Privilege never gives up its benefits without a fight. And no tough manly types like to cough up those privileges to demands by a woman, or horrors, to a girl!
Lately around the world people have been experiencing climate protests, often led by women, and even girls. That seems astonishing. Actually, it is astonishing. The latest climate leader is a 16&1/2 year old girl from Sweden—Greta Thunberg. The picture of her demanding that adults give up their privileges in order to fight climate change have been shown around the world. Inevitably men—at least many men—have reacted with apoplectic rage. I have heard more than one man mock her, from thousands of miles away of course. It is shocking how infuriated they get at the image of a young girl demanding that adults change their ways for the benefit of all.
The reaction of many adults, but men in particular, has been a cascade of infuriated responses. Some of them have not been pretty. Some of them have revealed a deep but unmistakable misogyny.
One livid right-wing male pundit Arron Banks tweeted over a photo of Greta Thunberg sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to a climate conference in New York: “Freak yachting accidents do happen in August,” . Even though he insisted it was a joke, we must all admit that joking about the death of a teenage girl is going a bit far. I think such extreme rancour reveals not only the resistance of privilege, but misogyny.
Fox News, of course, got in on the act too. More than once in fact. One of its commentators Laura Ingraham compared Thunberg’s physical appearance to a character from a horror movie, then quipped, “I can’t wait for Stephen King’s sequel, ‘Children of the Climate.’” Can you imagine how low a life you must be to pick on the appearance of a teenage girl? Another Fox commentator said she was “a mentally ill Swedish child who is being exploited by her parents and by the international left.”
Of course both of these comments were outdone by Breitbart columnist John Nolte who tweeted, “I can’t tell if Greta needs a spanking or a psychological intervention.” Of course, I’ve been told, if you really want to be disturbed, or excited, all you have to do is search Twitter for “Thunberg and spanking” and you will see how many big strong men are eager to corporally punish a teenage girl.
This incident was part of an ugly package of misogynistic reactions. Another occurred in New Zealand where male pundit, Alan Jones, said the Premier Jacinda Arden should have a “sock shoved down her throat” because she dared to suggest that Australia could go farther in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I think the violence and vitriol of the reactions is telling.
Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff blames selfishness rather than misogyny. Personally I believe they act together in a poisonous brew, but I agree with the gist of her remark, “It’s selfishness, rather than misogyny, that is surely the root cause of this rage at the very idea of being asked to give up any individual freedom for the greater good. But female climate campaigners are perhaps uniquely prone to press the buttons of what might be called toxic libertarians: people who combine a burning desire to do what they hell they like with fury at the very idea of being nagged, especially by women.”
Hinsliff also points out that reactions like this go far beyond mere climate change denial. This is something much nastier. She calls it “Climate crisis nihilism,” and says, “The nihilists don’t necessarily deny that the planet’s frying, but, essentially, they refuse to feel a bad about it: they want their sunshine holidays and their 4X4s, come hell or (possibly quite literally) high water, and screw anyone who gets in the way.” I think many people are getting panicky at the thought of giving up their privileges.
Backlashes are frankly to be expected, but the threat of violence against young girls is still shocking. Hinsliff has an appropriate reply to these infuriated men: “A society that cannot bear to be lectured by its children, even when they’ve got a point, while the adults are behaving like spoiled toddlers refusing to clean up their own mess, is one that can never progress. Perhaps our children can finally be children again, when the rest of us grow up.”
I think we should welcome criticism from the younger generation. We have earned it. As Melissa Martin in the Winnipeg Free Press said, we should marvel at the young people “who have not yet surrendered to the cynicism that muffles hope.”