Social justice warrior

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Social justice warrior (SJW) is a pejorative term and internet meme mostly used for an individual who promotes socially progressive, left-wing or liberal views, including feminism, civil rights, gay and transgender rights, and multiculturalism.[7] The accusation that somebody is an SJW carries implications that they are pursuing personal validation rather than any deep-seated conviction, and engaging in disingenuous arguments.[3][8]

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 term was adopted by what would become the alt-right, and the negative connotations gained increased usage which would eventually overshadow its origins.[2][6][9]


Original meaning

Dating back to 1824, the term social justice refers to justice on a societal level.[10] From the early 1990s to the early 2000s, social-justice warrior was used as a neutral or complimentary phrase, as when a 1991 Montreal Gazette article describes union activist Michel Chartrand as a "Quebec nationalist and social-justice warrior".[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] Merriam-Webster dates the earliest use of the term to 1945.[5]

Pejorative meaning

According to Martin, the term switched from primarily positive to negative around 2011, when it was first used as an insult on Twitter.[1] The term first appeared on Urban Dictionary in 2011 and on the Something Awful forums in 2013.[6] According to Know Your Meme, the pejorative term "keyboard warrior", which describes a person who is unreasonably angry and hides behind their keyboard, may be a precursor to the "social justice warrior".[6] The negative connotation has primarily been aimed at those espousing views adhering to social progressivism, cultural inclusivity, or feminism.[11][1][2] Scott Selisker writes in New Literary History that the SJW is often criticised as the "stereotype of the feminist as unreasonable, sanctimonious, biased, and self-aggrandizing".[11] Use of the term has also 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".[3][8] Allegra Ringo in Vice writes that "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."[8]

The term's negative use became mainstream due to the 2014 Gamergate harassment campaign, where it emerged as the favored term of Gamergate proponents and was popularized on websites such as Reddit, 4chan, and Twitter. Gamergate supporters used the term to criticise what they claimed were unwanted external influences in video game media from progressive sources.[1][12] Martin states that "the perceived orthodoxy [of progressive politics] has prompted a backlash among people who feel their speech is being policed".[1] In Internet and video game culture, the phrase is broadly associated with a wider culture war that also included the 2015 Sad Puppies campaign that affected the Hugo Awards.[2][13] A study from Feminist Media Studies noted that "the appropriation of SJW as a memetic straw man became commonplace during and following the upheaval of #Gamergate."[6]

In August 2015, social justice warrior was one of several new words and phrases added to Oxford Dictionaries.[1][14][15]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k 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. ^ a b c 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. S2CID 18004724.
  4. ^ Stack, Liam (August 15, 2017). "Alt-Right, Alt-Left, Antifa: A Glossary of Extremist Language". The New York Times. Retrieved September 13, 2017.
  5. ^ a b "Social Justice Warrior". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved August 31, 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d e Massanari, Adrienne L.; Chess, Shira (July 4, 2018). "Attack of the 50-foot social justice warrior: the discursive construction of SJW memes as the monstrous feminine" (PDF). Feminist Media Studies. 18 (4): 525–542. doi:10.1080/14680777.2018.1447333. ISSN 1468-0777. S2CID 149070172 – via Taylor & Francis Online.
  7. ^ [1][2][3][4][5][6]
  8. ^ a b c 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.
  9. ^ Phelan, Sean (2019). "Neoliberalism, the Far Right, and the Disparaging of "Social Justice Warriors"". Communication, Culture & Critique. 12 (4): 455–475. doi:10.1093/ccc/tcz040.
  10. ^ "social justice". The Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.
  11. ^ a b 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. S2CID 146326736.
  12. ^ Jeong, Sarah (2015). The Internet of Garbage. ISBN 978-1508018865. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  13. ^ Barnett, David (April 26, 2016). "Hugo awards shortlist dominated by rightwing campaign". Retrieved September 29, 2018.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Steinmetz, Katy (August 26, 2015). "Oxford Dictionaries Adds 'Fat-Shame,' 'Butthurt' and 'Redditor'". Time. Archived from the original on January 20, 2016.

Further reading

External links