Social justice warrior (SJW) is a pejorative term used for an individual who promotes socially progressive and liberal views, including feminism, civil rights, gay and transgender rights, and multiculturalism. 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.
The phrase originated in the late 20th century as a neutral or positive term for people engaged in social justice activism. In 2011, when the term first appeared on Twitter, it changed from a primarily positive term to an overwhelmingly negative one. During the Gamergate controversy the term was adopted by what would become the alt-right, and the negative connotations gained increased usage which overshadowed its origins.
Dating back to 1824, the term social justice refers to justice on a societal level. 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".
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". As of 2015 , the Oxford English Dictionary had not done a full search for the earliest usage.
According to Martin, the term switched from primarily positive to negative around 2011, when it was first used as an insult on Twitter. The negative connotation has primarily been aimed at those espousing views adhering to social progressivism, cultural inclusivity, or feminism. Scott Selisker writes in New Literary History that the SJW is often criticised as the "stereotype of the feminist as unreasonable, sanctimonious, biased, and self-aggrandizing". Use of the term has also 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". Allegra Ringo in Vice writes that "in 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."
The term's negative use became mainstream due to the 2014 Gamergate controversy where it emerged as the favored term of Gamergate proponents and was popularized on websites such as Reddit, 4chan, and Twitter. Gamergate supporters used the term to criticise what they saw as unwanted external influences in video game media from progressive sources. Martin states that "the perceived orthodoxy [of progressive politics] has prompted a backlash among people who feel their speech is being policed". In Internet and video game culture the phrase is broadly associated with a wider culture war that also included the 2015 Sad Puppies campaign that affected the Hugo Awards.
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.