‘This annoying little brat..’. ‘Entitled political pawn’. ‘Deeply disturbed messiah’. ‘Over dramatic’. ‘A young person getting carried away’.
And so rant the middle aged white men of Australia about Greta Thunberg. Why the anger? Why the angst about a passionate young woman who is trying to effect positive change? Why the very personal criticism focused on her age, her mental health, her passion?
The answer is waning privilege syndrome. The grasping squawks of people who are used to being listened to and coddled and admired, without doing much at all to deserve the attention. Their indignant cries as privilege slowly creeps towards those who have actually earnt it.
For much of recorded history, and certainly for most of our lifetimes, the white male has enjoyed the privilege of race and gender which has given him advantages not afforded to women and people of colour. He has held the wealth, and the political power. He has had the upper hand in relationships. He has plundered the wealth of other nations, and benefited from stolen riches. He has walked into jobs with an advantage partly because he looks like success, and prestige and authority. His deeds have gone unchallenged, and unpunished by law or society – from the domestic (marital rape – is that an oxymoron?), to the societal (shall we let aboriginal people vote now?). The patriarchy of nearly all recent developed societies has the white man at its pinnacle.
But there has always been push back. And recently, that push back has become relentless and threatening.
No longer content to be protected by anti-discrimination laws, or just happy to be able to cast a vote come election time; women and people of colour are asking why the white male is so protected, and so privileged?
Why are these men still over-represented in boards, in politics, and in media. Why do we hear so many pale, male voices? And why do we need to care so much about what they say? Can we instead earn a voice? Can we challenge the stale status quo?
The protected white male now is faced with the idea of quotas, with seeing and hearing from more female experts, with immigrants taking positions of power, with being held to account for false and offensive statements.
Alan Jones felt the wrath of the progressive voice after his grossly inappropriate and violent words against NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Estimated to have lost around $1 million worth of sponsorship after a fighting campaign asking sponsors to boycott his words and his platform; Jones is now in defensive mode, asking us to believe he is a victim. What we should be asking. however, is why he ever believed himself qualified to speak in such way about world leaders and to spread propaganda about climate change, a topic in which he has no qualifications.
Jones and his ilk feel the walls closing in, and are seeing their antiquated world evolving. They sense the women, the people of colour, the indigenous, the LGQBTI community, the marginalised and others are now feeling empowered to speak up and challenge the supremacy of the middle aged white man.
So these privileged men are angry. They are angry when young, passionate and frankly inspirational women like Greta Thunberg dare to address the world at the UN, and dare to disagree with the custodians of power. They are angry when Jacinda Ardern, having earnt the leadership of a country, dares to expect male-led Australia to behave responsibly. They are angry when an immigrant isn’t ‘grateful’ enough. They are angry when an indigenous sportsman defends himself against racist taunts. They are angry because they feel their control and power waning.
Waning privilege syndrome is an epidemic in Australia, and in other developed countries. We must not mistake the fevered ranting of shock jocks, politicians, celebrities and the occasional journalist as having any meaning or worth.
One always protests the clawing back of power and prestige. But change has come, the underdogs are rising, and new voices are taking on responsibility. Privilege is becoming more equal, and that can only be an improvement.