Hating the Heroes: When Women Save the World
When Greta Thunberg recently spoke to world leaders as part of the World Economic Forum's Davos Agenda, she reminded global citizens to uphold the promise to protect future generations and nature by treating the climate crisis with a real sense of urgency. Her courage has inspired millions into climate action. And yet, Greta has been labeled "unstable" -- her climate activism compared to medieval witchcraft -- and attempts to bully her online and in the media have become the norm.
Catherine McKenna, who served as Minister of Environment and Climate Change in Canada, has been attacked online and in-person while also dehumanized as the "Climate Barbie" and now needs additional security to live and work safely.
"Greta has been labeled 'unstable' -- her climate activism compared to medieval witchcraft -- and attempts to bully her online and in the media have become the norm."
These women, while representing different age and regional demographics, highlight a disturbing pattern of public harassment and threats towards female climate leaders occurring most frequently at the hands of men. But Greta and Catherine aren't the exceptions. Women speaking up about climate change worldwide are experiencing this type of harassment every day -- we just don't know all their names.
The Centre for Studies of Climate Change Denialism, a global research network based at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, began connecting the dots between climate denialism and misogyny years ago. And yet, despite the hostility towards female climate leaders, environmentalism is most commonly suggested to be a woman's obligation. Advertising and other marketing around environmentally friendly products and purchases are almost always aimed at women as the gender most willing to save the world by making those choices.
"Women speaking up about climate change worldwide are experiencing this type of harassment every day -- we just don't know all their names."
Some studies note that rebranding environmental messaging in a way that reassures masculinity could persuade more men to adopt eco-friendly habits, but rebranding is merely a Band-Aid over a deeper cultural wound. What we need is a community-oriented approach to solving the climate crisis, not a system that caters to industrialized masculinity.
Exploring the concept of industrialized masculinity brings forward more complex, but necessary, questions. Do men attack the characters of women leading the fight against climate change just to present them as incompetent individuals? Or could these attacks also be motivated by an instinct to protect the ideologies of a male-dominated society? Could this "green rage" be amplified by the anger stage of grief?
"...despite the hostility towards female climate leaders, environmentalism is most commonly suggested to be a woman's obligation."
Whether we recognize it or not, we all experience climate grief, but some men are also experiencing the death of masculinity largely defined by the Industrial Revolution. Human-caused climate change has been traced back as far as the 1830s during the Industrial Revolution when the American economy shifted the majority of men from primarily agricultural to manufacturing and service jobs. Economic stability for men meant earning wages from factories and the fossil fuel industry -- and that would come to define
This period of societal transformation to industrialized masculinity had tremendous impacts on the environment. The idea that "man" had full dominion over the earth was taken to mean that humans could use resources in whatever way they chose. "Dominion" meant to rule over natural resources irresponsibly and with no accountability. Mother Earth was no longer equal to humans. She could be beaten, abused, and battered in favor of profits.
"...we have to revisit the past to learn from our mistakes and step boldly into a better, more climate-resilient future."
The transition to a clean energy economy not reliant on fossil fuels and a society that takes the climate crisis seriously would return us to a people willingly coexisting with nature, similar to the days before the Industrial Revolution when farmers had to prioritize working carefully with the land to sustain their livelihoods and families.
This is not to say that farming was easy by any means. After all, farming difficulties sparked the Agricultural Revolution, leading us into industrialism. Today, we all benefit from the Industrial Revolution in numerous ways. However, we have to revisit the past to learn from our mistakes and step boldly into a better, more climate-resilient future.
"Moving forward means challenging the dominant mindset that created the climate crisis in the first place ... Going green is perceived as too feminine by some because industrialized masculinity paved the way towards the American Dream."
Moving forward means challenging the dominant mindset that created the climate crisis in the first place. It means learning from indigenous women fighting for climate justice. It means remembering the legacies of climate leaders like Wangari Maathai who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace. Before her death in 2011, 51 million trees were planted and more than 30,000 women were trained in jobs that would boost their income while healing and protecting the natural environment.
Going green is perceived as too feminine by some because industrialized masculinity paved the way towards the American Dream. Green behavior clashes with this dream, which is so deeply ingrained in our society that men are more likely to openly reject it. Given this, it's unsurprising that once the curtain was pulled back at most Big Green organizations, the majority of leadership was white males.
"The call for gender equity in the climate movement is not about blaming men ... women and men have big work to do together -- work that involves everyone in the world."
Underrepresenting the life experience and innovation of women comes at a high cost of lacking valuable insights needed to address climate change. And while the journey remains far from easy, women around the world are proving that green-feminine stereotyping is becoming more outdated as their activism redefines the priorities to save our endangered planet.
The call for gender equity in the climate movement is not about blaming men. Of course, not all men are climate-denying misogynists abusing their power over the Earth. In fact, gender and climate research shared by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication shows that both men and women care about the environment. Though some men and women might react to climate change differently, climate leadership must be shared across gender identities to discover the most equitable and sustainable climate solutions. And acknowledging women as key stakeholders in climate mitigation and resilience strategies will always matter because women and men have big work to do together -- work that involves everyone in the world.