Why I Hate the Term 'SJW'


After all the chaos of the Ghomeshi trial, I decided something: I hate the term "SJW."

I've always been very outspoken with my opinions. I support women's rights and animal rights, and in today's world, that makes me a dissenter. I'm far from politically correct. Like when I post on social media about the similarities between slavery and factory farming. Or when I lost friends by confessing the unpopular opinion that we should believe survivors-a radical notion in a country where rape is so rarely punished that it's practically legal. Does that mean I don't believe in due process? Of course not. But when there is overwhelming evidence against somebody, the "doubt" stops being reasonable.

Then there are instances where the law just flat out gets it wrong. When three in a thousand sexual assaults leads to a conviction, the legal system definitely fails women. But the law also fails animals, who unlike women, have no voice. Animals in factory farms are doomed to a life in prison and a brutal death, and in our society it's those who defend them who are considered the criminals. My feminism and animal rights activism are intersectional. At the end of the day, I just want to help build a better world for all living beings. That's why I'm a feminist.

Lately, even calling myself a "feminist" seems scary. On dates, I sometimes just say I "support women's rights" because I'm afraid of next being asked if I shave my armpits. A lot of people don't really know what feminism means, but it actually means equality between the sexes. Some people think it means hating men or not caring about the way that you look, but it actually has nothing to do with that. (I don't care how I look, but that's not because I'm a feminist. It's because I don't want to waste money and time beyond basic hygiene.)

At first glance, being labelled an SJW, just like being labelled a feminist, seems complimentary. Who wouldn't want to stand up against social injustice? I literally spend my days plotting ways to take down the multi-billion dollar industry of animal slaughter, so I guess that would make me as much of an SJW as anybody. But in use, the label carries another connotation. It's sort of like the "don't ask, don't tell" former American military policy. When it first came up in a dinner conversation, my dad said he wholeheartedly supported it.

"Why should anyone ask? It's nobody's business!"

I explained to him many times that the policy was a misnomer, and actually meant something quite different. I still don't think he really understands it, but that's okay. It is no longer in effect.

I first learned about SJWs from a friend, who explained to me that social justice warriors are people who defend causes insincerely, for example by claiming to be anti-racist or anti-sexist, all the while being the first person in the room to even notice race and gender.

There are real humans like this, and I've met them. For example, at my university it was not uncommon in certain circles to deplore good things, like multiculturalism and defending gay rights, and I've had some ridiculous conversations to prove it. Multiculturalism was "problematic" because it led to appropriation. Then there was this man, who famously stood up for marriage equality circa 2011. He was actually considered a total creeper because he used the offensive term "lesbians" to describe his gay parents, rather than calling them "same-sex partners."

Did anyone who made these outrageous claims really care about ending discrimination? I strongly doubt it. In fact, they were 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.

But why call them social justice warriors? Why not call them "PC-to-a-fault," "media illiterate," or "annoyingly self-righteous"?

My problem with the term "SJW" is that it's 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. For instance, after the Ghomeshi trial, both Ghomeshi himself as well as those who doubted his innocence were labelled as SJWs in Twitter wars. And anyone who believes survivors (as I do) is not only an SJW, but a "feminazi." Interesting. Also interesting that people who know nothing about Ghomeshi are vehemently defending him. Let me suggest another unpopular theory: if the WHO reports that 1 in 3 women experience assault, many of those expressing irrational anger toward his doubters are probably perpetrators themselves. A person with a guilty mind has the loudest voice.

While #Ghomeshi trended, I thought that this seemingly arbitrary use of "SJW" was very peculiar, so I started researching other arenas where the term was tossed around. Turns out that if you're anti-guns, you're an SJW. If you support body positivity, you're an SJW. If you're against police brutality, you're also an SJW.

The irony is that the people who accuse others of being SJWs, basically implying that they're just lazy keyboard activists that parrot popular opinion, are themselves the lazy ones-both in their retorts and their ideologies. There's nothing avant-garde about being an anti-feminist or a blind proponent of the excessive use of police force. If you feel this way and you resort to whining on social media about how someone's an SJW just because they disagree with you, just know that you're the one carelessly reinforcing the status quo.

Maybe Linda Buzzell is right, and "SJW" just needs to be reclaimed. Maybe I shouldn't hate the term, but instead just use it freely to describe anyone who stands up for what they believe in, especially when it's unpopular.

Note: This post also appears on my personal blog.