In her recent Emmy acceptance speech for acting, Alex Borstein told the story of her grandmother, who courageously stepped out of a death line in a Nazi concentration camp and thus survived. So, she advises, “Step out of line, ladies, step out of line.” All around the world, women, often young women, are doing just that. Their strong voices and brave actions are inspiring others as they stand up, speak out, and “step out of line.”
Greta Thunberg started alone, sitting in front of the Swedish parliament every week, striking to call attention to the dire emergency of climate change. One year later, in September 2019, millions of people around the world joined this passionate and articulate 16-year-old woman in a global climate strike, protesting destruction of the environment. She is the latest in a long line of dedicated environmental activists.
More than 20 years ago, Julia Butterfly Hill also started alone. In 1997, at the age of 23, she began living in an old-growth redwood tree to protest the logging of these forests in California. She endured two years of attempts to break her resolve, including helicopter harassment. In the end, the tree was saved, and Julia has continued her activism, co-founding groups to work for social change. Greta appears to be carrying her legacy forward.
In the halls of Congress, where the wheels of change traditionally move very slowly, a new generation of vocal and nontraditional political women is being heard. As the youngest woman to be elected to Congress at age 29, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has challenged the status quo with her Green New Deal aimed at phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy. She is a consistently strong voice for both environmental protection and social change, “speaking truth to power.”
Greta, Julia, and Alexandria are forces of nature. They can’t be stopped. Like Pele, goddess of fire in Hawaii, they are both creator and destroyer. Creator of possibilities and destroyer of lies and illusions. It is the age of the return of the Goddess. Fiery women are rising up everywhere, speaking fearlessly and courageously to the patriarchal power structure.
Born the year Julia Hill began her tree action, Malala Yousafzai defied the Taliban in Pakistan (and was shot for it) when she spoke out against banning education for girls. She recovered from the attack and soon became an international activist for all children’s education. In 2014, she was the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17.
In 2018, Parkland shooting survivor, high school senior Emma Gonzalez confronted politicians in the U.S. Congress for making deals with the NRA and allowing gun violence to escalate. Insisting that “it’s time for victims to be the change,” she continues her activism to push for stricter gun laws. Also in 2018, Olympic gymnastics medalist Aly Raisman testified about being sexually abused by the team’s doctor (more than 150 other young women also testified), thus expanding the “Me too” movement to women’s sports: “The tables have turned. We have our voices and we are not going anywhere.”
These young women are only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Across the nation and the world, women of all ages are stepping into the spotlight and onto podiums to demand radical changes that include the end of gun violence, environmental destruction, and sexual abuse. “Time’s up!” has become a rallying cry of a generation now coming into adulthood. Greta Thunberg calls for politicians, businesspeople, and all citizens to “wake up” and face the “biggest crisis humanity has ever faced”—global warming and climate change. And to take action. No more pretend “solutions” and words that sound good but do nothing. This is the message of all of these women: Stop pretending to believe in change while protecting your own privileges. Help to create a world that supports all people as well as Mother Earth. Step out of line!