Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Friendly Fire: The Demise of the Social Justice Warrior

Every so often, we are asked to contemplate the "culture war" - what it is, what defines each 'side', and who might be winning.

One such piece was recently rebroadcast by BoingBoing, an article by Laurie Penny entitled "Social Justice Warriors and the New Culture War".

The piece was originally written in 2014, with topical references to the photo leaks of Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities.

It replays the typical story:

This a song we know by now. It starts and ends, almost always, with attacks on our sexuality, on our bodies as meat and function: our sexual and relationship history is broadcast everywhere, which is what happened to games developer Quinn, after an ex-boyfriend posted a disturbed, disturbing novella-length attack on everything she is and everything she stands for. The gamersphere then collectively wet its knickers over not being allowed to mercilessly slut-shame their chosen target without being called out, because freedom of speech.

It builds a very stark difference - on the one side, an army of misogynists and free-speech absolutists ready to verbally abuse everyone. On the other, the valiant group of social justice warriors, that will save the world and avenge Jennifer Lawrence.

This view of the world casts the world as two groups - one "ignorant" or "bigoted", one "progressive" or "inclusive". The thinking is the bigots need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future, as they have been throughout history.

Of course, this framing is complete nonsense. How do we know this?

We know this by watching Laurie Penny being smeared online. Not by misogynists, racists and other malcontents - but by people in her own social justice league. Her own merry band of would-be ideologues.

Laurie Penny, the co-opting capitalist

A beautiful thing happens when Laurie Penny types a strongly worded thinkpiece for a liberal-minded paper. A certain segment of Twitter shows up to let her know she's co-opting marginalized voices and profiting from it.

Further, people that seem to be misreading Penny claim her articles of "win" are actually simply more erasure from white feminists. These people are apparently serious, so much so that Penny herself feels the need to respond to their concerns. Even transgender activists are found telling Penny to "pass the mic" to the underprivileged.

Laurie Penny cannot herself write an article without getting privilege checked. Oddly enough, she is not alone.

Getting Catty about Catcalling

Jessica Valenti is a writer for The Guardian, a writer who has a particular habit of writing rather absurd things. One recent example was an article about catcalling, which Valenti shared a very personal story about catcalling (and lack thereof) and how it impacted her self esteem.

The story in the article titled "One perk of older age? Fewer catcalls" is explained quite directly by its subtitle: "To my great shame, the thought of not being worth men’s notice bothers me, even though I’m a seasoned feminist and I know better".

There are many angles of this that could be deconstructed and dissected. Are the contents of Valenti's self-esteem actually the result of street harassment? Do women sort of like catcalling in the same way they sort of like vampires and 50 Shades? Does catcalling actually somehow work for the catcallers?

Unfortunately before anything resembling a critique of what qualifies as "feminism" could be established, Valenti was already derailed by a social justice warrior. The well-meaning concerned 'activist' invaded Valenti's mentions to say:

I appreciate the honesty, but this feels like a very white, cis piece. [For] WOC & trans women, catcalls can be life threatening
Jessica Valenti's piece was certainly quite ridiculous. But it was also very personal, very subjective, and not at all as ridiculous as privilege checking her experiences and emotions. Valenti provided an empty response of "I hear you", which is analogous to apologizing for her perspective.

This privilege check is amazingly silly because catcalls are not life threatening. Catcalls can be made in an environment is life threatening, can precede an assault, but they are in themselves sufficient to cause injury. A catcall has yet to put anyone in the hospital.

By example, let's revisit how generic and therefore boring this argument is.

Jessica Valenti: NY!
Concerned Social Justice Warrior: I appreciate the honesty, but this feels like a very white, cis, heterosexual sentiment. For women of color, trans women, immigrants and the poor, NY can be life threatening.

It's almost a blessing - from here on, one can expect all subjective claptrap about the feelings of privileged liberals to be derailed by the same victimhood mentality they've worked so hard to build. The "progressives" that have long thought comparisons of their cultural critiques to the reality in developing nations were needless distractions (e.g. akin to "Dear Muslima") find themselves torn to bits from a neighbor that seizes the opportunity to share their own melodrama.

The common refrain of "What about the menz?" can be dismissed with ease - but to be checked by the gilded underprivileged is something of immediate concern, as the armchair social media activists must not think of one as a bad ally.

Escaping a Lesbian Lasso 

One may think what we are witnessing is the destruction of the old guard of feminism - the college educated, rich white blogging women are simply having to hand their baton to the leaders in the next cultural conquest. A type of Culture War 2.0 - this time, it's intersectional and inclusive. It's no longer simply about a binarist gender divide - it's about sexuality, gender identity and race!

If one needs evidence that this is perhaps nothing more than an internet soap opera, consider the following story about a hashtag based community.

Once upon a time a number of people participated in #ThisTweetCalledMyBack - the tag was about many things, but one big piece of the commentary was the co-opting and plagiarism that was similar in substance to the aforementioned debate surrounding Laurie Penny. For quite some time, things went swimmingly. Friends were made and electronic hugs were traded.

Tragically, one young woman read quite a bit into the plethora of heart-shaped emojis and thought one of the other ladies was looking for something more than the destruction of white supremacist cisheteronormative patriarchy, if one gets the message.

Private messages were exchanged and it turned out the recipient of the messages and advances, Zahira (@bad_dominicana) was having none of it. As is the norm for failed sexual endeavors in social justice circles, it ended up being blown up as Zahira labelled the interested party as creepy and "rapey". Alliances formed and friends of the lustful lesbian published an obsessively documented Tumblr outlining their grievances over how Zahira handled the situation.

The battle raged, many retweets and favorites were spilled and the damage done to the hashtag was immeasurable. Friendships were strained, followers were lost. Hopefully those involved had an adequate amount of social justice insurance.

To revisit the theory that social justice warriors are "winning" some sort of culture war, consider that a great amount of unwinding happened when it appeared that a mostly virtual relationship was going to get a little bit physical and a little bit gay.

"Social justice" is not winning a war. "Social justice" is nothing more socially awkward penguins abusing each other, wading through their own hypocrisy, misunderstanding the law, comedy and math. The future will undoubtedly be further enveloped in their own fears. Sadly, the only way out of social justice club is to be forgotten and distrusted or cast out as a bigot.

A victory, indeed.


  1. Very very topical. You've been observing this absurd scene for a while. Kudos.

  2. For all their professions of inclusiveness and tolerance, the progressive left are the nastiest and most insular people you'll ever come across.

  3. SJW motto should be: Agree with me on every subject or drink bleach!
    ...also you're triggering me you gaslighting piece of trash.