One of the beautiful aspects of today’s culture is the quantity of those hungry for awareness or change. In the last five years alone, I have seen great progress when it comes to learning about, and accepting diverse lifestyles. For those who are upset by diversity: This doesn’t necessarily mean accepting other lifestyles as your life, but learning to respect and co-exist alongside other mindsets. The sense of community that has come together numerous times to protect those that seem more vulnerable is a very powerful thing. Especially when you consider the last few hundred years, and what inequalities have been present. Even racist Disney animated shorts from the 60s’ make it clear just how far we have come. Like with most things, there comes a line that separates the ‘good’ from ‘extreme’. Lately so, on the topic of the “social justice warrior,” or SJW for short. This piece will define this, and explain why the term SJW can be problematic in terms of cultural progression.
Increased Dialogue on Social Justice
With this sense of community that has arisen from increased dialogue on social justice, comes the need to expose antagonists, and protect protagonists. We see two cyclists stop to deter Brock Turner from his disgusting acts, thus, exposing him for his awful actions. We see good people trying to defend and protect women on the internet, in the hopes of discouraging bigots online. We see inspiring parents bringing attention to their disabled children with the powerful objective of awareness, exposing those who felt diversity exists to be mocked. We see television that attempts to accurately reflect social justice issues in order to make others aware. There is so much good that comes from banding together as a community, and inspiring others through awareness and examples. This is partially why the term SJW can be problematic, as you will see more in-depth in the following paragraphs.
Hypocrisy in Advocating Social Justice
Despite the good things indicated above, our 2.0 culture has also created the need to film others doing wrong, which of course, is entirely subjective. We have an ex-Playboy model thinking that it is okay to mockingly film an overweight woman showering in a gym facility. A young Caucasian woman accusing a Lyft driver of cultural appropriation for having a Hawaiian bobble head on his dash. People rallying online in favor of Black Lives Matter, and then magically changing their mind when interacting in real life. We see people claim to be feminists, and then deliver a sexist remark. We see people encourage open dialogue, and then freak out because they do not agree with the statements presented to them.
These are what I feel to be extreme cases, in which the desire to promote justice does not authentically exist, and instead, contains an element of hypocrisy. Given how quickly our attention is caught by stories of shaming and injustice, it is clear that several use this inaccurately in order to either gain viewers, attention or even to publicly humiliate someone else. Unfortunately, these cases mentioned above fall into the ‘SJW’ category, according to the internet. Now that we’ve acknowledged this, we can begin to really examine why the term SJW can be problematic to various causes and groups.
Why The Term ‘SJW’ Can Be Problematic
Naturally, with every good change that happens, there will be a few negative results that occur as well. Thus, our progress to making society more accessible and comfortable for others, also creates opportunities for those who want to use the topic of social justice to suit their own personal agenda. The term ‘SJW’ stands for ‘social justice warrior,’ and is intended as a pejorative term. This term is concerning, as it can be used to demean almost any statement, and seems to remove the good aspects from pursuing justice. For example, a recent Huffington Post article had this to say about the term.
“[It is] lazily used as a blanket insult to shut up anyone that doesn’t agree with the person who uses it. Rather than rationally debate a person’s views, it’s easier to just write them off as an SJW and be done with it” (Sarkar, 2016).
It is to be expected that not everyone will agree on every topic, and that is entirely okay. What is concerning however, is the topics that are impacted by this term. For example, the Ghomeshi trial in Canada worked to further expose the legal system for its inability to protect women. Thousands of people flocked to social media to express their concerns, thoughts and disappointment. Often this was a result, in hopes that this dialogue would lead to an improved system in future that works to protect women.
Regardless of whether Ghomeshi was guilty or innocent, I too, feel that the current system needs to be examined. This was met with thousands of ‘SJW’ labels, by those who felt that Ghomeshi was instead, a victim of feminists and those of ‘SJW’ stature. See how it works? The term takes an entire group of people looking to further progress culture, and labels them with the same tag as those extreme cases mentioned above. Considering that statistically, 1 in 4 North American women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime, it is concerning to think that there are people who feel the need to downplay this, and feel that those advocating for change are oversensitive. Often the word ‘SJW’ seems to be used to perpetuate or defend outdated concepts reverted within sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression.
What Should We Do?
If you are one who has called someone an ‘SJW,’ I hope that you can see why people do what they do. Often, it is really to do with trying to improve systems, or to feel more protected and accepted culturally. This is why the term SJW can be problematic. Maybe you feel protected right now, and that enough has been done, great! However for many, it will still take some time and changes until they feel that way too. I’m not asking you to make social justice causes your mission. I am not asking you to agree with many of the causes out there. Personal agency is personal agency. I simply want to create a sense of understanding and respect in everyone, so that we can see what is being done when we call someone a ‘social justice warrior,’ and why the term SJW can be problematic.
Did you enjoy learning about why the term SJW can be problematic? Then you might enjoy reading about the favelas and geopolitical dynamics of Brazil in ‘As the Olympics Open Our Eyes to Rio’s Issues, Will We Actually Care?’.