Social justice warrior or SJW is a popular term in the internet parlance. Due to its pervasiveness, it was included in the Oxford English Dictionary in the year 2015, following the Urban Dictionary in 2011. The term social justice warrior had multiple connotations, in fact people did not know if it was a compliment, an insult, or simply a neutral adjective. The confusion was finally resolved by the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of SJW as a derogatory description of a person who expresses or promotes socially progressive views.
The history of the phrase is quite fascinating. According to the Washington Post, Canadian union activist Michel Chartrand was the first known person to be described as a social justice warrior in 1991, and it was meant as a compliment. The negative usage of the term social justice warrior gained traction during the Gamergate controversy. It entered pop-culture through the role playing parody game Social Justice Warriors in 2014. Soon the phrase became a general insult in Twitter. Today, SJW is a pejorative reference to individuals who insincerely engage in debates on social issues like gender identity, feminism, politics etc. These debates often turn out to be hostile in nature. SJWs are criticised for reacting emotionally rather than using logic to settle discords. They have opinions that cater to their need for self-validation and they do not have strong conviction.
A lot of people have had personal experience of being called a social justice warrior for calling out on sexism or insensitivity. It is sometimes used as a close substitute to the word feminazi. Often ignorant people brand individuals with strong opinions as SJW without having proper discussions. Once someone is branded as an SJW, their point of view is disregarded and dismissed, thus hindering discourse. What people do not realise is that the culture of branding people is a means of homogenising, stereotyping of people and their perspectives. Branding people leads to intolerance. Those labelled as SJWs face a lot of anonymous hatred, threats, harassment and general social exclusion.
Branding an activist as SJW trivialises their work. For some reason, supporting a group to which one does not belong is viewed as pledging fake allegiance. Branding cis-gendered feminists who support transgender rights as SJWs is illogical. If someone were to support Palestinians from India based only on convictions and beliefs, we do not brand them fake Indians. Branding people affects social justice movements more than we know or can realise. It tarnishes the image of someone who is out in the grounds, fighting for their community or loved ones.
Another cause of worry is why people should feel so offended when asked to use gender neutral pronouns or acknowledge the need for someone else to feel strongly about their identity. Many people have the perception that feminists are counter intuitive in their beliefs because they do not agree that homophobia is an opinion. Homophobia cannot be an opinion because it harms the right of dignity of another individual. With various countries moving towards more liberal stances, especially countries like United Kingdom and Canada, the world is finally becoming a better place. Self gender identification is a fundamental right in Canada. United Kingdom is progressing towards abolishing the practice of government assigned gender at birth. These progressive measures are products of protests, activism and discussions that happened both online and offline. The people who have caused these changes against all odds are in fact the people who have faced enormous amounts of shaming online. It is time for us to reclaim the phrase SJW back to its original meaning. Women in UK have reclaimed the word slut and soon enough we’ll successful reclaim SJW too.
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