If you want to take the first step towards a kinder, gentler, more tolerant discourse, start by putting down the “SJW” label.

I really don't know what this picture means, but it made me giggle.

(A guest post by Alexandra Erin, quoted from her comment on another person’s blog. Thanks to Alexandra for her permission, and visit her blog Blue Author Is About To Write.)

Joshua, I appreciate both where this post is coming from and where it may lead, but may I suggest a slightly more radical move?

Rather than figuring out where the dividing line between SJWs and others are, why don’t you stop dividing the world into SJWs and others? I’m not saying not to judge people’s actions, and not to speak up when you see someone who seems to have an axe to grind or whatever, but the thing is, “SJW” is mostly an externally applied label. Oh, sure, there are people on Twitter and Tumblr who now take it as an ironic badge of honor, but the label started off as a pejorative. I’m not saying you consciously use it this way personally, but for a lot of people, once they’ve applied the label to someone, they stop trying to understand where they’re coming from and even paying attention to what they’re saying. It’s like labeling a sentiment “Political Correctness” — the main effect is that it lets you write someone off.

If I tell you that trans rights are important to me, I’m telling you a thing about myself. If you care enough to, you can listen to what I’m saying or ask me questions or just try to imagine the world as I see it. Empathy is possible.

As soon as you decide I’m an “SJW”, though, you can no longer try to understand my perspective because I no longer have my own perspective in your head. I’m one of those wacky “SJWs”. I think whatever SJWs think. One time someone you called an SJW said all men should be strangled at birth, so I must think that. Some people who are SJWs don’t believe anything but are just trolling for attention or PC Cred Points or revenge on society. Once I’m labeled an SJW, that’s me, too.

And the thing is, an incredibly large and diverse amount of people and belief and attitudes all get swept up together as “SJWs” and then treated as a monolith. I’ve seen people on Tumblr talk about us supposed “SJWs” as a group that includes vegans, radical feminists, and trans women like myself. I’m not vegan, and most vegan extremists who know who I am hate me. Radical feminists actively work to subvert trans rights, and so we have no love lost for them. But I can go to any number of posts on a Puppy blog like Brad Torgersen’s, and know that I will find someone stating with perfect confidence that radical feminism informs the tenets of everything I do and believe, because Ess Jay Double You.

And once I am established as an SJW… well, believing is seeing.

Imagine that you saw me talking about how I think that racism and sexism are endemic to the fabric of society and as no human being is perfect, no human being has perfect self-awareness, we are all susceptible to its influences, in the same way we’re all susceptible to advertising and other ubiquitous messages. It doesn’t control our minds, but it influences us, and we’re ill-equipped to see it, particularly as the human mind rebels from the thought that it is not a completely independent entity.

Now, you can disagree with that! But I think you could also probably recognize that it’s a reasonable point of view. If you did disagree, I imagine it would be at the premise level: that racism and sexism are endemic in society. But even in that case, I’d hope that you’d recognize that the line of thinking makes sense for someone starting from those premises, and then we’d have something we could talk about.

But if you decide—or you’ve been told already—that I one of those Social Justice Warriors, we probably won’t get there. Because you see me talking about racism and sexism as ubiquitous social forces and oh, boy, there goes one of those SJWs again, saying everybody and everything is racist and sexist. I just accused you of being racist and sexist just for being born! Are you gonna stand for that? No you’re not!

You might see another “SJW” talking about racism in terms of outcomes rather than individual personal intentions and decide the same thing. And please understand, when I say “decide”, I don’t mean to imply that you sit here going, “Well, you’re saying this thing, and I could argue with it, but instead I’m going to call you an SJW and just ignore it.”

The decision is to see people as “SJWs” or not. Everything else follows from that. The purpose of the label is to rope people together and then write them off. That’s all it does.

I have seen people who were just blogging about their lives—their own personal struggles—on their personal blogs get discovered by people who have an axe to grind against “SJWs”, and because they said something that is not politically correct by the anti-SJW crowd’s standards, they get labeled an SJW and hounded to heck and back. “YOU CALL YOURSELF AN ACTIVIST, BUT YOU’RE REALLY JUST A SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIOR!” the hounds say, but the person never called themselves an activist.

And yeah, I said politically correct. I don’t know how it became codified that political correctness only exists on the left. There are people waiting to pounce on anyone who spouts the “wrong ideas” on every side of every political spectrum, and the attitude that this is just a leftist thing means they have more free rein on the right.Nobody’s guarding against “political correctness” from that side, because it’s only used to refer to the infiltration of knee-jerk leftist versions of sensitivity.

Anyway, my point is that dividing the world between “SJWs” and “everyone else” is not how you get to the world you’re describing as your goal. On the internet, calling someone an “SJW” is tantamount to declaring open season on them and then writing off anything they might have to say as being noise.

I know you probably feel like that’s what “SJWs” do when they label someone as racist or whatever. I’m not going to argue the point, mostly because in my experience it’s the people who just zealously look for any ripe target to attack in situations where we’re talking about racism or sexism are also the ones who inevitably have an epiphany down the line where they realize that’s not really justice and then become the most zealous crusaders against “SJWs”. Most people on the other side from you don’t actually “ride out under a banner of Social Justice”, as I’ve so often seen it described… and those that do, it’s the act of riding out under a banner that’s important to them. It’s the twin rush of getting to go after someone viciously while simultaneously feeling like they’re the hero. The cause doesn’t matter, only that they have one. And because the cause doesn’t matter, there’s about the same number of people on any side of an argument.

Although I should also point out that the “sides” aren’t as clear cut as all that, either. Again, the label of “SJW” tends to minimize differences and paint people as a monolith. You guys have formed camps and ran campaigns. You’re organized. You can describe everybody who disagrees with your premises, goals, or tactics as “anti puppy”, but there is no Anti-Puppies. Pretending there is distorts your view of everything.

I mean, we’ve had David Gerrold insisting that everybody must be welcomed warmly and treated honorably at the Hugo awards ceremony and Connie Willis backing out of presenting because she doesn’t feel she can do that. That’s two individuals both expressing an individual view. But if you insist on seeing them not as individuals but as facets of an Anti-Puppy faction, then Gerrold’s words seem hollow, and can only be read as sarcasm or a veiled threat. And so many Puppies did exactly that. But objectively: if he wasn’t serious about what he had said, why would Connie Willis have backed out?

When people in either Puppy camps bother to spell out who they think is in the clique that they imagine congrols the Hugos, some of the big names they put out there don’t even get along. I’m not going to name examples because it’s not my place to air dirty laundry or speak for other people about who they do or don’t like, but honestly, a lot of it’s been very public. A lot of the people assumed to be super influential really aren’t. It’s all the view from outside, seeing connections where there aren’t any, extrapolating things to explain away results that the viewer can’t otherwise make sense of.

There’s this really weird bit of cognitive dissonance that goes on where people look at everyone to the left of them (I don’t know where you’d say your politics lie, so I won’t say you’re on the right, though I imagine you’re to the right of me) and see us both as marching in lockstep with one another and constantly turning on each other. This happens when one insists on seeing a monolith where none exists.

Over in another culture skirmish, I’ve tried to explain to people in Gamergate that some people really like video games but have different tastes and priorities, and we would just like to be able to read reviews that speak to our needs, and so it’s distressing to see them label such reviews as “unethical” and try to hound them out of existence. This conversation never goes anywhere because the answer is always something like, “Oh, yeah? If you like video games, why did you censor Grand Theft Auto V in Australia?”

I’m not in Australia, of course. I have a feeling that many of the moral guardians who signed the petition to get GTAV pulled from the shelves of Target would also protest any game that represented my ~*lifestyle*~, as they would call it.

Yet because of the magical transformative value of the label SJW, I am responsible for the actions of those moral guardians, and no further conversation is possible.

This is also how so many Puppies ended up demonizing Mary Robinette Kowal for a post where she basically endorsed the loftier versions of the Puppies’ stated goals (open the gates, widen the conversation, let everyone in) and then ran a fundraising effort to randomly distribute voting memberships to any interested takers, regardless of their tastes and political views. If you see her as a member of the Anti-Puppies, and you see Anti-Puppies as SJWs, and you see SJWs as two-faced extremists who will say whatever is most advantageous while doing whatever they please… then you basically have no choice but to regard the whole body of her post as honeyed sarcasm or bald-faced lies and call the random membership giveaway drive “buying votes for her side!” as so many did.

(Though in fairness, many Puppies also recognized that what she was doing was a good step towards the world they wanted.)

I know this a long comment, so I’m going to wrap it up with pretty shortly. Just two more things.

Up above, Ian says he’s seen both the Puppy slate and the “liberal recommendations”. I know he’s not saying the “liberal slate”, but just the fact that he has to phrase it that way kind of puts paid to the Puppy party line that there’s a single clique of liberals that has been acting together to control the nominations, doesn’t it? I’ve seen people on the Rabid Puppies side say that the “SJW side can’t even fix an award competently,” hence their ability to steamroller the nominations with ease. Isn’t the more likely answer that it was never fixed to begin with?

Maybe you’ll read this and think I’m talking nonsense. Maybe you don’t think there’s anything reasonable in the views I described as getting subsumed under the label of “SJW”. Maybe you even think that I’m one of those vicious people who rides out under a banner to feel like a hero while attacking people. I have certainly had unkind things to say about the people leading the Puppy charges.

But even if I am completely wrong about almost everything and als the worst person in the world, you would still have nothing to lose by excising the “SJW/everyone else” division from your way of looking at the world. Judge people as individuals… don’t sort them into a box and judge them against everyone else you’ve put into the box. If you see someone arguing in poor face or browbeating someone or adopting extreme rhetorical poses in an obvious bid for attention or whatever, just label what they’re doing as what it is. You don’t need the word “SJW” to call them out for that, and in fact, it makes it harder because then you’re talking about everything that everyone is doing, not what this one person is doing.

If you want to take the first step towards a kinder, gentler, more tolerant discourse, start by putting down the “SJW” label. It only exists to burn people, and you don’t want to fight fire with fire.

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124 Responses to If you want to take the first step towards a kinder, gentler, more tolerant discourse, start by putting down the “SJW” label.

  1. Desipis: Thanks for that. I don’t think I agree with you, but what you wrote gives food for thought. I appreciate it.

    G&W: Our other disagreements aside, I think you are assuming that the language I am using to describe a statement or an idea, i.e. Islamophobic or racist, is the language I would use—even if I believed that language to be accurate—in face to face conversation with someone who’s actual positions I didn’t know. I will simply note that I very clearly said I would not call Islamophobic the person who made that statement about Islam until he or she consistently, persistently, willfully ignored the ways in which the language of the statement is Islamophobic. Now, we may disagree on where the line demarcating Islamophobia from non-Islamophobia is, but that is a whole different discussion that is not really relevant to this thread. I am simply pointing out that I think you are arguing with something I did not say.

    And with that, I am most probably out of this thread for the next few days at least.

  2. 102
    desipis says:


    A question for those who advocate using “SJW”: Do you also advocate using the term “wingnut”?

    I think the term has its place. For example, I think describing people like Vox Day or John C Wright as “Catholic wingnuts” would be far more accurate and effective than describing them as “misogynists”.

    Also, I’m thinking of using “manbabies” from now on instead of “MRA” for any MRA (or even any critic of feminism) whose rhetoric subjectively strike me as immature, hostile, and/or whiny. Desipis, does that seem reasonable to you?

    I think that’s starting to get into the level of gendered slurs such as ‘bitch’. To the extent that parts of the men’s rights movement are immature or whiny, the term might have a use.

    In my previous comment I was trying to focus on observing how the term “SJW” was being used. Generally, I think the term SJW is being used too broadly, so I’m not going see all uses of it, or all uses of analogous terms, as reasonable. Just because I see the term being used on a subjective basis doesn’t mean I’m going to see everyone’s subjective use of it as reasonable, even though I might be able to understand the meaning they are intending to convey.

  3. 103
    desipis says:


    What’s different here is that, thanks to the internet, there are just so many more people offering an opinion, which means that 1) there are more angry, threatening, outliers (the pool of “people who will tell you you should die for saying something they don’t like” is always small in proportional terms, but it’s larger when you’re drawing on 2 billion people than it is when you’re drawing on 2 thousand) and 2) so many more people are able to offer criticisms that it can turn a mild criticism into an overwhelming avalanche (Hearing, “man, I could have done without the hula girl shirt,” from a couple people probably isn’t a big deal. Hearing that 1000 times is a huge deal, even if the critique level of each of those thousand is exactly the same mild criticism.

    I agree with this, however would add a few points.

    3) The anonymity of the internet makes it more tempting to engage in criticism for imperfection in a way that is unduly harsh, hostile and serves no constructive purpose.

    4) Various online communities, from obscure feminist blogs through to the masses of tumblr, construct social hierarchies that elevate people based on ideological vigour and purity, which creates behavioural norms that significantly exacerbate the other 3 factors.

  4. 104
    Christopher says:


    Ultimately, I don’t really have a problem with the SJW term; I don’t think it’s any vaguer than the term “left-wing”, I’m okay with a certain amount of meanness and rudeness in a discussion, and I think there are a lot of problems with left-wing internet discourse that are specific to left-wing internet discourse and worth calling out.

    What concerns me very much is that people should please pay attention to the actual specifics of the real human beings they’re arguing with.

    For example, there’s nothing too wrong with saying “Republican politics drives me crazy, and it’s allowed creeps like Ted Cruz to achieve national prominence.” The slate of Republican presidential candidates is undoubtedly the result of the politics of Republicans as a group (And other factors).

    Where this really becomes a problem is when you go to “Bob’s Republican Blog” and start going “How can you support an awful man like Ted Cruz?” when you don’t even know if Bob does support Ted Cruz.

    In fact, I guarantee you that Bob can write a post entitled “Why I hate every Republican presidential candidate, and why Ted Cruz must never become President” and he’ll STILL have people coming to his blog demanding to know why he supports Ted Cruz.

    It’s okay to go “Republicans annoy me because…” it’s also okay to go “I think Bob is a Republican because…”

    It’s not okay to go “Bob is a Republican, so I’m sure he must love Ted Cruz.” The point is, you don’t know whether Bob agrees with the entire Republican party line. Hell, in some cases Bob can explicitly explain how he doesn’t support Ted Cruz, but people will ignore that, because as soon as Bob said “I’m a Republican” people stopped listening to Bob, the real person, and started listening to their version of the ideal Republican that lives in their head.

    Even worse is when people go “Bob says he supports a strong second amendment, so I bet Bob’s a Republican. Republicans support Ted Cruz, so I bet Bob supports Ted Cruz. Man, I am so angry that Bob supports Ted Cruz, I am going to give him a piece of my mind!”

    And then meanwhile Bob is a registered independent who hasn’t voted for a Republican in two decades.

    It’s not that you’re using a label, and it’s not that you’re using it in a pejorative way; it’s that you’re refusing to notice when the person doesn’t fit the label. It’s when you use the label as a procrustean bed and chop off and ignore the bits of the person that don’t fit the label. That’s the problem.

    It’s a major problem with internet discourse, and unfortunately it’s not one we can avoid by choosing different labels; that’s why I used “Republican” as my example label, because it’s a completely legitimate label, but it can still be misused to ignore the actual beliefs of the people you’re labeling.

  5. 105
    Elusis says:

    Terms like “SJW” are just shibboleths. They’re meant to communicate to other in-group people, and from what I can tell, SJW seems to have roots in the “manosphere,” angry SF/F conservatives like the Sad/Rabid puppies (but also, weirdly, people like W_ll Sh_tt_rly who claim to be progressive but have gotten their asses handed to them by intersectional progressives?), and GamerGate types. SJW functions as a not-so-secret handshake to distinguish “this guy gets it” from “this guy is a mangina/this woman is a bitch.”

    What I think of as “Tumblr activist culture” has them too – “shitlord” appears to be one, though god knows I’m not going to go Google it to confirm this suspicion, because frankly I stay the hell away from Tumblr whenever possible.

  6. 106
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    RJN: I took a different read of your comment than you intended; your explanation makes more sense. (Our remaining disagreement is both more limited and less likely to ever be resolved, I think ,so I agree we should leave it at that.)


    When people use [SJW], I’ll just assume they’re in favor of injustice and respond accordingly.

    Heh. You do see the irony, I hope, in the combination of language policing and sweeping statements, in this particular context. Weren’t you asking for examples, earlier? Here’s one!

  7. 107
    Myca says:

    Heh. You do see the irony, I hope, in the combination of language policing and sweeping statements, in this particular context. Weren’t you asking for examples, earlier? Here’s one!

    Making fun of people using a slur against you by taking that slur stupidly literally is neither language policing nor a sweeping statement.

    It’s akin to responding to, “I hate wingnuts,” with, “yeah, with those little tabby-things on the side, I can’t make a wrench fit!”

    But yes, generally when you post a long list of “here’s how SJWs are shitty” and follow that list up with, “and here are the other commenters here who are SJWs,” it’s good to have citations for the specific ways in which you’re personally attacking the other commenters.

    I don’t expect it from you, but it would be polite.


  8. 108
    Mandolin says:

    OK, I just wrote a rather pointed rant, which I don’t think would help the conversation. So, I’m deleting that and posting this instead:

    G&W: You’re coming across as hostile and arrogant right now. Having “known” you for some years, I assume that’s not intentional. You’re calling out other people on rhetorical weaknesses you’ve imputed to them, but you seem to be implying you don’t share fallacious reasoning or engage in debate tricks.

    To a certain extent, that’s okay because the topic is about “SJW” and not about you. But it’s a bit grating in the context of you having been very combative, sometimes insulting, and often dominating, in other threads on the blog for the past few months. Your coming from that to take what appears to be an attitude of superiority grates.

    I ask you to consider being more mindful of other commenters, in this thread and elsewhere.

  9. 109
    mythago says:

    The flaw in Amp’s post here starts with the “if”, that is, the assumption that everyone wants kinder, gentler discourse, rather than the ability to dish out the snark while being appalled at being asked to take it.. The particular sneering label – politically correct, SJW, bleeding-heart liberal, whatever – is really less important than the attitude that Those People are not merely wrong, but are actively dishonest and deceptive about both their intent and their methods. And that’s not going to go away with a different catchphrase.

  10. 110
    Charles S says:

    “OK, I just wrote a rather pointed rant, which I don’t think would help the conversation.”

    Me too.

    Hey, is the centrist equivalent of a SJW a TANJW?

    [hostility towards g&w removed]

  11. 111
    Charles S says:


    It’s actually Alexandra Erin’s post.

  12. 112
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Myca said:
    generally when you post a long list of “here’s how SJWs are shitty”

    Actually, take a look at that list. Here, I’ll quote:

    -A tendency to focus on outcomes (as opposed to processes or inputs.) Not “equal treatment,” but “equal results.”

    Not shitty. Not my thing, not my focus, and IMO quite inclined to abuse or other problems. But not shitty. Also, it’s actually true w/r/t SJ (which is to say, even if it was shitty, which it isn’t, then saying it should be OK. Truth wins.)

    -A tendency to focus on subjective analysis over objective analysis.

    Not shitty. Not my thing. Quite true, esp. w/r/t racism, sexism, rape, harassment, and other “isms.” As above.

    -Focus on active redistribution of benefits, from one group to another.

    Not shitty. In fact, it’s pretty clear that you can’t equalize groups without at least some sort of differential treatment, as I’ve said many times. The main debate between SJ folks and others is how activist it should be, and what the limits are.

    -A frequent claim that passivity on issues is improper, i.e. that “actively fighting ___” is required, also known as the “with us or against us” line.

    Not shitty. Not my thing. Also, true, because this is common. “If you are silent when someone else does ___ you are promoting ____” is pretty standard.

    -Veeeeery heavy attention to group membership. In the minds of proponents, probably a necessary step since you can’t selectively help groups without identifying them.

    Again: not my thing, but not inherently shitty. If you believe that you should selectively help ___, and if you believe you should actively participate in that process, then you are pretty much obliged to identify who ____ is, as I specifically noted.

    -Denial of general trends, resulting in a privileged population. (someone who thinks that “___ are better at ___” but who doesn’t agree that ___ are worse at anything. Or, someone who thinks that “___ opinions should be primary about ____” but can’t list issues where the reverse is true.)

    I can’t stand this one personally, and it underlies most of my disputes with SJ types, but it’s still not “shitty.” And more to the point the description is quite accurate. How many feminists do you know who assert that there is anything major on which a man’s opinion should be primary? How many do you know who assert that women’s opinions should be primary on a variety of things (including almost all things relating to feminism?) How about w/r/t racism? ___ism?

    -A bit of switching around of different approaches and claims to get the best outcome. Which is perhaps expected if the goal is focused on outcome over process and especially if it is based on subjectivity, but which can, at times, be problematic.

    This is also personally something I find very problematic, and think is really a problem with SJ. But if you accept both “subjectivity is crucial” and “outcome is crucial or determinative”–which I think you would agree is a big part of SJ–then this is almost a logical requirement.

    -Frequently, demands that base assertions are “101” and that they can’t/shouldn’t therefore be challenged.

    Again, I don’t think this one is false. Neither is it “shitty,” though it is at times frustrating as it give a lot of incentive to expand the “101” category without reason.

    -Extremely high attention to minutia of language, often coupled with a demand for adoption of their preferred language; often coupled with very specific definitions.

    Not a fan, to be sure. But this is very much the entirety of callout culture.

    -Relatively broad definitions of terms such as ____ist, etc.

    Not shitty. Also, 100% true. SJ types are constantly trying to define large negative terms more broadly. “Racism,” which originally was used to include intent and arguably was limited to more severe actions, is now intent-free, includes completely unintentional (or even unconscious) micro-aggressions, and is commonly defined in a way that only whites can be racist. Etc.

    -Some conflation of the speaker and the message (everyone does this, of course, not just SJWs. It’s a trait but not a distinguishing one.) Visible in promotional statements which start with “I’m a ____ and…”

    Not shitty. Also, universal. Also, true.

    -Frequent claims that challenges are themselves problematic, a/k/a the “saying something isn’t ____ist is usually ___ist” experience;

    Not a fan, at all, but not “shitty.” Also, though I failed to note it originally, at least somewhat universal. Though I do think that the left wing has much more “men shouldn’t challenge women on women’s issues and doing so is sexist” or “whites shouldn’t challenge POC on race issues and doing so is racist” stuff going on.

    So: In all seriousness, what’s “shitty” about that? What’s inaccurate?

  13. 113
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    mythago says:
    The particular sneering label – politically correct, SJW, bleeding-heart liberal, whatever – is really less important than the attitude that Those People are not merely wrong, but are actively dishonest and deceptive about both their intent and their methods.

    No. SJW’s aren’t dishonest about their methods. They just use bad methods, at least IMO. They are, to my eyes, often arguing for inherently problematic approaches, and are willing to overlook them in dangerous ways, in order to achieve their more immediate goals. Those of us who are more focused on processes find this difficult. And they don’t maintain consistency very well IMO, though this, as I keep saying, is pretty much an unsurprising if not logical requirement of maintaining an outcome-focused, help-one-side, never-hurt-that-side, approach.

  14. 114
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    To use an example of the inherent issue, it’s easy with AA:

    SJ folks are say “POC are not getting a good college education.”

    Folks like me agree “we should not have a class of citizens who are systematically screwed over in education for reasons unrelated to their ability. Looks like quite a few POC are in that category. We should fix that.”

    Sj folks say “we need more POC because they bring different perspectives.”

    Folks like me say “well, I don’t think we should encourage government to equate race and belief/perspective. Once you go down the “this group thinks differently because they’re ___” road, you run into the problem that this won’t always be a positive thing, which we are supposedly trying to avoid. And if you’re actually looking for diversity of perspective then the schools aren’t doing so well, since they’re quite left of center. Let’s avoid the “think differently because POC” part.”

    SJ folks say “therefore we need race-based affirmative action, in which we specifically consider the race of applicants in evaluating them, and in which we specifically give a lot of preference to POC.”

    Folks like me say “well, there is a serious problem with trying to distinguish between people based on race while we also claim that discrimination (or presumption of belief) based on race is bad. Surely, given that the results of being POC are so problematic, we can find some proxies which can get us a hell of a lot closer without increasing reliance on race. How about income? How about school location? Parental education? School? Parental status? If you want to give preferences to “top 10% of every school, but top 15% if you get free lunch,” that’s OK. We can’t necessarily get the perfect equivalent, but we can get very close.

    In case it is not instantly apparent, the above perspective is (a) akin to the a lot of the stuff relating to Fisher v. Texas, and (b) in opposition to a lot of SJ claims, and (c) at least for me, aimed at increasing the # of people who get to attend college. Which, in my view, is a necessary thing. Which is why I actively support proxy systems, and expansion of early intervention programs, and improvement of teaching, and other such process fixes.

    However, when talking to SJ types, which I do a lot… well, when I use this perspective I often get called “racist,” “hateful,” “dehumanizing,” or perhaps “in favor of injustice.” Or “in favor of perpetuating white supremacy.” Or any number of extraordinarily insulting things. It is just par for the course; it happens to me all the time.

    Eventually, when one gets tired of being (falsely and frequently) called a racist hateful dehumanizing person who favors injustice and white supremacy, one might reasonably start referring to such accusers as “SJWs,” which comparatively speaking is a very minimal term with respect to the level of received vitriol.

    If you think that’s equivalent…. Well. I guess we just disagree.

    FWIW when talking to the “we don’t need to change anything at all” types, which I also do a lot, I get called a bleeding heart liberal, a left wing lunatic, and–you may be amused to hear this–occasionally a “SJW.” This does not bother me nearly as much as being called a “racist hateful dehumanizing person who favors injustice and white supremacy.” Nor should it, for obvious reasons.

  15. 115
    Myca says:


    Look, I have mostly made it a personal rule not to talk to you or engage with you. Your long post of STILL citation-less(!) strawmen (“SJWs brush their teeth like this, but fair-minded moderates brush their teeth like this.”) doesn’t do much to change my mind about this. Suffice it to say that no, the truth of each of your claims is not so obvious as to be self-evident. And no, I’m not interested in engaging with you further on this.

    I’m not the only one here who has a serious problem with you and your attitude, and I hope that you’re willing to do the self-analysis necessary to change it.

    But again, I don’t expect it.


  16. 116
    desipis says:


    What concerns me very much is that people should please pay attention to the actual specifics of the real human beings they’re arguing with.

    I agree with your criticism, in that I think that many uses of the term “SJW” are about dismissing the words of people without actually paying attention to what they are saying. I don’t think that your criticism applies to all of its uses, so there remains some potentially constructive purpose for the term. As you point out, your criticism isn’t unique to the term “SJW”.

    The term your comment make me think of most is “gamergate”. From the very early days of the use of the label, in both social media and professional games media the term was being declared exclusively about the harassment of women. This effectively dismissed the very diverse range of views of the people who had collected under the label to deal with their common concerns and interests about the way the games media was being run. Perhaps ironically, the behaviour of the games media in using a label to categorically dismiss criticisms of themselves became part of the ethical concern about how they were being run.

  17. 117
    Ampersand says:

    Yes, but gamergate is a term that gamergaters made up and applied to themselves.

    SJW is a term made up to be an insult, and used almost exclusively as an insult, by people who would not apply the term to themselves.

    If you can’t imagine not using insults to refer to people you disagree with, then you’re simply not willing to have a civil discussion at all.

  18. 118
    desipis says:

    I would agree that if someone is after a civil discussion then they should not use terms likely to be interpreted as insults by the other party, however I think whether a term is an insult can depend on the circumstances and on subjective interpretation. G&W has pointed out some of the terms progressives use that others might see as nothing but insults.

    I also think the criticism about using labels to categorically dismiss groups of people applies to the use of terms regardless of their origin or whether they are voluntarily adopted by those who use them. One of the things I recall seeing a lot on feminist blogs were complaints about how “feminist” was seen as an insulting word and used to dismiss someone as some form of hairlegged, bra-burning, man-hating, irrational woman. Which I think raises an interesting question as to how much the popularity of the term “SJW” is a reaction to the extensive efforts to positively rebrand “feminism” and “feminist”.

  19. 119
    Ampersand says:

    I would agree that if someone is after a civil discussion then they should not use terms likely to be interpreted as insults by the other party, however I think whether a term is an insult can depend on the circumstances and on subjective interpretation. G&W has pointed out some of the terms progressives use that others might see as nothing but insults.

    Eh. In practice, a lot of conservatives (#notallconservatives) seem to use this logic as a way of saying that progressives should never use words like “racism” or “homophobia” or etc, because they will interpret these words as insults. I don’t think it’s fair to, in effect, expect progressives to not have words for key concepts that clearly and unambiguously have frequent uses other than being insults.

    If I say “that barn is yellow,” and Linus responds “the word yellow is an insult to me!,” that’s not reasonable, because the word yellow has plenty of non-insulting uses, and the way I used it wasn’t a personal attack on Linus. But if I say “you’re such a jerk, Linus,” then Linus can reasonably be insulted.

    With all due respect, this distinction is so obvious most third graders understand it.

    I also think the criticism about using labels to categorically dismiss groups of people applies to the use of terms regardless of their origin or whether they are voluntarily adopted by those who use them.

    Yes, I agree. There are two non-contradictory claims, both of which are true:

    1) We shouldn’t call people by terms that have next-to no meaning apart from being insults, especially if they’re people we’d like to have reasonable discussions with.

    2) We shouldn’t allow someone’s category – whether self-assigned or inferred – to prevent us from actually listening to what a person is actually saying. (What Christopher has been arguing).

    There’s no need to choose between these two claims.

    Finally, I don’t think feminism has ever needed rebranding. There have always been people who sneer at the word and make asshole hairy leg jokes (as if there’s anything wrong with hairy legs!), and that’s been the case for many decades now. And yet feminism – and more generally, the social justice program – persists in being one of the most effective and popular movements in the country.

    There are people on all sides who use name-calling as a tactic – wingnuts, sheeple, whatever. I don’t think it’s a phenomenon that requires a special explanation in the case of SJW.

  20. 120
    J says:

    There’a a distinction that I think is missing here between calling somebody you’re talking to an insulting synecdoche and calling the person you’re talking to[about] an insulting synecdoche. It’s absolutely a bad faith move, and will cause a conversation to cease to call somebody an asshole, that’s not civil, that’s not leading to a kinder gentler discourse. If however somebody calls Rush Limbaugh an asshole if a conversation I’m not going to argue they’re necessarily being more than minorly uncivil and not worth talking to. I’m pretty sure this applies to calling somebody a SJW or Hack or Sleazy as well. Both terms can be broadly applied to a vast, vast swath of people and immediately engender stereotypes. Both don’t really get used as verbs. I’m not quite sure wingnut falls under the same category,

    Wingnut strikes me as playing off of ableism in a way that SJW or Hack don’t. There’s a very strong implication that “they’re insane, ergo they can be dismissed” which is fundamentally more structurally oppressive than either SJW or Sleazy.

    [Correction made by Amp – let me know if I got it wrong, J. -Amp]

  21. 121
    desipis says:

    Ampersand, I agree with the points you made, as well as with the point J made just above, which seems to leave us the question of whether there is any substance, beyond mere insult, to the term “SJW”. I think there is something substance worth labelling, along the lines of what I said in my comment #22, or what Mandolin said at #89, and that’s how I’ve generally understood the term. I would probably use “Social Justice Fundamentalist” if I were to attempt to coin a term, and I’m certainly not against using a different term if one comes along that communicates the concept in a better way.

    Finally, I don’t think feminism has ever needed rebranding.

    Whether it need it or not, there has certainly been efforts made to make it seem more mainstream.

  22. 122
    pocketjacks says:

    A question for those who advocate using “SJW”: Do you also advocate using the term “wingnut”?

    When talking about gender, a term like “mansplaining” from page 1, or “dudebro” or “neckbeard”, would be a better comparable.

    Furthermore, I think the people defending its use are, among other things, implicitly making a culture-wide argument. So long as on one side there remains a culture such that when discussing contentious gender issues, one can reasonably be sure a term like “mansplaining” or “dudebro” will be bandied about, you don’t have any leg to stand on when you demand that the reverse isn’t true for “SJW”. Which I see as an essentially fair argument.

    By contrast, it seems to me like the other side is making an argument at the level of the individual, which has some merit, but is incomplete when dealing with a situation in which one side greatly outnumbers the other (at least when it comes to gender issues; “left” and “right” broadly, are equally balanced).

    (I can’t speak for everyone who uses “SJW”, but I’ve never used the term with pejorative intent; disapproving, perhaps, in the sense that I disapprove of all those I disagree with politically. I was referring to a certain demographic, which I describe here. If so many people feel so silenced by the particular term “SJW”, I’ll switch to a different term. I use SJ-type often enough already, perhaps I won’t use SJW as a noun, and perhaps I’ll use “callout culture” (or “CC” for short?) more. What I won’t agree to is not being able to assign this group of people or this particular brand of politically motivated behavior any label at all. Yes, to an extent the boundaries are flexible and the term can lack “coherency”. So does any political label, including the ones you use, all save for the ones that refer to fixed demographic traits – and use of those as disapproving labels is worse, not better.)

    Also, I’m thinking of using “manbabies” from now on instead of “MRA” for any MRA (or even any critic of feminism) whose rhetoric subjectively strike me as immature, hostile, and/or whiny. Desipis, does that seem reasonable to you?

    Not only does that term get at someone’s biological identity in a way that “SJW” does not, on top of that it, it leverages the sexist trope that fully anatomically adult human males somehow who do not get to qualify as adult members of their gender based on their everyday behaviors not conforming to some arbitrary and shifting standard, something that’s applied a lot more to men than to women.

    By contrast, what’s been agreed upon on page 1 is that the “warrior” part of “SJW” insinuates an exaggerated sense of self-importance… that’s a very mild insult, all things considered. Go and strongly and imply to a hundred people that they have an exaggerated sense of grandiosity in pursuit of their cause, vs. go and strongly imply to a hundred people that they are gross and sexually inadequate (“neckbeard”). See how the reactions differ.

    It’s true that the term can in context be wielded in such a way that the pejorative intent and effect is more than just mild… but the same thing is true of many other terms that aren’t outwardly that insulting, including those for which there’s a sizable number out there that “apply the term to themselves”.

    It seems to me that you shouldn’t apply labels to people that they’d disagree with, which are intended to be pejorative, and which act to shut down discussion. That’s the moral core of the argument. Saying that some technicalities matter (whether or not there are some people out there that self-identify with the in-this-context-purely-intended-to-be-pejorative-and-isolating term) while others don’t (the severity of the insult) just seems not only ripe for, but intended for a gerrymander.

  23. 123
    pocketjacks says:

    @Charles S #94,

    I think “manbabies” is fucking awful. I’d agree with g&w that it has the same utility as “feminazi” of marking the person using it as a person who is not worth talking to (SJW and wingnut have the same virtue to a lesser extent).

    I feel (strongly but not yet coherently) that “manbabies” plays off of poisonous ideas of masculinity in a reinforcing rather than subversive way.

    While I am thankful for the sentiment, frankly, the bolded is not up to you to decide.

    And yes, I’m aware that with a screenname like “Charles S”, you are most likely, though not certain to be, male. That doesn’t give you the license to decide what gendered insults applied to other men is okay or not – unless Christina Hoff Sommers and Karen Straughn get to decide which gendered terms are allowed to be applied to feminist activists. It seems to me that one who gets to decide is the man who has been insulted on account of his gender performance in a way that “plays off poisonous ideas of masculinity”.

    Trying to insult, shame, or isolate someone in a way that “plays off poisonous ideas of masculinity” is wrong, full stop. If anyone’s trying to reserve the prerogative to do so by declaring for themselves (or their “side”) the unilateral right to deem it “subversive” and thus okay to do so, then they should definitely not be surprised if people don’t care to accommodate their complaints about terms like “SJW”.

    This was admittedly a bit of tangent off of one statement, but it’s something that’s come up recently – see this thread and my response below, where I directly reference the “subversion” excuse to make sexist attacks – it’s a justification I’ve seen fairly often, and bothersome. Warning: I use the term “SJW” in that linked comment.

  24. 124
    Ampersand says:

    Earlier, I wrote:

    Yes, I agree. There are two non-contradictory claims, both of which are true:

    1) We shouldn’t call people by terms that have next-to no meaning apart from being insults, especially if they’re people we’d like to have reasonable discussions with.

    2) We shouldn’t allow someone’s category – whether self-assigned or inferred – to prevent us from actually listening to what a person is actually saying. (What Christopher has been arguing).

    After a conversation with Mandolin, I should mention that I think context matters a lot for this stuff.

    Regarding point 1, I don’t use words like “wingnut” in casual conversation with other liberals, but if I’m in a “just among us” conversation with other lefties, I’m probably not going to object if they use the word. (I would object to a term like “neckbeard,” but for other reasons.) Similarly, if a right-winger is willing to not use terms like “SJW” or “moon bat” when they’re talking to me – or writing an argument that they’d like me to seriously consider – then I don’t really care if they use those terms when they talk to other right-wingers. People often talk differently among themselves than they do when talking to others, and as long as they can maintain that difference, I don’t think it’s a big deal.

    Regarding point 2, this is very important when talking to (or about) any particular individual. But of course generalizations can be okay when talking about a large group, so long as those generalizations are generally accurate. I.E., I don’t object to someone saying “liberals are pro-choice,” because nearly all of us are, but if somebody earnestly says “liberalism is a culture of death,” that’s demonization.