Greta Thunberg has recently come under fire for committing the most heinous of crimes: upsetting older white men. The 16-year-old has been lambasted in the media for a myriad of faux pas such as: being under 18, caring about something, and having emotions in public.
So many of our favourite celebrities have come out of the woodwork to call her “spoiled brat” or “climate freak” (the former coming from Jeremy Clarkson, who in the past beat up a producer due to a lack of hot food on set). Of course, none of this comes as a surprise.
These men are terrified. Not only is Greta 16, she is also female. She represents the intersection of two groups that powerful men have historically seen themselves having ultimate power over. It’s interesting to watch men launching arguments against her for issues of age and gender, rather than contesting her points on climate science.
When anyone calls Greta Thunberg a “child”, they imply that her age somehow makes her unqualified. There have even been accusations of exploitation from her parents, all of which are unfounded. The use of these accusations undermine Thunberg, by stripping her of autonomy and implying that she is incapable of performing actions of her own accord. They imply that she is only standing for this because she has been forced. At 16, Greta is not a child. At this age (in the UK) she could fight and die for her country; work, pay taxes, own property, and contribute to society more than many of these men do by tweeting bile at her. More importantly, at this age she is confronted with the knowledge that her future will be shaped by the consequences of decisions made now. Does that not entitle her to an opinion on how they’re made?
The deepest problem does not consist in this inaccuracy, but the avoidance of her arguments.
The problem even exists on the supporting side. Thunberg’s critics are met with arguments ridiculing them for being threatened by a teenage girl, but when those arguments are used, they validate this need to focus on arbitrary characteristics. Thunberg should be a threat. Movements like Extinction Rebellion are, in their very nature, highlighting the threat to the way of life for all of us, as a result of the climate crisis. That is exactly how it needs to be. It should never be implied that Greta’s age or gender makes her in any way un-intimidating because – obvious stereotyping aside – she is the figurehead of a movement for action and climate justice, and that needs to be a threat.
When arguments are made against her from a stance of prejudice, it is important to not validate them by arguing back from this place (i.e. that grown men being ‘scared’ of a teenager is silly). Instead, it is the responsibility of her supporters to rub the evidence in their face and ask why they are avoiding her points. They should not be allowed to avoid the facts.
A satirical advert for the ‘Greta Thunberg Helpline’ was recently launched. The advert included the line “if you’re a grown man who needs to yell at children for some reason…”. This is problematic as it implies Thunberg is just a harmless child. She is not. She stands for something. She gives impassioned speeches that make people angry. Just as the mockery of Thunberg from the opposition devalues her worth, so do jokes like this.
Greta’s misrepresentation is symptomatic of a deeper problem in our global societal discourse: the fact that someone’s arbitrary characteristics will be critiqued before the contents of their mind. If you want the opposition to stop, you have to stop too.
Image: ulricaloeb via Flickr