This post was originally published on Fanny Pack on July 1st 2016.
On 17th June, Cracked – supreme purveyors of pop culture cynicism™- released a video through their YouTube channel that poked holes in the wildly popular ‘Follow Me’ Instagram account. If you’re unfamiliar with the account, it’s basically a globally staged re-enactment of The Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’ in which a photographer stalks his unfairly beautiful girlfriend around exotic locations whilst slowly leaning in in between each Photoshopped shot to sniff her hair like a serial killer. (Disclaimer: I may be lying slightly.)
Seems fairly innocuous, right? And Cracked (as usual) made some good points, calling the account out on everything from the slightly leering way the camera always seemed to focus on her exposed back or butt, to the objectifying nature of keeping her continually faceless, to the nauseating cultural tourism of two rich, white people dressing up in each country’s national costume.
None of these points brought about the kind of outrage in me that should be reserved for terrible cases of injustice such as the Brock Turner rape case, but as I said before – reasonable points about a slushy Instagram account well made. But just before I ‘Liked’ the video and moved on with my life, I noticed the huge amount of Dislikes filling up most of the bar, and – upon scrolling down to the comment section (always a risky move) – was dismayed to find a slew of comments like these:
It’s completely fair to dislike a video if you genuinely disliked it, that’s what the bar is for. But throwing around the ‘Social Justice Warrior’ (SJW) label to totally dismiss it out of hand? That’s not really fair. And sadly, the use of the slur has become unfortunately commonplace to shut down cases of sexism – or any other ‘ism’ – being reasonably pointed out in the media that we all enjoy. However, the fact that is it so prominent may conversely mean that we, as feminists, are actually doing something right. Bear with me on this.
As with most slurs, SJW is a phrase that has had its positive or neutral origins manipulated to become harmful through contextual usage. Although – according to the Oxford English Dictionary- the term “social justice” dates all the way back to 1824, in 2015, “social justice warrior” was also added to the OED as:
“A pejorative term of an individual promoting socially progressive views; including feminism, civil rights, multi-culturalism, political correctness, and identity politics.”
This negative use of the term originates in 2011, when it became the weapon of choice by proponents of the infamous #GamerGate dispute thanks to popular usage on Reddit and 4chan, and since then, seems to have exponentially seeped out into every corner of the web – the most recent victim being the comments section of Cracked’s YouTube channel.
As a figurine-buying, comic–con-loving, feminist nerd, I have been thoroughly disheartened to see this obstinate toxicity used to smother every slight criticism of any comic book, video game, or film considered infallibly sacred by the more knuckle-dragging members of my fan group that bore this slur. The ‘debates’ in one particular Facebook group I was an active member of become so one-sidedly anti-SJW recently in the wake of both the X-Men: Apocalypse poster scandal and Nintendo’s sexist excuse for not including a playable female character in the upcoming Zelda game, that I felt forced to leave – feeling thoroughly unwelcome in a community I had considered to be my own.
Here’s a few responses posted in the group to the aforementioned contraversies.
Although to be honest, all of the above is really just typical of the usual smatterings of casual sexism continuously posted to the group anyway.
But these aggravatingly misinformed opinions and ‘jokes’ are really just the tip of the iceberg. Last year, a group of tin-foil-hat-wearing Redditors began to suspect that Reddit was being taken over by an “SJW Cabal” made up of lesbian, Jewish leftists (no, seriously). “There was a time when the fringe truly existed on the fringes of society,” Gawker observed at the time. “But today, conspiracies as manifestly deranged as this one rocket in popularity, empowered by the simple software behind sites like Reddit and 4chan. There have always been and there will always be right-wing lunatics who think creeping “transsexual feminism” is an existential threat; but now those people share real estate with all the rest of us. They’re just one click away.”
It is illogical psychosis such as this that makes the anti-SJW movement (if you can even call it a that) so difficult to argue with for anyone who supports the frankly common-sense ideals of social progressivism and equality. Often, those that subscribe to the SJW conspiracy seem to either feel that accusations of offensiveness in pop culture are simply disingenuous, or that pointing them out is evidence of a general ‘over-policing’ of culture and free speech. The problem with this is, as Vice points out, “[SJW] is not a real category of people. It’s simply a way to dismiss anyone who brings up social justice – and often those people are feminists.”
By now, you may be feeling pretty depressed about all this. But believe it or not, there is something positive to take away from all this online hate. Internet hate-mongers such as anti-SJWs are nothing new or special, but simply the latest in a long history of backlashes against organised social justice movements like feminism. Susan Faludi famously dedicated an entire book to this subject in the 90s.
“Different kinds of backlash against women’s mostly tiny gains – or against simply the perception that women were in the ascendancy – may be found in the rise of restrictive property laws and penalties for unwed and childless women of ancient Rome, the heresy judgements against female disciples of the early Christian Church, or the mass witch burnings of medieval Europe.” – Susan Faludi.
In a recent interview with Broadly, Tristan Bridges, co-author of ‘Exploring Masculinities: Identity, Inequality, and Change’, explained the link between this historic backlash and the newly mainstream nerd culture of today. “Nerds are, as a cultural ‘type’, emasculated. But it’s also true that there is a lot of toxic masculine behaviour in nerd cultures. Think about it: #GamerGate happened among the nerds, not the jocks.” He added that this behaviour stems from the idea that men are becoming disenfranchised as women make more and more gains:
“As societies redistribute gender privileges that had been largely reserved for men, it’s not uncommon to see spikes in violence against women as an early reaction,” Bridges said. “People like to think that social justice is a steady, constant progress… But research on inequality has shown is doesn’t work like that. Sometimes when we take one step forward, we take two steps back.” – Tristan Bridges.
Probably the most stark evidence of this “one step forward, two steps back” progression can be seen in the LGBTQ+ community, where Marriage Equality parallels an increase in homophobic hate crimes in the last decade – most recently the Orlando massacre. Although Internet trolls seem pretty trivial compared to horrendous acts of terror, they are all part of a wider cultural hatred that is fostered online and – if allowed to grow – can and does poison the real world like bacteria. So the next time someone thinks that accusing you of being an SJW is an insult, just know that you must be doing something right – and keep doing it.
Featured Image source: Hextrovert/Etsy.