teens

'She doesn't flirt or giggle or pout.' What's behind men's discomfort with Greta Thunberg.

Greta Thunberg makes men – especially middle-aged white men – very angry.

“Grating Greta’s a vulnerable young drama queen who should go back to school,” Piers Morgan declared in the Daily Mail.

US president Donald Trump mocked the young climate activist on Twitter.

“She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future,” he wrote. “So nice to see!”

Former Australian TV personality Sam Newman also took to Twitter to attack Thunberg, calling her an “annoying little brat” and a “s—t”. Meanwhile, Karl Stefanovic on 2GB admitted Greta made him angry.  “I’ll tell you what, I’m an incensed middle-aged white guy this afternoon,” he told his audience.

In the US, right-wingers have really let loose. John Nolte from Breitbart.com wrote: “I can’t tell if Greta needs a spanking or a psychological intervention… Probably both.”

“Tase and arrest her,” tweeted Stephen Miller.

Leaving aside the fact that she’s only 16, is this really the way to talk about the leader of a global movement? Why is everyone attacking her instead of attacking what she’s saying? Where does all this anger come from?

Out there on Twitter, there are women who are nailing it.

“I think Greta Thunberg is the first 16yo girl in a long time who has been presented to the public outside of a sexual lens and a lot of men can’t handle it,” wrote journalist Sophie Wilkinson.

Then there was this from another journalist and author, India Knight: “I think some people’s (men’s) unease with Greta Thunberg is that she rarely smiles. Girls and women are supposed to be smiley to put men at ease and appear emollient, and she’s just not playing.”

Thunberg isn’t acting like your typical 16-year-old girl in the media spotlight. She’s not a young actress on a red carpet or singer in a video clip. Generally, those girls at the start of their careers aren’t out to challenge the power of middle-aged white men. They’re trying to appeal to them and win their approval. They play the game and they smile.

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Thunberg is different. She doesn’t dress to attract men. She doesn’t charm or flirt or giggle or pout. She has a death stare. She is angry. She is here to say something, whether people want to hear it or not.

She’s challenging the power of middle-aged white men, and it upsets and threatens them. They’re used to giving their opinions and being listened to and being respected. They don’t quite understand where she’s appeared from and why she’s talking like she’s an equal, and they don’t like it.

But Thunberg is anyone’s equal. She has millions of supporters around the world who went on strike because she led the way. She is, no doubt, more informed on climate science than most commentators and politicians. She just happens to be a 16-year-old girl.

It’s happened before. When Emma Gonzalez became a gun control activist after a shooting at her school in Florida, right-wingers launched vicious personal attacks on the teen. Politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is in her late twenties, and attracts the same kind of vitriol from Trump and other conservatives. What right does a young woman have to express a strong opinion?

Not everyone is being so obvious in their attacks on Thunberg. Some right-wing commentators are cloaking their anger in ‘concern’, claiming that poor, troubled Greta is being exploited and abused.

On Fox News, Michael Knowles called Thunberg “a mentally ill Swedish child who is being exploited by her parents and the international left”.

Seriously, if you’re really that concerned about the welfare of Thunberg – or any other kid – do something to save the planet.

Middle-aged white men are just going to have to get used to Thunberg and young people like her taking control of the climate change debate. Yes, she’s making them angry. Good.

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