It stands to reason that famous celebrities talking about important causes should lead to people standing up and paying attention to said causes, right? Nope. Apparently celebrities who identify as feminists make people care less about women’s issues, according to a new study carried out over the course of two years.
In the study, only 20 percent said they’ve had their eyes opened by a Gigi Hadid or a Taylor Swift—and 30 percent say they actually care less after seeing feminist action from a woman celeb (in particular, Swift herself was called out as a instigator for going cold on feminist issues). This is disturbing—but also interesting.
The study, which looked at 6,000 adults across the globe, found that people in Southeast Asia and Latin America are most likely to have their views swayed by celebrity feminists, and those in North America and Europe are least likely to be receptive. Carried out by celeb branding expert Jeetendr Sehdev, the research found that stars who wax poetic about feminism but haven’t proven themselves to be heavyweights in the arena of gender equality come off as fake.
In other words, if a celeb goes on the record to discuss the importance of feminism but hasn’t actually spent time or money supporting major organizations or initiatives that support equal rights for women, 80 percent of people who took part in the study said they wouldn’t believe that the celeb is a feminist at all. This is a major problem, because it winds up giving feminism a bad name.
It seems as though the problem lies within the messenger: A whopping 78 percent of people who took part in the research said they’d prefer “high-profile multi-cultural spokespeople” to champion the cause of feminism. That said, there are some high-profile icons that people do find trustworthy on these issues. The Pakistani activist for female education Malala Yousafzai tops this list, and it’s not hard to see why: She insisted that women should receive an equal education as a young girl, going against the Taliban, and was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman four years ago, when she was just 15 years old. She survived, and went on to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; on her 18th birthday last year, she opened a school for 200 Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon with money raised from the Malala Fund.
But lest you believe that people only trust feminist messages coming from women like Yousafzai, the second person on that list is Lena Dunham, which is pretty amazing and shows she’s done a lot for women’s rights in her unflinching portrayal of women on Girls and elsewhere. She’s followed by three more powerhouses: Patricia Arquette, Diane von Furstenberg, and Sheryl Sandberg.
That said, if the feminist message is coming from elsewhere, don’t count on anyone listening to it. The boldfaced woman least likely to incite a feminist uprising is, of all people, Adele, followed closely by Renee Zellweger, Olivia Wilde, Taylor Swift, and Gigi Hadid.
“Honestly, I didn’t have an accurate definition of feminism when I was younger,” Swift told Maxim last year, which perhaps isn’t the best arena for a little feminist chat. (Also, the interview was occasioned by Swift topping the publication’s hottest-women list.) “I didn’t see myself being held back until I was a woman. Or the double standards in headlines, the double standards in the way stories are told, the double standards in the way things are perceived… Misogyny is ingrained in people from the time they are born. So to me, feminism is probably the most important movement that you could embrace, because it’s just basically another word for equality.”
Though it is perhaps safe to say that Swift isn’t inspiring too many people to become impassioned about women’s rights and gender equality, it’s exceptionally clear that Lena Dunham really is a champion of these causes. In fact, in a fun twist, it was Dunham herself who opened Swift’s eyes to feminism. “Becoming friends with Lena… has made me realize that I’ve been taking a feminist stance without actually saying so,” Swift told The Guardian last year.
So, to recap: If you’re Taylor Swift, you’re less likely to influence people to care about feminism. If you’re Lena Dunham, you might have more luck (as proven by Swift’s comment, along with this new study), but people are most excited about hearing feminist remarks from those who have been on the front lines—like Malala Yousafzai.