Feminism’s zombie stats: 63% of young women would rather be glamour models

Posted on 23 April, 2012 by

Zombie stats are numerical factoids that just won’t quit, however dead they get. They lurch up from their graves in every subject, drawn to the juicy warm flesh of public consciousness by some unkillable primal instinct, spreading their intelligence-murdering contagion wherever they shamble. There’s a special pang in seeing their rotten heads pop up in a debate you know and care about, so this week, I am going to bust the mouldering brain pans of feminism’s favourite zombie stats.

Starting with this one:

63% of young women would rather be glamour models than nurses, doctors or teachers

What an indictment of the grotesque aspirations we feed our girl children this one is: raised in a culture that prizes fame, individualism and female sexual availability above all else, nearly two thirds of young women would rather get their norks out for the lad mags than do a job which actually helps people. This one appeared yesterday in a very interesting article by Terri White, who formerly worked as associate editor of Nuts and deputy editor of Maxim. For her, it demonstrated the damage done by the culture she helped perpetuate.

This dread percentage shows up in Kat Banyard’s 2011 book The Equality Illusion. It lurches its way through the 2009 NUS Women’s Campaign Policy (PDF), where we’re told that “the glamorisations [sic] of lap dancing clubs is linked to 63% of girls surveyed saying they would rather be glamour models than doctor or teachers”. It’s in Object’s FAQ on lad mags: “We find these findings alarming as it says a great deal about the kinds of aspirations that are being held out for women in our society,” says the campaign group.

From a certain feminist perspective, this is evidence that women are trained by a sexualised media to see success in purely sexualised terms. If you think about it a little, it isn’t particularly flattering to women. In glamour modelling analogies, this is a wonky-titted phonesnap in a bathroom mirror rather than a cheerfully posed bit of page three flashing: it doesn’t look very good. What it suggests is that young women are grossly impressionable and deeply selfish. By this account, we’re all just boobed blank slates, waiting to be imprinted by our first encounter with a newsstand.

That doesn’t sound very plausible. Well, surprise! Nor is the survey. It’s from 2005, was done for a “mobile entertainment company” which now doesn’t exist (meaning the zombie stat has outlived its creator), and its methodology was deeply dodgy. For one thing, it’s intent was always to secure publicity rather than uncover the secret truth of Britain’s female psyche: with a little googling, you can find the company’s spokesman expounding on the equally scientifically sound subject of “shag bands”.

For another, the study didn’t ask girls whether they wanted to be glamour models. It asked 1,000 girls aged 15-19 whether they’d rather be like “Abi Titmuss, Germaine Greer or Anita Roddick”, and 63% picked Titmuss – who as well as being a glamour model is also a qualified nurse, unlike Roddick or Greer, so there’s a confounding factor to think on. As Dr Petra Boynton pointed out when the statistic was first published, the survey was both a badly designed and hideously unethical (unless we’re all OK with asking 15-year-olds if they want to go topless), but that may not matter anyway because Boynton has learned since that it’s possible the research was never conducted anyway.

Grab a spade: we’re about to finish this one off. One of feminism’s prize pieces of evidence for the damaging effects of “sexualisation” is taken from a press release for a company flogging mobile downloads. The survey (if it happened) was a shoddy and shady thing. Its repetition over the last seven years (seven!) is down to plain lazy churnalism on the part of news media, coupled with a strong feeling on the part of certain feminists that it fits so neatly with their understanding of a harmful, sexist media that it simply must be true.

It’s not true. Repeating it is insulting to young women – and insulting young women was never part of feminism’s mission statement. It helps to pervert feminist priorities by cementing the idea of sexist media as a major cause of harm to youthful female brains. And, as people learn what a stinking piece of numerical meat it is, it makes feminism look stinky by association. Next time you see that 63% come towards you, rotting and groaning, look it in the eye and smash it in the head.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2012; illustration by tohoscope, used under Creative Commons

Posted in: feminism