Misogyny, male rage and the words men use to describe Greta Thunberg



Greta Thunberg departs after speaking at the youth climate strike in Battery Park, New York.
Peter Foley/EPA

Camilla Nelson, University of Notre Dame Australia and Meg Vertigan, University of Newcastle

Detractors have dismissed Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg – a Nobel Prize nominee – as mentally ill, hysterical and a millennial weirdo after she pleaded with world officials last week to address the climate crisis.

Here, two researchers explain the stereotypical labels deployed by critics to undermine Thunberg’s call to action, which the activist herself has described as “too loud for people to handle”.

Camilla Nelson, Associate Professor in Media, University of Notre Dame

Greta Thunberg obviously scares some men silly. The bullying of the teenager by conservative middle-aged men has taken on a grim, almost hysterical edge. And some of them are reaching deep into the misogynist’s playbook to divert focus from her message.

It is not a rhetorical accident that critics of Thunberg, nearly 17, almost always call her a “child”. This infantilisation is invariably accompanied by accusations of emotionality, hysteria, mental disturbance, and an inability to think for herself – stereotypically feminine labels which are traditionally used to silence women’s public speech, and undermine their authority.

In Australia, Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt has called Thunberg “freakishly influential … with many mental disorders”. Sky News commentator Chris Kenny described her as a “hysterical teenager” who needs to be cared for.

Overseas, male commentators have used similar pejorative terms – describing her as a “mentally-ill Swedish child”, unstable and a “millenarian weirdo”. One claimed Thunberg needed a “spanking”; another likened her activism to “medieval witchcraft”.

Obviously these men find Thunberg triggering. But why?

Thunberg attends a Senate climate change taskforce press conference in Washington.
Shawn Thew/EPA



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At a deep level, the language of climate denialism is tied up with a form of masculine identity predicated on modern industrial capitalism – specifically, the Promethean idea of the conquest of nature by man, in a world especially made for men.

By attacking industrial capitalism, and its ethos of politics as usual, Thunberg is not only attacking the core beliefs and world view of certain sorts of men, but also their sense of masculine self-worth. Male rage is their knee-jerk response.

Thunberg did not try to be “nice” when she confronted world leaders at the United Nations last week. She did not defer or smile. She did not attempt to make anybody feel comfortable.

US President Donald Trump tweeted: “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!” Happiness here aligns itself with conformity, and an unspoken idea that women and children are expected to be docile and complacent.

But in reality, Thunberg is cutting through – rather than displaying – emotionalism. What certain kinds of men do not wish to acknowledge is that asking for action on climate change is entirely rational.




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‘We will never forgive you’: youth is not wasted on the young who fight for climate justice


Meg Vertigan, lecturer in English and writing and academic advisor at the University of Newcastle

As Greta Thunberg’s speech to the UN climate summit last week reverberates across the world, claims by critics over her mental state are alarming. Thunberg has described herself as having “Asperger’s”, an autism spectrum disorder, and describes it as her “superpower”.

But politicians and broadcasters appear to have confused the disorder with mental illness – a label used throughout history to label and potentially stigmatise “difficult” women who are told they need bed rest, medication or incarceration. Even today, doctors are more likely to diagnose women than men with depression, even when they present with identical symptoms.

Advocates for people with autism have pointed out the disorder is not linked to mental illness.

Yet commentator Andrew Bolt wrote of Thunberg, “I have never seen a girl so young and with so many mental disorders treated by so many adults as a guru”.

“She seems chronically attracted to apocalyptic visions, to fear,” he wrote, describing her as “chronically anxious and disturbed”.

Thunberg is ‘not the messiah, she is an extremely anxious girl’, Bolt says.

Not-for-profit organisation Beyond Blue defines anxiety as stress or worry which occurs “without any particular reason or cause”. Therefore by diagnosing Thunberg with anxiety, men are pathologising Thunberg’s concern about the environment and dismissing her fears as baseless and the result of mental illness.

History is littered with examples of this. Former Coalition minister George Brandis in 2015 famously called Labor frontbencher Penny Wong “shrill” and “hysterical” after she interjected during his Senate address – implying her comments were due to feminine mental instability.

So too, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison suggested climate change fears were a type of pathology. Following Thunberg’s UN speech he declared that the climate debate subjected children to “needless anxiety” and suggested they needed more “context and perspective” on the issue. “We’ve got to let kids be kids,” he said.

Here, Morrison is implying that Thunberg’s anxiety is somehow contagious. This is offensive to people with anxiety disorders – and offensive to passionate and vocal women.The Conversation

Camilla Nelson, Associate Professor in Media, University of Notre Dame Australia and Meg Vertigan, Lecturer in English and Writing/ Academic Advisor, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘We will never forgive you’: youth is not wasted on the young who fight for climate justice



Swedish activist Greta Thunberg joins other children from across the world to present an official human rights complaint on the climate crisis.
Michael Nagle/EPA

Danilo Ignacio de Urzedo, University of Sydney

Last week’s United Nations climate summit may go down in history – but not for the reasons intended. It was not the tipping point for action on global warming that organisers hoped it would be. It will instead probably be remembered for the powerful address by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg, who castigated world leaders on behalf of the generation set to bear the brunt of inaction.

Young people are not sitting back and waiting for older generations to act on the climate crisis. Days before the summit, school students led a climate strike attended by millions around the world. And at the first ever UN youth climate summit, more than 500 young people from 60 countries, including myself, explored how to meet the commitments of the Paris Agreement.

This group of activists, innovators, entrepreneurs, and change-makers aged between 18 and 30 showcased potential solutions and put global political leaders on notice: they must fight off the climate crisis at the scale and pace required.

A young boy takes part in the global climate strike on September 20 at Parliament Square in London.
Neil Hall/EPA

Youth voices matter

Youth aged 15 to 24 years represent 16% of the world population and will reach 1.3 billion people by 2030. Obviously the action (or otherwise) of today’s decision makers on climate change and other environmental threats will affect generations to come – a principle known as intergenerational equity.

Millions of young people around the world are already affected by climate change. Speaking at the youth summit, Fijian climate action advocate Komal Kumar said her nation was at the frontline of a crisis and worldwide, young people were “living in constant fear and climate anxiety … fearing the future”.




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“Stop hindering the work [towards a sustainable future] for short term profits. Engage young people in the design of adaptation plans,” she said. “We will hold you accountable. And if you do not remember, we will mobilise to vote you out.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres attended the event and his deputy Amina Mohammed took part in a “town hall” with the attendees, alongside senior representatives from government and civil society.

Young people are not sitting idly by

Technological solutions presented by youth summit participants included 3D printing using plastic waste, data storage in plant DNA, a weather app for farmers and an accountability platform for sustainable fashion.

Participants learnt how to amplify their voices using Instagram and how to create engaging videos with their mobile phones. An art workshop taught youth how creativity can help solve the climate emergency, and a networking session showed ways that youth leaders to stay connected and support each other.

Greta Thunberg, second from right, speaks as United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and young climate activists listen at the start of the United Nations Youth Climate Summit.
Justin Lane/EPA

Elsewhere, you don’t have to look far to see examples of young climate warriors, including in the developing world.

Programs funded by the UN development program include in Kazakhstan where youth are helping implement an energy efficiency project in schools, and in Namibia where young people are being trained as tour guides in national parks and nature reserves. In Nepal, young people cultivate wild Himalayan cherry trees as a natural solution to land degradation.

Harness the power of nature

Kenyan environmental activist Wanjuhi Njoroge told the youth summit of her nation’s progress in restoring the country’s forest cover.

Nature-based solutions to the climate crisis – such as conserving and restoring forests, grasslands and wetlands – were a key focus at the summit. Efforts to meet the Paris climate goals often focus on cutting fossil fuel use. But nature has a huge ability to store carbon as plants grow. Avoiding deforestation keeps this carbon from entering the atmosphere.

Thunberg and British writer George Monbiot released a film ahead on the New York summit calling on world leaders protect, restore and fund natural climate solutions.

A film by Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot calling for more nature-based climate change solutions.

To date, such solutions have received little by way of investments and funding support. For example in 2015, agriculture, forestry and land-use received just 3% of global climate change finance.

Appearing at the youth summit, the global Youth4Nature network told how it mobilises young people to advocate for nature-based solutions. Their strategy has included collecting and sharing youth stories in natural resources management in more than 35 countries.

Youth ‘will be watching’ their leaders

When it comes to climate change, young people have specific demands that must be acknowledged – and offer solutions that other generations cannot.

But globally there is a lack of youth representation in politics, and by extension, they are largely absent from climate change decision-making.




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The rise of ‘eco-anxiety’: climate change affects our mental health, too


Some youth summit participants reportedly questioned whether it achieved its aims – including the value of some workshops, why celebrities were involved and whether anything tangible was produced.

A young girl attends the the global climate strike in Brisbane.
Dan Peled/AAP

Certainly, there was little evidence that world leaders at the climate summit were listening to the demands of young people. This was reflected in the failure of the world’s biggest-polluting countries to offer credible emissions reduction commitments.

But the youth summit went some way to granting young people space and visibility in the formal decision-making process.

Pressure from young people for climate action will not subside. Thunberg said it best when she warned world leaders that youth “will be watching you”.

“The eyes of all future generations are upon you,” she said. “If you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you”.The Conversation

Danilo Ignacio de Urzedo, PhD candidate, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.