount
    of negative publicity regarding its
    brand values
    , based on its reluct
    ance to cater to plus

    segment and the accusations of promoting wrong body ideals and sexist stereotypes among
    women. From brand management
    prospective, these negatives could
    become reasons not to buy
    Victoria’s Secret prod
    ucts among consumers, which m
    make further brand relevance
    In order to facilitate
    brand relevance maintenance, t
    he case protagonist
    , Victoria’s Secret CEO,
    Leslie Wexner
    faced with a dilemma

    either to make Victoria’s Secret enter a plus

    segment or introduce new corporate s
    ocial initiatives to the brand. The students are supposed
    to analyze and discuss the case study, using company background and market conditions a
    on the basis of pros and cons for each strategy,
    the particular dilemma.

  2. You took the words right out of my mouth. I am also google scholar size segment corporate social initiatives.

  3. Sehdev’s Wikipedia article has been nominated for deletion. I left a comment on its talk page after your video and other Wikipedians took it from there with the heavy lifting.

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