Why are middle-aged men so afraid of Greta Thunberg?

Source: BBC

On Tuesday morning Piers Morgan mocked Greta Thunberg on Good Morning Britain, quoting her recent UN speech and mimicking her accent. His co-host, Susanna Reid, attempted to move the conversation along, awkwardly smiling while he talked over her, as he so often does. His male voice is far superior, after all.

He also took aim at the climate activist last week when he tweeted his outrage at her being tipped to win the Nobel Peace Prize, claiming all she's done is get 'very, very angry about climate change'

Over the past few months, predominantly powerful, middle-aged, middle-class, white men have been publicly and persistently bullying the 16-year-old with no real consequences, and that's really worrying. It's worrying because it demonstrates the very real and very present everyday sexism that still exists, and the deep misogyny that continues to silence women (we only have to look back a couple of weeks to the BBC scandal which saw Naga Munchetty reprimanded for commenting on Donald Trump's racist remarks, while her white, male co-host was not). 

Greta began her campaigning with weekly school strikes in 2018 to raise climate change awareness and put pressure on the Swedish government to take action. Since then she's inspired millions of young people across the globe to protest with her and, as a result, was invited to speak at the UN Summit last month where she delivered a powerful and unwavering speech, condemning world leaders for not doing enough to tackle the current crisis.

While she has been presented as an environmental hero by most, her activism has also made her the target of male rage: Andrew Bolt mocked her Asperger's diagnosis writing that she has 'so many mental disorders', Emmanuel Macron labelled her campaigning approach 'radical', Chris Kenny called her an 'hysterical teenager', and Jeremy Clarkson described her as 'a teenage girl' having 'an angry, tearful strop'.

After her speech, Clarkson wrote in his column for The Sun that Greta should 'be a good girl, shut up' and 'get back to school', and Donald Trump tweeted: "She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future."

Their use of language is patronising at best and bullying at worst. Constantly referring to Greta as an 'hysterical teenager' and a 'petulant child' infantilises her and casts her as being too young to control her emotions, and too naive to even think for herself. Using words like emotional, angry and naive (which are mostly used to stereotype women) undermines her authority on the subject and supports the trite idea that women should be quiet, polite, friendly, and never difficult. Telling Greta to 'get back to school' is similar to telling women they belong in the home and not in the workplace or in politics - an archaic tool used to silence women and exclude them from male dominated spaces.

Greta's unforgiving speech was raw with emotion and laden with an authoritative tone but instead of getting behind her call for action, these men seem to have taken it upon themselves to offer unsolicited comments on her authority, her age, and - perhaps most disturbingly - her Asperger's disorder. 

It feels very wrong that in 2019 men still feel it's appropriate to comment on a woman's character and label her angry when she's passionate or outspoken. If Greta is angry, then rightly so. The world's leading scientists have declared a climate emergency and governments have shown little effort to take the action required to limit it - we should all be outraged. And yet the word is being used as a weapon against her, as it has been used against outspoken women throughout history. As a society we can accept an angry man shouting about injustice, we understand it and even respect him for it. But we still cannot accept an angry woman. 

The irony here is how enraged these men are when they shout about Greta being 'angry', 'hysterical' and a 'spoilt brat'. We have to ask why this is? By challenging the capitalist and patriarchal system they benefit from, she obviously scares them. But where they choose to let their fear bring out the worst in them, the rest of us can choose to champion and support Greta in her fight for climate action - silencing her bullies in the process and sending a message that we value women's voices.

Share your thoughts :