SJW? The abbreviation SJW stands for “Social Justice Warrior” and it is used pejoratively by the Right against those who defend the strictures of political correctness as the only effective means of combatting the use of hate speech and other discriminatory behaviours against women, minorities and the LGBTI community. SJWs are dismissed as self-validating attention-seekers using social media to advance socially progressive views as inauthentic as they are strident.
YOU CAN LEARN A LOT from blog comments. A recent posting on the Rugby Union’s report into the Ōkoroire Hot Pools incident attracted this terse response:
“I thought you would have heard the news, Chris. No one cares about people who take offence anymore. Maybe you could go to a safe corner till you feel less offended. Take an SJW with you.”
There’s a lot packed into these four short sentences, so bear with me while I attempt to unpack them.
Let’s begin with the commentator’s central assertion: “No one cares about people who take offence anymore.”
Taken at face value, this is obviously false. Just consider the Rugby Union’s swift response to the avalanche of criticism that came crashing down on its report. Given sponsorship’s vital role in the funding of professional rugby, the game’s administrators’ acute sensitivity to such sustained public criticism – especially in relation to the vexed issue of gender relations – is readily understood. That the Union felt obliged to announce that it’s seeking the help of anti-sexual-violence campaigner, Louise Nicholas, shows how much they needed to be seen to “care”.
At a deeper level, however, the commenter is more accurate than many New Zealanders might care to admit.
It is one of the proudest claims of the Baby Boom Generation: that it confronted the racism, sexism and homophobia of its parents’ generation; defeated it; and ushered in a new era of tolerance and social equality. The Boomers point to the Black Civil Rights struggle in the United States; the onrush of so-called “Second Wave” Feminism; and the Gay Rights Revolution of the 1970s and 80s. Without these “new social movements”, they claim, neither the dramatic and permanent shifts in social attitudes, nor the legislative reforms they inspired, would have been possible.
But the question seldom asked of the Baby Boomers is whether their much-vaunted changes were the product of an entire generation – or just a fraction of it. Just how deeply did the ideas of the new social movements penetrate? All the way down to the public bars and rugby club changing-rooms? Or only as far as the common-rooms of the universities; the editorial offices of the more respectable media outlets; and the screenwriting teams of movie and television studios?
Politically-speaking, it has long been the contention of the Right that the social changes of the 60s, 70s and 80s were only ever the project of a wafer-thin layer of left-wing activists. As proof they point to such contrary historical indicators as the white riots against Dr Martin Luther King’s attempt to racially integrate Chicago’s public housing in 1966; the defeat of the feminist-inspired Equal Rights Amendment in 1982; and, to use a New Zealand example, the 800,000-signature petition (the largest in the country’s history) against the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1986.
It is this conspiratorial version of the West’s recent social history (in defence of which, rightists love to quote the 1960s student radical, Rudi Dutschke’s, advice for comrades to undertake “the long march through the institutions”) that spawned the notion of “political correctness”. According to the Right, political correctness is the method by which left-wing elites impose their ideas about what is, and isn’t, acceptable political discourse on the rest of society.
The references in the comment quoted above to a “safe corner” and an “SJW” trace their origins to this Left-Right struggle over political correctness.
“Safe Areas” are spaces to which university students in the US are able to retreat when the language and behaviour of the politically incorrect on campus is deemed to have grown too confronting and/or dangerous. Derided by the Right for pandering to the alleged preciousness of the students making use of them, safe areas are also assailed for implicitly curtailing the rights of those from whom their users are seeking refuge.
The abbreviation SJW stands for “Social Justice Warrior” and it is used pejoratively by the Right against those who defend the strictures of political correctness as the only effective means of combatting the use of hate speech and other discriminatory behaviours against women, minorities and the LGBTI community. SJWs are dismissed as self-validating attention-seekers using social media to advance socially progressive views as inauthentic as they are strident.
Unpacked like this, our commenter’s observations offer us a clear insight into the Right’s estimation of the Ōkoroire Hot Pools incident, and the Rugby Union’s response. The key suggestion on offer is that any and all offence taken as a result of the interaction between the stripper “Scarlette” and the Chiefs at Ōkoroire is, or should be, a matter of indifference to those mainstream New Zealanders who remain unconvinced by political correctness, safe areas, SJW’s – and left-wing writers. He further assumes that these unoffended Kiwis constitute a clear majority.
The scary thing is – I’m not so sure he’s wrong.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 13 September 2016.