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Social justice warrior

"Social justice warrior" (SJW) is a pejorative term for an individual who promotes socially progressive views, including feminism, civil rights, and multiculturalism.[1][2][3] 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][4]

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]


Original meaning

Dating back to 1824, the term social justice refers to justice on a societal level.[5] 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]

Pejorative meaning

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

Scott Selisker[6]

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's negative use became mainstream due to the 2014 Gamergate controversy, emerging as the favoured term of Gamergate proponents to describe their ideological opponents.[7][1] In Internet and video game culture the phrase is broadly associated with the Gamergate controversy and wider culture war, including the 2015 Sad Puppies campaign that affected the Hugo Awards.[2][8] Usage of the term as a pejorative was popularized on websites such as Reddit, 4chan, and Twitter.[9]


The negative connotation has primarily been aimed at those purportedly hypocritically 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.[4] 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."[4]

Vice reporter Clinton Nguyen quoted the term during a report which analyzed the aggressive behavior behind 'social justice'-oriented Tumblr users, citing an example in which Tumblr users engaged in sustained harassment towards an artist on the site over the content of the artist's work. The subsequent torment was so vicious that the artist attempted suicide. Users who supported the artist reported at least ten attackers to the police, which led to at least one arrest.[10]

The term is commonly used by participants in online discussion in criticism of feminism.[6] 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".[6]

In August 2015, social justice warrior was one of several new words and phrases added to Oxford Dictionaries.[1][11][12] Martin states that "the perceived orthodoxy [of progressive politics] has prompted a backlash among people who feel their speech is being policed".[1]

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".[3]

In popular culture

South Park has dedicated episodes and even entire seasons to mocking social justice warriors.[13]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l 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.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "social justice". The Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Jeong, Sarah (2015). The Internet of Garbage. Forbes Media. ISBN 9781508018865.
  8. ^ Barnett, David (April 26, 2016). "Hugo awards shortlist dominated by rightwing campaign". Retrieved September 29, 2018.
  9. ^ Hill, Max (November 17, 2014). "In defence of 'social justice warriors'". The Peak. Archived from the original on March 17, 2016.
  10. ^ Nguyen, Clinton. "An Attempted Suicide Forced a Tumblr Community to Open Its Eyes About Bullying". Vice. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Steinmetz, Katy (August 26, 2015). "Oxford Dictionaries Adds 'Fat-Shame,' 'Butthurt' and 'Redditor'". Time. Archived from the original on January 20, 2016.
  13. ^ "South Park Shows How to Defeat the Social-Justice Warriors". National Review. November 2, 2015. Retrieved November 28, 2019.

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