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Social justice warrior

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"Social justice warrior" (commonly abbreviated SJW) is a pejorative term for an individual promoting socially progressive views,[1] including feminism,[1][2] civil rights,[1] multiculturalism,[1] and identity politics.[3] The accusation of being an SJW carries implications of pursuing personal validation rather than any deep-seated conviction,[4] and being engaged in disingenuous social justice arguments or activism to raise personal reputation, also known as virtue signalling.[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 inclusiveness, 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 released in 2014 titled Social Justice Warriors.[6][7][8]


Dating back to 1824, the term "social justice" refers to justice on a societal level.[9] 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.[1] 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."[1] According to The Washington Post, use of the phrase in a positive manner continued from the 1990s through the 2000s.[1] At the time of the article's publication in October 2015, Martin said "lexicographers there haven't done a full search for its earliest citation" of the term.[1]

Pejorative use

Katherine Martin says that 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 Gamergate controversy,[10] 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][11][12][13] Usage of the term as a pejorative was popularized on websites such as Reddit,[14] 4chan,[14] 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 was particularly aimed at those espousing views adhering to social progressivism, cultural inclusiveness, or feminism.[1][2] 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.[5] Vice observed: "It's awfully convenient to have a term at the ready to dismiss women who bring up sexism."[5] The magazine assessed the 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."[5] According to David French, the aims of social justice warriors are opposed to those of Christian conservatives.[15]

"the 'social justice warrior,' i.e., the stereotype of the feminist as unreasonable, sanctimonious, biased, and self-aggrandizing."
 —New Literary History[16]

The term is commonly used by participants in online discussion in criticism of feminism.[16] An article in New Literary History 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".[16]

In August 2015, the derogatory term "Social Justice Warrior" was one of several new words and phrases added to Oxford Dictionaries.[1][17][18] 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".[1]

Some conservative outlets have described Donald Trump's actions and policies as social justice of the right. Stephen L. Miller, in an article for the National Review, wrote that Donald Trump is in fact the most politically correct candidate running for the presidency in 2016 and that his followers are "neo-nationalist culture warriors".[19] Daniel Payne writing for The Federalist website listed three general attributes of a social justice warrior and noted that they are attributes of Donald Trump, who has proven to be "the platonic social justice warrior candidate".[20] In an article for Reason magazine, Elizabeth Nolan Brown compared social justice on the left and right and found many similarities such as victimhood, outrage and portraying the other side as bullying and evil and their side as the truly oppressed.[21] Rod Dreher wrote in The American Conservative about Trump being the first social justice warrior presidential candidate: "Trump is also a man who constantly paints himself as a victim...So I wonder: Is Trump the first Social Justice Warrior presidential candidate, in the sense of weaponizing grievance in a way similar to that done by left-wing campus protesters?"[22] Jay Caruso wrote an article for Redstate on the "good little social justice warriors" who responded to a vague discussion of how difficult it would be to remove Trump from office if elected with a Republican-controlled Congress with outraged accusations that Trump was being threatened with assassination.[23]

In popular culture

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] The game became available on the computer platform Steam in February 2015.[8] 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."[8] 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."[8]

Actress Caitlin Barlow described her character on the 2016 U.S. comedy television series Teachers as a social justice warrior.[24] 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."[24]

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.[25] Goldberg and Stanhope wrote: "A proud nerd, idealist and social justice warrior, Elena is opinionated and not afraid to speak her mind."[25]

While promoting his film The Green Inferno, Eli Roth said "I wanted to write a movie that was about modern activism. I see that a lot of people want to care and want to help, but in general I feel like people don't really want to inconvenience their own lives. And I saw a lot of people just reacting to things on social media. These social justice warriors. 'This is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong.' And they're just tweeting and retweeting. They're not actually doing anything. Or you see people get involved in a cause that they don't really know a lot about and they go crazy about it. I wanted to make a movie about kids like that."[26]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q 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, retrieved 2017-01-26 
  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, retrieved April 22, 2015, 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. Retrieved 2017-01-26. 
  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 e 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, retrieved March 22, 2016, 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!' 
  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, retrieved March 22, 2016 
  7. ^ a b c d Princess, Elf (March 30, 2015), "Social Justice Warrior Review", Technology Tell, archived from the original on January 3, 2016, retrieved March 22, 2016 
  8. ^ a b c d Breiner, Andrew (March 13, 2015), "Don't Feed The Trolls, Fight Them", ThinkProgress, archived from the original on March 1, 2016, retrieved March 22, 2016 
  9. ^ Oxford University Press (September 2005), "social justice", Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.), (Subscription required (help)) 
  10. ^ Jeong, Sarah (2015), The Internet of Garbage, Forbes Media 
  11. ^ Clarke, Donald (October 18, 2014), "Gamers Misogynistic? Some Certainly Are", The Irish Times, archived from the original on January 2, 2016, retrieved March 22, 2016, 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 
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ 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, retrieved March 22, 2016 
  14. ^ a b Hill, Max (November 17, 2014), "In defence of 'social justice warriors'", The Peak, archived from the original on March 17, 2016, retrieved March 22, 2016 
  15. ^ French, David. "The Ferocious Religious Faith of the Campus Social-Justice Warrior". National Review. November 23, 2015.
  16. ^ a b c Selisker, Scott (2015), "The Bechdel Test and the Social Form of Character Networks", New Literary History, Johns Hopkins University Press, 46 (3): 505–523, ISSN 0028-6087, OCLC 1296558, doi:10.1353/nlh.2015.0024 
  17. ^ 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. Retrieved March 22, 2016. 
  18. ^ Steinmetz, Katy (August 26, 2015), "Oxford Dictionaries Adds 'Fat-Shame,' 'Butthurt' and 'Redditor'", Time, archived from the original on January 20, 2016, retrieved March 22, 2016 
  19. ^ Miller, Stephen. "Donald Trump: Social-Justice Warrior". National Review. Retrieved August 16, 2016. 
  20. ^ Payne, Daniel. "3 Reasons Donald Trump Is A Social Justice Warrior". The Federalist. Retrieved August 16, 2016. 
  21. ^ Brown, Elizabeth. "Trump Fans and 'Social Justice Warriors,' Two Sides of the Same Authoritarian Coin". Reason. Retrieved August 16, 2016. 
  22. ^ Dreher, Rod. "Donald Trump, Social Justice Warrior?". The American Conservative. Retrieved August 16, 2016. 
  23. ^ Caruso, Jay. "Brad Thor/Glenn Beck Flap Reveals Trump Supporters To Be Social Justice Warriors". Redstate. Retrieved August 16, 2016. 
  24. ^ a b Metz, Nina (January 26, 2016), "Stars of twisted new sitcom 'Teachers' bring laughs home from school", Chicago Tribune, archived from the original on March 12, 2016, retrieved March 22, 2016 
  25. ^ a b Goldberg, Lesley; Stanhope, Kate (March 17, 2016), "Netflix's 'One Day at a Time' Remake Adds 'Matador' Actress", The Hollywood Reporter, archived from the original on March 22, 2016, retrieved March 22, 2016 
  26. ^ Woerner, Meredith (July 9, 2015), "Eli Roth's 'Green inferno' devours the Internet's 'social justice warriors'", Los Angeles Times 

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