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Sex Wars and TERF Wars: The Divisiveness of Who is Included in Feminism

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Abstract

An increasing number of people identify as feminists, but there is disagreement about whom and what feminism should be fighting for. Using a multi-method approach, across three studies (total N = 3,387), we examine (1) disagreements in today’s feminist movement and how these disagreements come together to form different ideological groups as well as (2) psychological variables associated with different feminist beliefs and ideologies. In doing so we establish a nuanced picture of contemporary feminism in the UK and the US. Study 1 used open-response data to identify topics on which today’s feminists disagree. Study 2 used exploratory factor analyses to examine how views on these topics hang together, resulting in eight feminist beliefs scales. Finally, Study 3 used cluster analysis to determine what ideological groups of feminists exist in quasi-representative samples from the US and the UK and explored the associations of these beliefs with relevant psychological constructs. Transgender issues, sex work, and the importance of marginalized perspectives were the most polarizing issues across studies, highlighting that feminists are more divided on the issue of who feminism should fight for, than what feminism should fight for. These studies show the heterogeneity of feminist ideologies and the continued barriers to a truly inclusive and intersectional feminist movement.

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The full materials and data for all studies can be found at https://osf.io/8hc6u/?view_only=adf58c8c06b346ad87a74bf9227c5811.

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Acknowledgements

The first author uses they/them pronouns. All other authors use she/her pronouns.

Funding

This work was supported by a British Academy /Leverhulme Small Research Grant (SRG20\201173) awarded to the first and second author, a European Commission grant (725128) awarded to the fourth author and a New Investigator Grant (ES/S00274X/1) awarded to the second author by the Economic and Social Research Council.

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Correspondence to Thekla Morgenroth.

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Human and Animal Ethics

Throughout this project, we adhered to the ethical guidelines for human research put forward by the American Psychological Association.

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All studies were approved by the Ethics Review Board at the first author’s institution at the time. All participants provided informed consent to participate.

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The authors have no relevant financial or non-financial interests to disclose.

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Morgenroth, T., Kirby, T.A., Zehnter, M.K. et al. Sex Wars and TERF Wars: The Divisiveness of Who is Included in Feminism. Sex Roles 90, 676–705 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-024-01473-2

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