I didn’t know what an “SJW” was either.

During my weekend YouTubing, I watched a couple of videos that appeared to be ragging on so-called “Social Justice Warriors”, or SJWs. Like the term “special snowflake”, it’s not one I’ve come across until recently – it might just be more prevalent in the US than over here. Rather than continue in blissful ignorance, I looked it up.

The opening paragraph on Wikipedia describes the term as “a pejorative term for an individual promoting socially progressive views including feminism, civil rights, multiculturalism, and identity politics”. Okay, so basically anybody whose politics leans to the left. It continues: “The accusation of being an SJW carries implications of pursuing personal validation rather than any deep-seated conviction, and being engaged in disingenuous social justice arguments or activism to raise personal reputation, also known as virtue signalling.” So, by that definition, an SJW is someone who expresses left-leaning political views to serve their own reputation and not out of conviction. Is that right?

The way these videos were describing SJWs, you’d think they were trying to create a new world order by censoring and arguing with everybody who has less-progressive views than them. This actually sounds a bit extreme to me, and I doubt such actions are applicable to most progressives, whether they class themselves as an SJW or not. However, by such definition, it’s not all that different from a vocal Brexit voter shouting down anyone who wants anything but an immediate, hard Brexit. I’m also willing to bet that it’s these extreme fringes that get the press attention and, with simplified black-and-white thinking applied, we all get tarred with the same two brushes.

I hold rather progressive views – I make no apologies for that – but while I’ll express them here and on social media, I don’t insist everybody agrees with them. I’m all for civil debate, but I won’t get involved in a flame war.

I do also hold feminist views, but I’m somewhat more relaxed compared to how feminists are described in those YouTube videos. Again, I make no secret of my feminist views, but you’re more likely to find me acting upon them than preaching about them – it’s called “leading by example”.

In the whole debate about identity and gender politics, while I’m not all that keen on labels personally, I now understand how a lexicon of identities, labels and pronouns is important to those exploring and defining their identities – if a definition already exists, there’s at least one other person who identifies the same way. You’re not alone! I still maintain that all this exploration around gender identities adds vibrancy and colour to what is traditionally a strict monochrome. There does need to be some accommodation on both sides though, especially around the use of pronouns like “xe” and “hir” – it’s easy to add new nouns or verbs to your vocabulary, but as pronouns are woven into the fabric of the English language, new ones take a lot of getting used to, especially to a native speaker of almost 40 years. The singular “they/them/their” comes a lot more naturally.

The way I understand it, activism is a bit like driving a car. Those at the extreme ends have their cars in low gears with the needles on their tachometers constantly in the red: their engines are noisy and angrily revving away, but they’re not going anywhere fast and are likely to be doing more harm than good. The rest of us cruise along in higher gears at a more relaxed pace and make good progress.

I could sum all of that up in just two words…

Calm down!

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