Note to bullies: Find someone smaller, weaker or otherwise unable to respond effectively. But make sure you pick the right victim. You may be surprised.
Start with a woman. Women tend to be more vulnerable. She should also be young – perhaps a schoolgirl – inexperienced, unable to stand up to you. It helps if she’s a foreigner. And has a disability. And is smaller than you. But don’t go it alone; pile on, as bullies do. That should do it. Bully away!
I’ve even got a candidate. Last year in August, at 15, she started skipping school Fridays to sit on cold cobblestones outside the Swedish parliament inside the Arctic Circle. A lone waif with sad, downcast eyes, she hunkered beside her hand-lettered sign: “Skolstrejk for Klimatet” – School strike for the Climate.
You may have heard of her: Greta Thunberg. She’s no longer alone. Her crusade against climate change inspired an estimated four million people in 161 countries to participate last month in history’s largest climate change demonstration. A year ago, she addressed the UN Climate Change Conference. Now 16, she spoke In January to the World Economic Forum. Her most recent address was last month at the UN Climate Action Summit.
Since then her momentum has been building, and so have the attacks. Out crept the bullies, knives whetted and drawn.
“If it were about science,” sneered a Fox commentator, “it would be led by scientists rather than … a mentally ill Swedish child … exploited by her parents and by the international left.” Fox later apologized to Thunberg.
Rather than “mentally ill,” Thunberg has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and has embraced it as a “superpower.” She has called the condition a “gift” and credited it with sparking her activism.
A Breitbart columnist tweeted, “I can’t tell if Greta needs a spanking or a psychological intervention.” The Washington Post reporter on the story added, “if you’re in the mood to be unsettled,” search for “Thunberg” and “spanking” and “see how many middle-aged men are eager to corporally punish a teenage girl.”
A Guardian cartoon nailed it: “So many old white men (and their clenched friends) freaking out about this tiny Swedish climate demon.” Another source offered a “Greta Thunberg Help Line” for “adults angry at a child,” with a photo captioned: “Hi, I’m a middle-aged man with an embarrassing problem.”
Two researchers explained the stereotypical labels deployed by critics to undermine Thunberg’s call to action. “Greta Thunberg obviously scares some men silly,” they wrote. “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’s not accidental, they commented, “that these critics almost always call her a child” and accuse her of “emotionality, hysteria, mental disturbance, and an inability to think for herself – stereotypically feminine labels … traditionally used to silence women’s public speech and undermine their authority.”
Last Friday, when Thunberg spoke in Iowa City, Iowa, a high school teacher was put on administrative leave after commenting online: “Don’t have my sniper rifle.”
Bullies are alive and well. Thunberg was mocked by two old white male climate-denying world leaders. But she has strong defenders.
One British columnist observed, “The bile thrown at Greta Thunberg is motivated by one thing alone: this incredibly intelligent, eloquent, and compassionate 16-year-old has terrified some of the most hateful and reactionary so-called ‘grown ups’ on earth. She’s achieved more at 16 than they ever will.”
As if to illustrate, Thunberg posted, with wit and flair, “When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning.”
Pete Haug’s eclectic interests and several careers drew him across the U.S. and into China with his wife, and sometimes draconian editor, Jolie. They retired south of Colfax. You can reach him firstname.lastname@example.org