So, you suddenly care desperately about climate change and want the world to follow suit. You care because ‘the youth are speaking! And we need to listen!’ And we cannot argue with your bleats of ‘listen to the children’, because, well, they’re children. It’s not nice to say rude things about children. We cannot treat children the same way we treat adults. Which is to say, we don’t engage with them as though they are fully fledged, confident, practical adult humans who can take public criticism. Fair. I don’t want to be mean to children, either, or place unfair expectations or pressure on them. But this is precisely why I tend to feel annoyed, rather than inspired by calls to ‘listen to children’ and support ‘youth activism’.
Now, before you go blind with rage, let me be clear: I have nothing against Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old now-celebrity activist who launched Friday’s Youth Climate Strike. It seems to me that she may have some useful things to say about climate change, and is galvanizing people around the globe. Where that will lead remains to be seen, of course.
This is not about any one individual and it is not about hating on young people. Greta is just a kid, and I can only imagine how stressful it is for her to be in the limelight like this. (I don’t even think kids should have Instagram accounts, yet Thunberg has almost seven million followers.) I worry about a child being positioned by adults as a leader. Indeed, I think it constitutes both inappropriate pressure, and an unfair lie. If we are not permitted to think or speak critically about a leader, they cannot be a leader. We cannot have leaders that we are not allowed to hold to account. It is unethical and manipulative to prop someone up as a leader we must listen to, but also refuse to allow anything less than blind, unquestioning adoration. Dangerous, even. Do we not see how this could be used by adults in nefarious ways?
One of the reasons, particular to the issue of fighting climate change, we are being told to ‘listen to the youth’ is that the youth have inherited this earth — the one that is being destroyed by industry — and they are going to grow up in a world facing all sorts of environmental crises. I very much understand why young people are concerned about their future, and also understand why parents, in turn, want to ensure there is a world for their children to grow up in. But this problem is not new. Adult experts, activists, environmentalists, lobbyists, researchers, and scientists have been warning about climate change for decades — since the 1960s, in fact — and the problem has only grown. So I resent being ordered by someone who made the decision to have a child in this world — the one that is getting warmer, causing rising sea levels, extreme weather events, forest fires, flooding, and various other very shitty consequences — that we all must suddenly care and take dramatic action because they decided to reproduce last year. This problem existed long before you had a child, and matters no more and no less than it did nine months ago. Also, friendly reminder: climate change is the result of humans. So I’m not entirely convinced that creating more of us is much of a solution, but thanks for the finger wagging from atop your sanctimonious parent horse.
(To be clear, I’m not expecting people to stop having children. It is our nature, after all. I’m only voicing my annoyance at people who, once they become parents, adopt a self-important attitude that goes something like, ‘As a parent, I suddenly care deeply about things and should now be listened to as I am not a normal person, but A Parent.’ A parental voice holds no more or less value than a non-parental voice. Beyond that, if you truly believe the world is going up in flames in short order, I’m curious to know why you chose to bring a child into that world, and why you are now chastising everyone around you as the result of this choice.)
At the risk of being viewed as some kind of unfeeling dick (I realize this train may have already left the station), I don’t find children inspiring. I find rational, intelligent arguments and ideas inspiring. I find thinking things through and coming to practical, thoughtful, ethical conclusions inspiring. I find adults with knowledge and expertise in various areas, sharing their knowledge and expertise inspiring. I find those who boldly speak the truth, despite the consequences, no matter how unpopular that truth may be, inspiring. I find dogs who rescue drowning baby deer inspiring. Give me Aretha Franklin and a full-bodied red. While often highly entertaining and useful, once trained to bring me snacks and refill my drink, children don’t inspire me
Moreover, in a culture that routinely ignores, denigrates, erases, and disrespects older women, tossing them aside the moment they are no longer fuckable or able to reproduce the species, being ordered to ‘listen to youth’ strikes me as not only a slap in the face, but a call to ignorance.
No thank you. I will listen to those with life experience, those I deem to hold valuable knowledge and compelling ideas, and those with a well-developed sense of humor. I’m not going to decide who to listen to based on their having a post-aughts birthday.
My aim in saying this is not necessarily to discourage you from feeling inspired by children. I mean, feel your feelings, sis. But I can’t relate. And I resent being ordered to get in line and bleat warm and fuzzy slogans I don’t believe in or feel warm and fuzzy about.
I can’t help but see progressives’ fetishization of youth and ‘youth activism’ as self-serving. It not only elicits an emotional reaction from people, rather than a rational one, but it is used by adults as a means to virtue signal. Children are viewed as inherently moral and good, and therefore those who ‘listen to children’ and ‘support our youth’ are also positioned as inherently moral and good.
We’ve seen this happen within the gender identity debate, as adults insist we must support gender identity ideology lest we harm ‘trans kids.’ ‘We love our trans kids’ and ‘protect trans kids’ are common refrains, as though those wondering if a six-year-old is the best person to determine whether he or she is male or female are hateful, instead of concerned. Horrifyingly, adults pushing the ‘trans kids’ narrative claim the only way to support these children is to tell them they were ‘born in the wrong body’, as if that were even possible (Whoops! I was quite certain I was meant to have been born in a body that could eat carbs and still fit into my pants!); prevent them from going through puberty and developing properly; and put them on hormones that render them sterile, cause cancer, and lead to a host of other problems, many of which we do not even yet know, as there is little long term research available. The children put on this path to transition will also end up having to endure many incredibly serious surgeries and, despite what trans activists claim, this process, once begun, is not reversable. These hormones and puberty blockers have permanent impacts that children are simply not equipped to understand and make decisions about. Nonetheless, liberal adults are constantly demanding we ‘listen to trans kids’ and insisting ‘children know what they are’. In other words, liberal adults are using children to push their own ideological agendas — agendas that harm those children, but that also harm women and even trans-identified people themselves, who are being sold the lie that they can actually change sex. I can only imagine how many devastated people will come out of this trans movement, realizing they destroyed their bodies and were still not able to achieve what they were promised: to literally become, be viewed, and be treated as the opposite sex.
While the ‘trans kids’ debate exemplifies the way a ‘kids know best!’ attitude, adopted in order to appear progressive, is actually quite harmful, I also balked, back in February, when a group of children descended on Sen. Dianne Feinstein to tell her how to do her job. Whether or not these children had valid concerns and aims (while I do suspect that a woman who has done this job for 30 years probably does know significantly more about politics and legislation than a bunch of 12-year-olds, I also don’t trust politicians to do what needs to be done to address the environmental impacts of industry), I felt appalled at the sense of entitlement and condescension they came equipped with, directing an elder woman to do as they say, and telling her what is and is not possible.
We live in a world that tells young people anything they feel or believe must be validated. That all opinions are made equal, and that, therefore, their 16-year-old opinions have as much value and worth as those of a person who has been on the planet for three times as long. I’ve had the incredibly pleasant experience of being screamed at by teenagers who insist my fight for women’s rights is wrong and old-fashioned, because they have learned all they know from their peers, and believe there is nothing to be learned from older generations of women. Young people are not taught the history of the women’s movement, yet denigrate first and second wave feminists with aplomb. A culture that lacks respect for its elders is a toxic culture. And while I am not an elder, and am considered ‘young’ within the feminist movement, I had the privilege of learning about women’s history and the feminist movement from older women, not Twitter, and feel full of rage watching the way young people speak about and to our female elders — as though they are stupid and irrelevant.
While Greta’s goals are noble, adults’ fetishization of youth and youth activism is not. ‘Listen to the children’ is a terrible mantra that only exists in order to pressure people into nodding along unthinkingly to generally oversimplistic ideas.
I am happy for kids to feel passionately about things and to speak out about said things. But no, I will not be ‘listening to the youth’, simply because they are young and speaking. And while liberals tell me kids speak the truth, the real truth is that if we had listened to adults over the past 50-odd years, we wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with.
Meghan Murphy is a writer in Vancouver, BC. Her website is Feminist Current.