“It does not befit me to make myself smaller than I am.”
The poet Edith Södergran’s familiar words strike us as true but also eternally saddening when the most famous Swedish individual of our time—Greta Thunberg—is scrutinized around the world. People fixate on Greta’s tender age, despite the fact that in France Jeanne d’Arc was 16 when she led armies into war, that Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan was just under 17 when she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, and that Anne Frank wasn’t even 16 years old when she wrote one of the world’s best-known books and perished in the Holocaust at Bergen Belsen.
People question whether Greta is truly devoted to the climate issue, despite the fact that she actually merely refers them to what established science has to say about everything from emissions, warming, and the enormous, academically recognized climate and environmental challenges facing the planet.
The patterns in the questioning of her activism and struggle are actually textbook examples of how value-altering movements have been received throughout history.
The patterns in the questioning of her activism and struggle are actually textbook examples of how value-altering movements have been received throughout history. Whether we’re talking about the fight for women’s suffrage, the struggle against colonialism and apartheid, or the civil rights movement, the same phases are replicated. First, the movement is ignored. Then it is ridiculed and attacked, and gradually it becomes accepted as self-evident.
But above all, the obsession with Greta, her person, and her personality is a kind of feminist echo of a feeling of déjà-vu.
The haters say she’s mentally ill, fanatical, crazy, and angry. Women from every historical epoch who have not made themselves smaller than they are—from the suffragettes to sharp businesswomen who don’t apologize for who they are—have been treated in exactly the same way.
In the year 2019 there are still far too few women in the public eye—and even fewer girls—who commit the patriarchy’s greatest sin: showing no interest in making themselves pleasing. This, in combination with their seriousness and clarity of purpose and the way they take their own voice as entirely self-evident, is something all of us have had to pay a price for.
According to the stereotype, anger is seen as unfeminine, sexually unattractive, and destructive.
Research into leadership and psychology has long been studying how women’s purposefulness and anger provoke people. In her research—primarily in the study Can an Angry Woman Get Ahead?—Professor Victoria L. Bescoll of Yale University has explored how women’s anger violates traditional gender roles in everything from politics to working life. Women’s ire is taboo in a time when we are expected to be the hub of emotions, predestined to please and be the default upholders of relationships.
And according to the stereotype, anger is seen as unfeminine, sexually unattractive, and destructive, not least if it is directed toward men.
During my 25 years in politics, I was constantly being told that I always looked angry, with hard, cold eyes. “Smile a little more” was the constant advice.
But there may be some hope of change. In 2018 three best-selling books came out on the theme of women’s anger and how we can celebrate this phenomenon better: Good and Mad, Rage Becomes Her, and Eloquent Rage.
Margaret Mead, the American anthropologist, wisely wrote:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Let Greta be Greta—with no desire to please.
(Translated to English by Donald MacQueen)