The environmental revolution is in the capable hands of teenage girls—so there’s hope! Last week, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg made headlines on her tour of North America. The Swedish climate activist began by shaking things up in Congress with her testimony on climate change, then went on to deliver an unforgettable speech at the United Nations General Assembly. She ended her visit with a global climate strike that took our newsfeeds and our hearts by storm. And while she was in New York, she inspired millions of Americans with her earnest appearance on The Daily Show. For the past few decades, climate activism has been mostly ineffective, but Greta and slew of other teen crusaders have bolstered the cause for this generation. And they seem to be more effective than their predecessors. But as young women in positions of influence and leadership, they have faced their share of sexist backlash.
Greta’s powerful presence at Congress and the U.N. taught us a lot. During her trip to America, she courageously held a mirror to those in power. With a spirit akin to many frosh women members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Greta arrived with an agenda to hold adults, many more than four times her age, accountable for inaction on the climate crisis. During her visit to the United Nations, she reminded us that teen champions like her shouldn’t be our heroes at all and highlighted the failure of those in power. “I should be in school. You’ve stolen my childhood with your empty words.” Greta’s rallying cry is a wake-up to politicians and climate-deniers that the time is now for environmental change. And this generation isn’t taking no for an answer.
But all good leaders have nay-sayers. And while Greta crossed the seas to impart knowledge and challenge the status quo, misogyny made its way into the conversation. After the climate activist was criticized for not being “nice,” a Breitbart editor then said that Greta deserved a “spanking,” and another conservative pundit stooped so low as to falsely assert that Greta, who has Asperberg’s syndrome, is mentally ill. But this isn’t new. Minimizing young girls’ voices and claiming that protesting is just some infantile tantrum is sexism we’ve seen forever. We’ve seen it when Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez faced her share of disgusting backlash. Young girls speaking out should not be called hysterical!
Despite the ugly that this has brought out, there is beauty in the power of young women claiming their voice. Young activists of color have been doing work for years, and we’re excited about the sparks this will ignite. Indigenous activist Autumn Peltier, who challenged Justin Trudeau in 2016, spoke last week to the U.N. about the lack of care given to indigenous communities and their drinking water. “You can’t eat money or drink oil.” Mari Copeny, or “Little Miss Flint,” has been shaking the table since the age of eight with her advocacy for clean water, something she started in response to the Flint water crisis 5 years ago. The face of the global movement for our planet is these young women who aren’t afraid to stand up and take action into their own hands. We should learn to listen, stay informed, and fight for our futures—just as they have.
Take Action! Speak out against sexism and misogyny when you see it leveled at influential women who are trying to challenge the status quo.