On Oct. 3, a teacher at Waterloo West High School was suspended from his job for a comment he made on Facebook about climate activist Greta Thunberg. Thunberg was in Iowa City on Friday to strike with students. She went viral last month after she gave a speech to the U.N., where she told world leaders, “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
Mason Severson, a graduate of Waterloo West, posted a link announcing Thunberg’s appearance at the climate strike in Iowa City and asked, “Who is going?” Matt Baish, a chemistry teacher at the high school, replied, “Don’t have my sniper rifle.”
Baish was placed on administrative leave after news outlets picked up on the story.
Baish’s comments reveal a deep vein of patriarchal resentment for a new generation of radical women leaders. Thunberg, who has Asperger’s, has come under attack from politicians and pundits, who criticize her appearance, her focus, her anger and her fearless truth telling about the scourge of climate and capitalism. Donald Trump sarcastically tweeted a link to Thunberg’s speech noting: “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!”
In response, Thunberg changed her Twitter profile to read “a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future.” It’s not surprising that a 16-year-old is more mature than the toddleresque rantings of our depraved oligarch, but it’s still worth pointing out, she is.
Thunberg’s activism attracts and unsettles the muck at the bottom of the river of power — churning up white privilege, ableist criticism, patriarchal condescension and misogynistic rage. Thunberg and a new generation of women are an uncomfortable reality for the status quo of power that starts in the White House and reaches down into our school systems and our cities and our homes.
In July, Severson posted photos of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib. Baish commented, “all 4 should be out of office ... worst Americans in my lifetime.”
Recall the outrage over the Kirkwood professor who belonged to an Antifa group on Facebook. That story sparked debates about the violence of the left and free speech. Meanwhile, a teacher in a school talked about using a sniper rifle on a child and people on Facebook had to force KCRG to even run a story. Maybe we would have cared more if she’d been drinking Busch Light?
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The status quo has expectations on how young women ought to live, speak and look. These expectations are designed to keep women trapped in a system that demands they look pleasing and speak “appropriately.” Yes, you can be in power, but only as long as the lips are lined, the legs crossed, and the smile ever fixed like the permafrost on the tundra of the arctic of patriarchal hearts.
I think of all the time I have spent doing my hair and my makeup, trying to look pleasing just so someone will think I’m worthy of listening to or hiring for a job. Thunberg isn’t playing that game. And what a relief she isn’t. But the cost of not playing means she faces the violence and rage of a system made of teachers and leaders who still all too quickly protect their own.
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