Social justice warrior
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"Social justice warrior" (commonly abbreviated "SJW") is a pejorative term for someone expressing socially progressive views, including advocacy for women's rights and civil rights. The phrase originated as a laudatory term for those engaged in social justice.
Head of U.S. dictionaries for Oxford University Press Katherine Martin said the term was previously used as a compliment. She observed: "All of the examples I've seen until quite recently are lionizing the person." Martin noted the phrase had mostly positive usage in the 1990s through 2000s. The Washington Post gave examples of its earlier positive connotation as well as from pop culture that illustrated the recent debate surrounding its negative connotation.
During the Gamergate controversy, the negative connotation gained increased use, and was particularly aimed at those espousing views adhering to social liberalism, political correctness or feminism. Vice reported that the accusation of being an SJW implied a person was engaged in disingenuous social justice arguments or activism to raise their personal reputation. Vice assessed the problematic use of the term: "The problem is, that's not a real category of people. It's simply a way to dismiss anyone who brings up social justice—and often those people are feminists."
The Wikipedia page on Social Justice Warriors was pulled down in late 2015 after the negative publicity generated by #gamergate meetups in the summer of 2015, and shortly after the publication of ''SJWs Always Lie''. The page was put back up in early 2016, with a call to reclaim it as a positive term.
In April, 2016, the SJW List was created.
The term subsequently entered popular culture, including a parody role-playing video game released in 2014 titled Social Justice Warriors. The game was focused around debating an Internet troll, and its creator was motivated to encourage users to engage in critical thinking.
Dating back to 1824, the term "social justice" refers to justice on a societal level. Abby Ohlheiser wrote in The Washington Post that "social-justice warrior" or variations thereof had been used as a laudatory phrase in the past, and provided an example dating to 1991. She quoted Katherine Martin, the head of U.S. dictionaries at Oxford University Press, who said, "All of the examples I’ve seen until quite recently are lionizing the person". According to The Washington Post, use of the phrase in a positive manner continued from the 1990s through the 2000s. At the time of the article's publication in October 2015, The Washington Post noted Martin said "lexicographers there haven’t done a full search for its earliest citation" of the term. Kristina Marusic noted that prior to its usage in a negative fashion, social justice warrior had been used to refer to Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. describing their efforts on behalf of social justice.
Martin told The Washington Post the term began gaining traction with a negative connotation in 2011. According to The Washington Post, the term's negative use became mainstream due to the Gamergate controversy. The Washington Post wrote "Here’s how 'social justice warrior' became a part of that debate" and described "When it was a compliment" and traced examples of its usages in positive forms and subsequently early negative forms.
Ohlheiser wrote that the derogatory phrase had "emerged as the preferred term among the Gamergate movement for the people they believed to be their greatest enemies." In internet and video game culture the phrase is broadly associated with the Gamergate controversy and wider culture war fallout, including the 2015 Sad Puppies campaign that affected the Hugo Awards. Usage of the term as a pejorative was popularized on websites Reddit and 4chan.
The negative connotation was particularly aimed at those espousing views adhering to social liberalism, political correctness or feminism. According to Vice, the accusation of being an SJW implies that a person is engaging in disingenuous social justice arguments or activism to raise his or her personal reputation. Vice observed: "It's awfully convenient to have a term at the ready to dismiss women who bring up sexism." The magazine assessed the problematic use of the term: "The problem is, that's not a real category of people. It's simply a way to dismiss anyone who brings up social justice—and often those people are feminists."
Writing in a 2014 article for ACM SIGCAS Computers and Society, Heron, Belford and Goker described the motivation of those that used the term in online debate: "the ... term often employed is that of the 'social justice warrior', to imply that the target of the term is a wishy-washy left-wing liberal who seeks to engage in the discussion for personal validation rather than out of any deep-seated conviction." They wrote that the term was used as an: "attempt to neutralize opposition through inferred degradation of the motivations."
English columnist and author Laurie Penny wrote in October 2014 that the term was ineffective: "'Social Justice Warrior' just doesn't work as an insult, because a great many people care quite a lot about social justice and are proud to fight for it." In the article "Social Justice Warriors and the New Culture War", she reappropriated the word itself, writing: "Us Social Justice Warriors—this is me, stealing that word in order to use it against my enemies—are winning the culture war by tearing up the rulebook, and there's nothing the sad, mad little boys who hate women and queers and people of colour can do about it." Penny concluded: "Every time they make an example of one of us, ten more stand up in outrage to hold her up or take her place. We are stronger, smarter and more numerous than anyone imagined, and we are not to be fucked with."
In a December 2014 piece for The Huffington Post queer activist Tile Wolfe defended use of the term in a positive manner to refer to those who wished to increase progressive change in society. Wolfe commented: "'Social Justice Warriors'—I'm talking progressive folks here, this term's used within multiple movements—are accused of being oversensitive and overeducated, which isn’t quite right. ... Users hold each other accountable, intersectionally—it's not rare to see a lesbian blog take on racial justice in one post, and dating advice in another. They celebrate each other often. And they defend each other in a way that almost no other platform can do by policing trolls when they infiltrate the bubble." She concluded such activists should continue their efforts online, writing: "On the spectrum of activism, 'Social Justice Warriors' belong, to push our community on what's acceptable and to carve out unique spaces for those that otherwise wouldn't have a place to call their own."
Mother Jones journalist Rebecca Cohen classed the term as an outgrowth of individuals belonging to the men's rights movement. Cohen defined the term as what these individuals and "Gamergaters call someone who advocates equal rights for women and minorities."
Scott Selisker wrote for the journal New Literary History that the term was used by male participants in online discussion in criticism of feminism. Selisker described their behavior patterns on the Internet: "they often make personal criticisms of what they see as a type: the 'social justice warrior,' i.e., the stereotype of the feminist as unreasonable, sanctimonious, biased, and self-aggrandizing." He posited that the Bechdel test was an intriguing methodology to assess equality in the media in the face of such online criticisms.
In her 2015 memoir You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), actress and writer Felicia Day observed that the label was directed at individuals "trying to add dialogue about feminism and diversity in gaming". She commented: "That label was always so weird to me, because how is that an insult? 'Social Justice Warrior' actually sounds pretty badass." She compared the ensuing controversy to a mob akin to the French Revolution, and called it a "wave of vengeful emotion".
Sarah Jeong wrote in The Internet of Garbage (2015) that the Gamergate movement: "brought into new prominence the term 'social justice warrior'—or SJW for short." Jeong commented upon the term's placement within the movement: "The SJW moniker seems to come from the belief that people who criticize video games for a lack of diversity are the enemy—a kind of cultural juggernaut with a supposed chokehold on the media, that must be forcefully opposed. Gamergate as a force is aligned against everyone they perceive to be SJWs."
American YouTube video-blogger, public sex educator, and feminist activist Laci Green and LGBT support group Everyone Is Gay founder Kristin Russo spoke to MTV in February 2015 about their efforts to reappropriate social justice warrior connotations on the Internet to advance the cause of social justice. They were each asked about how they cope with persistence after being harassed online for their social activism. Green pointed out that if she quit her activism in the face of online harassment, it would be akin to self-censorship, commenting: "if I left, I would be allowing myself to be silenced. There would be one less voice in the mix pushing us forward on these causes." Russo said: "Usually when you're hearing lots of hate or negative, if you dig a little deeper, you'll find the people who support you and value what you're doing. They just might not be as loud as the people who are trying to tear you down."
In August 2015, the derogatory term "Social Justice Warrior" was one of several new words and phrases added to Oxford Dictionaries. In discussing the term's origin, Martin outlined the similarity with the pejorative use of "political correctness" to denigrate something, stating that "the perceived orthodoxy [of progressive politics] has prompted a backlash among people who feel their speech is being policed." Hussain Khan, president of a group at University of British Columbia to address issues of racism and discrimination, agreed with this definition of the term. Khan lamented that use of the term was a method of stopping open debate and discussion. He commented: "These days, if you speak even mildly about social inequality, instead of people having conversation, people will be like, 'Oh, you're an SJW (social justice warrior) or something,' and it really just silences the conversation."
Upon learning in October 2015 that she had been labeled a social justice warrior, psychotherapist and co-editor of Ecotherapy: Healing With Nature in Mind Linda Buzzell reacted positively. Buzzell wrote of the development after being called the term on Facebook: "The term Social Justice Warrior seems almost honorable, doesn’t it? I hadn’t thought of myself as any kind of warrior at all, let alone one who stood tall against social injustice. How can this term be an insult? Who would want to be a warrior supporting INjustice? Well, apparently quite a few people!" She concluded that individuals could take back agency by reappropriating the term: "maybe we SJWs can do for 'SJW' what anti-misogyny activists have done for the word 'Slut'—wear it with pride and defiance."
The groups utilizing the term changed over time, with Rawiya Kameir writing in November 2015 for The Fader: "Consider, too, the way the phrase 'social justice warrior' began losing its snarky connotation, becoming an increasingly fringe insult deployed more by Reddit trolls than moderates eager to uphold the status quo."
In February 2016, the first QueerCon event was held at the University of Cincinnati, with the theme, Social Justice Warriors. Event organizer Kyle Shupe explained that the theme for the event was an attempt to reclaim the term Social Justice Warrior: "we're kind of taking that idea and looking at how a social justice warrior is perhaps a positive—something people can use to combat social injustices." Panels at the event focused on topics including feminism, LGBT, politics, diversity, and social justice.
Writing for Stuff.co.nz in March 2016, journalist Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen lamented the travails associated with taking a stand for equality on the Internet. She commented that this may result in being labeled or ridiculed: "Any outspoken feminist will likely tell you that it all sometimes feel thankless. Even in this supposedly progressive age, calling people out for their racist, sexist, transphobic, ableist or homophobic remarks and actions often results in being made into a pariah – you're humourless, too PC, a 'social justice warrior' (a term that's meant to be pejorative but actually sounds awesome – where's my sword?)."
In popular culture
In May 2014, the concept was incorporated into a parody role-playing video game titled Social Justice Warriors. Developed by Nonadecimal Creative, Social Justice Warriors involved the concept of debating online against Internet trolls who make racist and other provocative comments by choosing from different responses such as" "'dismember their claims with your logic,' rebroadcast their message to be attacked by others, or go for the personal attack". Users were able to select a character class; and gameplay involved changes to user meters of Sanity and Reputation. The game became available on the computer platform Steam in February 2015. Game creator Eric Ford explained that the game was designed to foster critical thinking and was not "intended to suggest that racist, sexist, or other offensive comments shouldn't be confronted online. The goal is to encourage critical thinking on how it can be done more effectively, and at less cost to the real-world social justice warriors." He commented: "Once you’ve embarked down the path of correcting every incorrect statement an anonymous stranger is making online, the only inevitable outcomes are that your patience is exhausted by frustration, your reputation is obliterated by the trolls’ defamation or your own actions, or you give up in disgust."
2016 U.S. television series Teachers actress Caitlin Barlow described her character on the comedy program to the Chicago Tribune as a social justice warrior. Barlow explained: "I play Cecilia Cannon, who is a super-crunchy hippie social justice warrior who is always trying to save the world, whether people care or not. And she's always pushing her left-wing agenda on her students."
The Hollywood Reporter journalists Lesley Goldberg and Kate Stanhope noted in March 2016 that actress Isabella Gomez was cast in the Netflix remake of One Day at a Time and portrayed Elena, a character content to self-identify as a social justice warrior. Goldberg and Stanhope wrote: "A proud nerd, idealist and social justice warrior, Elena is opinionated and not afraid to speak her mind."
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The term "social justice warrior" GamerGate: A Closer Look At The Controversy Sweeping Video Games (surely a good thing) has been used pejoratively to describe those writers who choose to examine the social and political subtexts of contemporary video games
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...'SJW,' for social justice warrior—a kind of shorthand insult for liberals and progressives.
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A Social Justice Warrior, or SJW, is any person, female or male, who argues online for political correctness or feminism. 'Social justice' may sound like a good thing to many of our readers, but the people who use this term only use it pejoratively.
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In other words, SJWs don't hold strong principles, but they pretend to. The problem is, that's not a real category of people. It's simply a way to dismiss anyone who brings up social justice—and often those people are feminists. It's awfully convenient to have a term at the ready to dismiss women who bring up sexism, as in, 'You don't really care. As an SJW, you're just taking up this cause to make yourself look good!'
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|Look up social justice warrior in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- "social justice warrior: definition of social justice warrior in Oxford dictionary (American English) (US)". Oxford Dictionaries; Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 28 January 2016.