Labeling attacks on feminism

Sydney Schiffman, Contributing Writer

“Social justice warrior” is a term that has become more of an epithet than anything, flung at those of us who champion human rights matters or speak up when we see or hear bigoted and ignorant remarks. You’ve probably seen it somewhere in the cybersphere, most commonly in the painful-to-read comment sections of online articles and videos, forums, or the inevitable Facebook comment thread battles that come up on all our newsfeeds. It’s especially common to see it used against women who dare to declare themselves feminists and fight to have their voices heard in traditionally male-dominated realms (i.e., virtually every sphere of society). It’s become more than a phenomenon, morphing into this weird subculture facilitated by the internet age.

What strikes me as odd is that such a phrase, one that seems to designate power and dedication, is used so disparagingly. You point out how cat-calling is street harassment? You’re a frigid, prudish social justice warrior who can’t take a compliment and who is probably just jealous because she’s too fat or ugly for anyone to whistle at her on the street. You make a case for the existence of myriad gender identities and sexual orientations? You’re a self-righteous social justice warrior who can’t deal with the “obvious” biological differences between men and women, and you should just shut up. Stop trying to complicate things.

Those are the reactions that I see directed time and again towards people, most often women, who call attention to social constructs that facilitate harmful hegemonic practices and ideals. And what I’m trying to call attention to here is that far too often myself and others are berated for voicing our concerns about society and culture on a public platform at the hands of those who would have us believe that our worries are irrational or unfounded.

I don’t expect the general attitude towards those of us who advocate equality to change anytime soon. It’s an ongoing battle to prove to internet trolls, major news outlets, and everyone in between that social injustices do exist: women still make 84 cents to the dollar that men earn; catcalling a woman is not a compliment because her body does not exist for your viewing pleasure or for you to comment on; transgender people suffer obscene rates of violence; minorities are still passed over for job opportunities simply because of racial stereotypes attached to their names; and black men are the most incarcerated demographic because black people are still suffering from discrimination, stereotypes, and lack of resources residual from the 250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow, 60 years of separate but equal, and 35 years of racist housing policy.

I will always have something to say about the objectification of women in the media, black men being shot dead while their killers are not reprimanded, the existence of white privilege, gender discrimination in the workplace … all of it. If refusing to let these injustices go by unaddressed and left not critiqued makes me a social justice warrior, so be it. If I speak passionately about these things and allow my discontent and anger to fuel my words and actions, and that makes me a social justice warrior, so be it.

I have a right to be angry, I have a right to be dissatisfied with the way things are when they result in inequality and prejudice, and I have a right to be vocal about it. If being a social justice warrior means fighting for what is right, even in the face of doubt and ridicule, then so be it.

I’m not afraid of the label “social justice warrior.” If anything, it encourages me all the more to take up my shield and spear and take the world to task.


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