How did ‘Social Justice Warrior’ Become an Insult?

Why we say bad things about people who do good things

Stark Raving
5 min readMay 22, 2019


Photo by Jamie Haughton on Unsplash

“Despite his overdeveloped social conscience, he was no tight-lipped, perpetually grim do-gooder who frowned on fun. To the contrary, he enjoyed tipping a glass now and then and was an incorrigible ham.”

This is how Jon Krakauer describes Chris McCandless, alias Alexander Supertramp, in his book Into the Wild. I had loved the film and devoured the book, but when I read this sentence I felt like I had stubbed my toe on it.

Why is there this persistent myth that those who do good things are boring, annoying or even morally questionable?

This paradox has a long history, and has been given a new lease-of-life via the internet, with the derogatory term “Social Justice Warrior.”

A term without negative connotation in the late 20th century became derogatory through internet culture — especially through the Gamergate controversy. Now, when you type “Why Social Justice Warriors…” on Google, the first two search suggestions are “Why social justice warriors are demented” and “Why social justice warriors are mean.” SJW has become a pejorative term for an individual who promotes socially progressive views, in particular, those linked to social liberalism, cultural inclusivity or feminism. The accusation that somebody is an SJW carries implications that they are pursuing personal validation rather than any deep-seated conviction.

In 2014, SJWs even got their very only parody role-playing video game. Developed by Nonadecimal Creative, Social Justice Warriors involves debating online against trolls making racist and sexist comments by choosing from different responses such as “dismember their claims with your logic,” “rebroadcast their message to be attacked by others”, or “go for the personal attack.”

Though Social Justice Warrior, used as an insult, is the latest manifestation, do-gooders have long been met with resentment, suspicion and hostility. Feelings which manifest as people inferring ulterior motives for altruistic actions, implying real or imagined hypocrisy or attacking…



Stark Raving

Intersectional feminism and environmental issues. Let’s make the world a kinder, more sustainable place. Support my work!