2019-10-09 16:45:21 UTC
The climate activist’s critics say she is unstable, hysterical and mentally ill, words straight out of the misogynist’s playbook. They’re scared, write Camilla Nelson and Meg Vertigan, because she challenges the view that the world is theirs, and only theirs, to conquer
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.
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”
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? 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 specially 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. .... (cont)