Celebrities like Lena Dunham and Emma Watson say they’re making the world better by bringing ideas about women’s rights to the masses. In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, high-profile women like Jennifer Lawrence and Beyonce have joined the crusade for female equality—even the decidedly apolitical Taylor Swift says she considers herself a “feminist.”
But while these “celebrity feminists”—or “fauxmanists” as they’re often called— might be making themselves feel important, they actually aren’t helping. In fact, they may actually be hurting the cause of global women’s rights, according to a new study.
The research, conducted by celebrity branding expert Jeetender Sehdev over the course of two years, seems to show that while being a celebrity is super on-trend, especially for women who walk red carpets or tell jokes on stage, only 20% of North Americans and Europeans say they’ve had their “eyes opened” by someone like Dunham.
Thirty percent admitted that they might actually care less after hearing feminist talking points from someone like Swift.
And that’s if they buy a celebrity’s feminist credentials at all; 80% told the branding agency that if a celebrity hasn’t spoken about feminism before now, their credibility is seriously in question on the issue. And it’s a high bar to earn trust: an affiliated study by the same agency showed that consumers are cynical even of longtime-humanitarian Angelina Jolie’s commitment to her causes.
Dunham and Patricia Arquette are the only stars of stage and screen to be considered “credible feminists,” possibly because they’re now mostly famous for being political activists. Actress Olivia Wilde, Swift, model Gigi Hadid and even the UN’s top feminist herself, Watson, were among the least credible ambassadors, according to consumers.
The problem, according to Sehdev, is that feminism is increasingly seen as a way for young female celebrities to find relevance in a social media world. Since you can make headlines for being a feminist—or, really, just saying you’re a feminist— actresses, singers and models use the word to garner attention.
That, say consumers, cheapens feminism and “damages the cause’s reputation as a whole.” According to the study, celebrity involvement makes women’s rights actually seem like a “trivial matter.” And that tunes people out of the message—even if there is a real need for women’s rights activism on a global scale.
Most of the over 6,000 consumers polled said that modern feminists could earn more credibility if they incorporated experienced spokespeople like education crusader Malala Yousafzai or CEO Sheryl Sandberg.
Fauxmanists out, real feminists in.