Social Justice Warrior

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Synonyms: SJW
See also: Social Justice and Fandom
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"Social Justice Warrior" is a term of nonfannish origin that is used frequently in fandom due to interest in social justice issues in parts of fandom. The terms "Social Justice Warrior" and especially the abbreviation SJW are generally used pejoratively.

Outside of fandom, some activists have attempted to repurpose the phrase, although as one fan noted, it is used in "the way some women refer to themselves as bitches with pride. But it definitely still has that same feel– it only seems to be used ironically when it’s in a positive tone."[1] To the majority of fans, however, the phrase remains a derogatory one. The acronym "SJW" is sometimes explained as "Social Justice Wanker," probably rarely by those who would consider themselves Social Justice Warriors.

In the early to mid 2010s complaints about "SJWs" were frequent on Fail_fandomanon, where the prevailing opinion seemed to be that wankers, trolls, and the ignorant were misapplying social justice concepts and making social justice look bad:

Okay. "SJ" stands for "social justice," right, but not actual social justice. It refers to the misuse of social justice terms to get your own way in fandom and tear down disagreement. We used to refer to people who did SJ as "SJers," but it has morphed into "SJW" or "SJ Warriors."[2]

However, some fans who complain about SJWs may be complaining about genuine social activism because they don't want social justice issues impinging on their fannish experience (i.e. "harshing" their "squee"). And some fans hold political opinions that are opposed to the goals of social justice (see Puppygate).

The application of the term to refer to another may have the same outcome as invoking Godwin's Law, as the term has become so culturally laden as to squelch or halt further serious discussion.

History of the Term Social Justice Warrior

The Montreal Gazette used the term in a 1991 article on a jazz festival.[3] The term originally was viewed as a compliment.[4]

In 2011, long before Gamergate, fans discussed the role of social justice activism in fandom in positive terms.[5] For more about how the term social justice has been used in fandom, see Social Justice and Fandom.

According to Know Your Meme, the first pejorative use of Social Justice Warrior was on the blog Social Justice Warriors: Do Not Engage.[6] This blog appears to have been set up in November 2009 by science fiction writer Will Shetterly after his entanglement in Racefail '09, although anons at fail_fandomanon thought he could have backdated the early blog posts or changed the title of the blog.[7] The title of the blog is probably a reference to a 2009 livejournal post by coffeeandink, "Will Shetterly: DO NOT ENGAGE".[8]

Although Shetterly was roundly condemned by much of livejournal fandom, this use of the term appears to have spread on livejournal. By 2011, the term SJW was used in a negative sense on failfandomanon[9][10], the same forum that frequently made disparaging jokes about Shetterly. It was also in use on Tumblr by 2012,[11] despite failfandomanon's many complaints about Tumblr being a source of bad SJW behavior.

During the 2014 Gamergate controversy, Gamergaters used it as an insult against anyone who disagreed with them. Gamergate is widely known and criticized for the use of extensive harassment to spread their message, which many believe is simply that women have no place in gaming culture and fandom. Many gamers, both male and female, who disagreed with this mindset called for a larger inclusion of characters in video games, as well as attempting to form a more welcome environment for all gamers, regardless of what they classified themselves as. Social justice warriors began to embrace the SJW label for two major reasons: it encompassed what their end goal was, and they did not think fighting for social justice was something to be ashamed of. The geeky reference to a warrior also was enjoyed by many gamers who had for years been playing video games as characters who were warriors. The Gamergate controversy is a murky debacle at best, but it did group together many people--on opposing sides--and bring the term social justice into mainstream conversations.[12]

Bengali-Canadian author Samita Sarkar, writing for the Huffington Post in January 2016, said she'd been told that "social justice warrior" meant someone who defended causes insincerely; that they were less interested in stopping prejudice than in "trying so hard to be the antithesis of hate-mongers that they went over the bend and ended up doing a full 360, having more in common with neo-Nazis than true social justice warriors or even just regular, non-political people. Their views, that women and people of colour were eternally to be oppressed, were condescending. They also seemed to want to deprive white people of all that’s good in the world, like The Bhagavad Gita, and food with flavour." In her experience, calling someone an SJW (or a feminist) has become a way of shutting people up and dismissing them as "lazy keyboard activists that parrot popular opinion".[13]

Perhaps because of these events, some argue that the blanket application of the term "social justice warrior" is misleading and leads to increased miscommunication:

"I used to use the phrase “social justice warrior” a fair amount. Then I started to notice something....The reason that such a wide group of people can use the phrase “social justice warrior” is that it doesn’t actually mean anything besides “social justice person that I don’t like.” You personally might define “social justice warrior” more narrowly, as “bullying social justice person”– but such narrow definitions do not reflect how the word is actually used...

...And if they aren’t necessarily correlated, I’m going to make bad predictions. I will relax my guard around people because they aren’t ableist and are therefore not a social justice warrior, only to discover that they regularly bully others. I’m going to assume that people who believe one thing I disagree with believe other things I disagree with, which makes me more likely to misrepresent their views. I will assume problems in the social justice movement are the result of a few individual actors that we can easily eliminate, rather than widespread bad ideas and incentive structures.

The solution here is really simple: instead of saying “social justice warrior”, say the actual trait you’re critiquing. Social justice people who bully others. Ableist social justice people. Social justice people who hate men. Social justice people who think asexuals exist. Social justice people who believe that women should have autonomy. This practice will lead to much clearer thinking and communication."[14]

In a 2019 discussion about current use of the term on File770, one anon on fail_fandomanon observed,

The term "SJW" is extremely loaded term these days due to its cooptation by the far right. This is why you see it much less on meme nowadays than when meme began.[15]

Further Reading/Meta


  1. ^ reblog by judiops, 4 May 2016.
  2. ^ Social Justice vs SJ fail_fandomanon wiki entry, 2014 Wayback Machine copy.
  3. ^ Why 'social justice warrior, a Gamergate insult, is now a dictionary entry posted by Abby Ohlheiser on The Washington Post, 07 Oct 2015 (Accessed 20 Jan 2016)
  4. ^ see comment #898 by Para, Against The Word SJW, Archived version
  5. ^ Social Justice Activism in Fandom, Archived version, posted by sharpestscalpel to livejournal, 2011-01-25.
  6. ^ Social Justice Warrior, Archived version
  7. ^ See the discussion on 2016-02-22. The Wayback Machine first captured the URL ( in January 2013.
  8. ^ coffeeandink. Will Shetterly: DO NOT ENGAGE, posted to livejournal 2009-01-19. archived.
  9. ^ This was... oh, a good seven or eight years ago, way before the recent SJW fad. So it's proto-SJ, I guess. fail_fandomanon thread 2011-05-25, Archived version
  10. ^ failfandomanonwiki - Social Justice vs SJ, Archived version
  11. ^ See SJW tag circa March 2012
  12. ^ The wikipedia article on Gamergate (Accessed 20 Jan 2016)
  13. ^ Samita Sarkar, "Why I Hate The Term 'SJW'". Huffington Post, April 12, 2016.
  14. ^ Against The Word SJW, Archived version
  15. ^ fail_fandomanon, Archived version, 2019-09-22.