In 2013, the German broadcasting network, Deutsche Welle, called Malala Yousefzai "the most famous teen-ager in the world" for her activism for girls' education. And rightly. Heavily influenced by her educator father, Malala started her blog for BBC Urdu at age eleven. She rose quickly in prominence, giving interviews in print and on television. Desmond Tutu nominated her for the International Children's Peace Prize.
Then she was shot, along with two other girls, in an assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen in retaliation for her activism. The attempt on her life sparked an international outpouring of support for Yousafzai. And since then she has been rightly praised for her activism.
Greta Thunberg heard about climate change when she was just eight. Confused and frightened, she became depressed and withdrawn, diagnosed as having Asperger's Syndrome and OCD. But she became an activist in 2018 at age fifteen and has been a relentless voice for the environment since. Her protests in front of the Swedish Parliament put her on the world's stage.
At the United Nations Climate Action Summit this week, Thunberg shared the stage with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Her remarks preceded those by Pope Francis and New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern. In them she levelled both an indictment of climate-change deniers and foot-draggers and also a fierce cross-generational challenge.
The negative responses were swift and snarky:
Federalist co-founder Ben Domenech tweeted: "We need to have a national conversation about the rising problem of arrogant teenage Swedes."
David Reaboi, another Federalist writer tweeted: "All of you 'climate activists' are lunatic communists...Not one f**king inch for your lunatic death cult."
But that's just the fun stuff in the Twitterverse. Disparaging personal attacks have been aimed at Thunberg for months: An Australian columnist called her a “deeply disturbed messiah of the global warming movement,” and a knickers-in-a-knot Brit, David Vance, tut-tutted about the “sheer petulance of this arrogant child.” And Thunberg's Asperger's has baldly been used to discredit her words, as if people with disabilities shouldn't be listened to.
Maxime Bernier, leader of the People's Party of Canada claimed she is "clearly mentally unstable. Not only autistic, but obsessive-compulsive, eating disorder, depression and lethargy and she lives in a constant state of fear." (But if bad grammar is a disability, I guess we don't have to listen to him.....)
Brexit bankroller and Trumpeter, Arron Banks, had already opined that "freak yachting accidents do happen" when he heard that she was sailing to America to attend the UN Climate Action Summit. And a widely shared meme showed Trump using the Statue of Liberty to crush her boat.
So okay, we can get behind Malala. But why not Greta?
Perhaps because she is young. Perhaps because she has a diagnosed illness.
And perhaps because she is a girl--and not a victim, as Malala was.
Following the proposal of the New Green Deal, the National Review referred to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as "an unmarried, childless bartender."
A suitable consequence of New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern's speech about climate change was, according to an Australian shock-jock, to "shove a sock down her throat."
Canada's environment and climate change minister, Catherine McKenna--routinely referred to as #Climatebarbie--recently hired security to protect her family after she and they were threatened with violence.
The New Republic recently ran an article citing research that suggests climate science, for skeptics, becomes feminized. And in the United States there is a massive gender gap in views on climate change. Many men perceive climate activism as inherently feminine, according to research published in 2017. “In one experiment, participants of both sexes described an individual who brought a reusable canvas bag to the grocery store as more feminine than someone who used a plastic bag—regardless of whether the shopper was a male or female," explained researchers at Scientific American.
The resulting "green rage" (see above example and Google more if you are not convinced) serves the function of safeguarding male dominance by punishing women who challenge the existing social order.
But just because a woman wasn't a victim before she was a voice doesn't mean she ought not be listened to. Even--maybe especially--the young ones.