One of my Facebook friends follows a page devoted entirely to mocking Tumblr SJWs (social justice warriors). There are many such pages on the internet, basically functioning as humor pages. I present an example purely for illustration purposes:
See footnotes for transcript.1
Many people who follow such pages don’t think of themselves as opposing social justice. Rather, they oppose “SJWs”, who are supposedly a subset of social justice advocates so extreme that they cross into the absurd.
I think following these anti-SJW sites is unwise. Of course, people aren’t even trying to follow the rule of wisdom, they’re following the rule of funny.
The main problem is that these pages seem to deliberately mess with your availability heuristic. If you can easily recall many examples of a thing, you are inclined to think that thing is more common and more important. Following a page that is all about memorable instances of “bad” social justice advocates will lead you to believe that there are a lot of “bad” social justice advocates around, and that they all look a particular way too.
With that in mind, it is obvious why anti-SJWs are disbelieved when they say they’re actually in favor of social justice. If your views are so favorable, why would you do that to yourself? There is plenty of stupidity on the internet worth mocking. Why does this particular group draw your interest? To make a comparison, I’m very critical of the atheist movement while still being part of it, and that’s fine. But if my sole visible involvement with atheism was following funny pages dedicated to mocking “extremist atheists”, don’t you think my credibility would be shot?
Now I’ll talk a bit about my own view of tumblr social justice. I’ve been critical of tumblr for a long time, not so much because of its content, but because of its format. Reblogs are a terrible way to carry a conversation, and are guaranteed to generate massive flame wars. The dashboard is a monopolistic take on RSS. To these complaints I would add that tumblr messes with your availability heuristic too.
But for all that, I still have a tumblr. And while I don’t spend time seeking out “bad” social justice advocates, they still appear, unasked.
My model of a bad social justice advocate does not look like an “SJW”. My model looks like a TERF (trans-exclusive radical feminism). My model looks like the famous Ace-Hate of 2011. Also, my model doesn’t necessarily come from Tumblr.
Many people don’t think of TERFs or the ace-haters as social justice advocates. But they clearly are. Let me be specific about what I mean. It’s tempting to define social justice advocates in such a way that it only includes the “good” folks. For example, you could define social justice advocates as those people whose actions work towards actual positive social change. However, this is not a very sensible definition, since it discourages internal criticism. For example, if I point out that some social justice advocate is doing wrong, saying that they don’t count as social justice advocates kind of feels like dismissing the problem, pushing it to the outside.2 So my definition of a social justice advocate is simply someone who is following the tradition of social justice advocacy. No, Christina Hoff Sommers absolutely doesn’t count. But second-wave feminism does.
TERFs and ace-haters often use many social justice concepts, such as appropriation and privilege, sincerely as far as I can tell. In 2011, ace-haters argued that aces were trying to appropriate the word “queer”, in an effort to deny their own privilege. TERFs are known to argue that trans women are appropriating womanhood, and that they were privileged to have been socialized as men. These arguments have strongly put me off the concepts of privilege and appropriation. I like Julia Serano’s take on appropriation, but I’m very suspicious of general usage. I prefer not to refer to privilege at all.
In each of these examples, social justice concepts have been weaponized to attack groups that they had a prior dislike for. I think there are also many cases where social justice concepts are abused in slightly more benign ways. For instance, I have certainly seen hesitation about learning foreign languages because people are worried about cultural appropriation. Katherine Cross has argued that “the tone argument” and “intentions are fucking magic” are also commonly abused. Well those things are worthy of criticism too.
If you prefer to think that TERFs/ace-haters don’t count as social justice advocates, and that “real” social justice advocates can do no wrong, let me ask: have you ever been one of the groups attacked? Maybe if you’re a straight cis able-bodied white woman, you can maintain the illusion that feminism is always a force for good. The rest of us can’t. Social justice needs internal criticism. You can’t leave all the criticism to Reddit.
1. anonymous asked: I don’t want to come off rude or anything but you should probably stop speaking spanish unless youre of hispanic heritage otherwise its cultural appropriation, and I dont think youre of hispanic heritage because you look white from any of the pictures youve posted to please stop speaking/learning spanish thank you vuv
stutler answered: no. that’s spanish for ‘no’. (return)
2. This is probably a totally inappropriate comparison, but my brain drew a connection to BDSM. Many BDSM practitioners insist that BDSM relationships cannot be abusive by definition. This leads to problems. (return)