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Social justice warrior

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Social justice warrior (commonly abbreviated SJW) is a pejorative term for an individual who promotes socially progressive views, including feminism, civil rights, and multiculturalism,[1][2] as well as identity politics.[3] The accusation that somebody is an SJW carries implications that they are pursuing personal validation rather than any deep-seated conviction,[4] and engaging in disingenuous arguments.[5]

The phrase originated in the late 20th century as a neutral or positive term for people engaged in social justice activism.[1] In 2011, when the term first appeared on Twitter, it changed from a primarily positive term to an overwhelmingly negative one.[1] During the Gamergate controversy, the negative connotation gained increased use, and was particularly aimed at those espousing views adhering to social liberalism, cultural inclusivity, or feminism, as well as views deemed to be politically correct.[1][2]

The term has entered popular culture, including a parody role-playing video game, Social Justice Warriors, released in 2014.[6][7][8]


Dating back to 1824, the term social justice refers to justice on a societal level.[9] From the early 1990s to the early 2000s, social-justice warrior was used as a neutral or complimentary phrase.[1] An example from the Montreal Gazette in 1991 about a local music festival reads:

[Quebec guitarist Rene] Lussier will present the world premiere of his ambitious Quebecois mood piece Le Trésor de la Langue, which juxtaposes the spoken word—including sound bites from Charles de Gaulle and Quebec nationalist and social-justice warrior Michel Chartrand—with new-music noodlings.[1]

Katherine Martin, the head of U.S. dictionaries at Oxford University Press, said in 2015 that "[a]ll of the examples I've seen until quite recently are lionizing the person".[1] As of 2015, the Oxford English Dictionary had not done a full search for the earliest usage.[1]

Pejorative use

"the 'social justice warrior,' i.e., the stereotype of the feminist as unreasonable, sanctimonious, biased, and self-aggrandizing."

Scott Selisker[10]

According to Martin, the term switched from primarily positive to overwhelmingly negative around 2011, when it was first used as an insult on Twitter.[1] The same year, an Urban Dictionary entry for the term also appeared.[1] The term's negative use became mainstream due to the 2014 Gamergate controversy,[11] emerging as the favoured term of Gamergate proponents to describe their ideological opponents.[1] 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.[2][5][12][13][14] Usage of the term as a pejorative was popularized on websites such as Reddit,[15] 4chan,[15] and YouTube.[citation needed]

Use of the term has been described as attempting to degrade the motivations of the person accused of being an SJW, implying that their motives are "for personal validation rather than out of any deep-seated conviction".[4]

The negative connotation has primarily been aimed at those espousing views adhering to social progressivism, cultural inclusivity, or feminism.[1][2] This usage implies that a person is engaging in disingenuous social justice arguments or activism to raise his or her personal reputation.[5] Allegra Ringo writes for Vice that "[i]n 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."[5]

The term has been used by Rita Panahi to criticize what she perceives as double standards in social justice.[16]

Vice reporter Clinton Nguyen quoted the term during a report which analyzed the aggressive behavior behind 'social justice'-oriented Tumblr users, citing to an example in which Tumblr users initially harassed an artist on the site over the content of the artist's work, which lead to police reports, and to at least one arrest of a harasser. The subsequent harassment was so vicious that the artist attempted suicide.[17]

According to David A. French, the aims of social justice warriors are opposed to those of the Christian right.[18][further explanation needed]

The term is commonly used by participants in online discussion in criticism of feminism.[10] Scott Selisker, writes in New Literary History, "[Forum participants] 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".[10]

In August 2015, social justice warrior was one of several new words and phrases added to Oxford Dictionaries.[1][19][20] Martin states that "the perceived orthodoxy [of progressive politics] has prompted a backlash among people who feel their speech is being policed".[1]

Elizabeth Nolan Brown writes on Reason that proponents of "social justice" on both the left and the right share similarities such as outrage, claims of victimhood, and portraying opponents as bullying and evil and their side as the truly oppressed.[21]

In May 2014, the concept was incorporated into a parody role-playing video game titled Social Justice Warriors.[6][7] 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."[7] Users were able to select a character class; and gameplay involved changes to user meters of Sanity and Reputation.[7] 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."[7]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Ohlheiser, Abby (October 7, 2015). "Why 'social justice warrior,' a Gamergate insult, is now a dictionary entry". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on January 26, 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c d Johnson, Eric (October 10, 2014). "Understanding the Jargon of Gamergate". Re/code. Archived from the original on January 2, 2016. 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. 
  3. ^ Blistein, Jon (April 19, 2016). "Billy Corgan Compares 'Social Justice Warriors' to Cults, Maoists, KKK". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on January 26, 2017. 
  4. ^ a b Heron, Michael James; Belford, Pauline; Goker, Ayse (2014). "Sexism in the circuitry: female participation in male-dominated popular computer culture". ACM SIGCAS Computers and Society. 44 (4): 18–29. doi:10.1145/2695577.2695582. 
  5. ^ a b c d Ringo, Allegra (August 28, 2014). "Meet the Female Gamer Mascot Born of Anti-Feminist Internet Drama". Vice. Archived from the original on January 14, 2016. 
  6. ^ a b Parreno, Ryan (September 9, 2014). "Social Justice Warriors Now Have Their Own RPG". Gameranx. Archived from the original on January 3, 2015. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "Social Justice Warrior Review". Technology Tell. March 30, 2015. Archived from the original on January 3, 2016. 
  8. ^ Breiner, Andrew (March 13, 2015). "Don't Feed The Trolls, Fight Them". ThinkProgress. Archived from the original on March 1, 2016. 
  9. ^ "social justice". The Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription required (help)). 
  10. ^ a b c Selisker, Scott (2015). "The Bechdel Test and the Social Form of Character Networks". New Literary History. 46 (3): 505–523. doi:10.1353/nlh.2015.0024. ISSN 0028-6087. OCLC 1296558. 
  11. ^ Jeong, Sarah (2015). The Internet of Garbage. Forbes Media. 
  12. ^ Clarke, Donald (October 18, 2014). "Are Gamers Misogynistic? Some Certainly Are". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on January 2, 2016. The term "social justice warrior" (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 
  13. ^ Dewey, Caitlin (October 14, 2014). "The Only Guide to Gamergate You Will Ever Need to Read". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 22, 2015. ...'SJW,' for social justice warrior—a kind of shorthand insult for liberals and progressives. 
  14. ^ Waldman, Katy (April 8, 2015). "2015 Hugo Awards: How the sad and rabid puppies took over the sci-fi nominations". Slate. Archived from the original on January 14, 2016. 
  15. ^ a b Hill, Max (November 17, 2014). "In defence of 'social justice warriors'". The Peak. Archived from the original on March 17, 2016. 
  16. ^ Panahi, Rita. "Curious double standards of the perpetually outraged". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 28 February 2018. 
  17. ^ Nguyen, Clinton. "An Attempted Suicide Forced a Tumblr Community to Open Its Eyes About Bullying". Vice. Retrieved 21 March 2018. 
  18. ^ French, David. "The Ferocious Religious Faith of the Campus Social-Justice Warrior". National Review. November 23, 2015.
  19. ^ Wagner, Laura (August 27, 2015). "Can You Use That In A Sentence? Dictionary Adds New Words". NPR. Archived from the original on March 20, 2016. 
  20. ^ Steinmetz, Katy (August 26, 2015). "Oxford Dictionaries Adds 'Fat-Shame,' 'Butthurt' and 'Redditor'". Time. Archived from the original on January 20, 2016. 
  21. ^ Brown, Elizabeth. "Trump Fans and 'Social Justice Warriors,' Two Sides of the Same Authoritarian Coin". Reason. Retrieved August 16, 2016. 

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