Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Taking Population Seriously: Power and Fertility

Taking Population Seriously begins with figures that would make anybody cringe: 85% of world population growth has occurred in the Third World. After stating this fact the authors ask: What set off this population explosion and how can it be balanced with the Earth’s ecology? They present a new way of solving the questions by presenting their “power-structures” perspective, which shows how “the powerlessness of the poor often leaves them little option but large families… High birthrates can be understood as a defensive response against structures of power that fail to provide – or actively block access to – sources of security beyond the family.”
The article goes on to discuss their stance on the problem with the high population and where the true source of environmental destruction lies. They point to social forces that make it impossible for people in certain societies to be able to survive without hoards of children. Their “power structure” deals with those who make the decisions and in whose interest decisions are made. Their overall thesis is “anti democratic power structures create and perpetuate conditions keeping fertility high.” Which should be great for American’s to hear, but, unfortunately, Americans and American companies do not always have the needs of the poor tribesman in mind when they rape the land they’ve lived on for generations.
Large companies are pointed at for exploiting the land and forcing people to have such large families to be able to meet ends meet. A poignant example was from two rainforest ecologists that wrote, “to blame colonizing peasants for uprooting tribal people and burning the rainforest is tantamount to blaming soldiers for causing wars.” It is a good comparison that makes you despise the lumber companies and such big consumers for making the fault become the poor peasant farmer.
I never thought about it on the scale of the individual family that had the large family. Women’s rights seem to hold a large amount of sway. As we have heard in class, and most women already have knowledge of, is where babies come from and if you do not want one it is usually easy enough to prevent it. The authors make it seem that without anything else in their lives women will just make babies for the hell of it. I cannot say I agree that women when they have no other option will just keep having kid after kid (or have eight kids to add to your brood and make fourteen). But the author’s redeemed themselves when they went on to discuss Patriarchal family and community attitudes. It is not so much that women have nothing else, but that they are forced to keep having babies. So, really, men are the problem since they force women to have babies when they don’t want to, right? Not according to the authors, because it is the people that oppress the men that give them low self-esteem which makes them beat their wives and treat them terribly.
The unjust social and economic structures further go to depress the reader because the poor state of their country is what never even gave them a chance. They pay the United States and rich nations huge sums of money and are forced to cut state funding for health and welfare and food subsidies. The author’s bring back the discussion to the balance of power and why it is crucial in trying to understand the complex issues of “poverty, hunger, population growth, and ecological stress.” This states that to make birth levels decrease to only replacement rates, far-reaching economic and political change is necessary. Easier said than done, unfortunately.
I like that the authors point out that it is not teaching people smart family planning that will benefit the people in the Third World. It doesn’t work in the United States, so why would anybody else go for the plan? The factor that seems to influence people the most is their access to a basic diet and being able to raise their health, which essentially raises their standard of living. It is through social changes and looking at the subject by studying its various causes that population rates will be influenced.
Overall, the article made me become angry at men, for forcing their wives to have more babies, and at the United States because of their power to uphold governments that block necessary to benefit the people in those nations. One of the last lines I found oddly, darkly humourous, “there is no solution – short of dehumanizing coercion or plagues – to the population explosion.” So the easiest way to reduce population is by spreading diseases to the disenfranchised that are in that position because we put them there….it seems like the West has done that before…


  1. I wholeheartedly agree; Frances Moore Lappe and Rachel Schurman do a great job of educating the reader that the tremendous population growth in the Third World is not just an issue of sex education and contraceptive devices. They also effectively illustrate that the blame does not lie with the governments of these nations alone, but that it also belongs to the wealthiest nations and corporations (i.e. those with the most power) in the world. When the authors cite antidemocratic power structures as the cause of high fertility, they do not mean antidemocratic national governments, but worldwide powers that are so far reaching that those affected by their decisions have no voice, and decisions are made in the interests of these worldwide powers with no regard for those affected. The authors cite reasons for high fertility that range from international to interpersonal familial relationships. I have an appreciation for other cultures, but many cultures afford women little or no power. I agree--this article made me angry at men as well, but I tried to remember that these men were raised among cultural norms that limited the power of women. The authors cogently argue that social reform, particularly reform that gives women in these countries more power, could beneficially impact the fertility rate.

  2. Look i do agree with what some of the article says, the Third World has had a lot of population growth, but step back here and look at some things for a moment. The Third World is a undeveloped part of our world that lacks knowledge and education that most nations as well as wealthy nations do. In the case of sex ed that the authors point out, is a major issue that it has right now considering that most of the world growth is happing there, but not on purpose. Up until the woman rights movement, women were treated unfairly and sometimes harassed in the work force, now this is not the case. If a man sexually harasses a woman at work, in todays world, he could get fired and lose his job.

    The authors point out that teaching people smart family planning will not do much to benefit the people, this i absolutely agree with, because this information really doesn't do much better anywhere else. Teaching them to eat a healthy diet with what food they have to eat, and giving them proper medication that isn't 3 months over the expiration date will help as well. This could help reduce the fertility rate, but it might also help if people had laws and enforced them that said you can only have a certain number of children.

  3. When I read this article there were times when I couldn't help but roll my eyes or shake my head and say "What?!" out loud. I know we live in a society that is very much different than many third world societies, but I found it humorous that men in these places believe that having large families somehow makes up for having little income, power, etc. In our country, many people with large families are looked at with a judging eye (ie that woman who had 8 more babies to add to the 6 childen she already had at home). When I see a couple in the grocery store with like 5+ kids in their carts or running around screaming "I want this and I want that!", I know I'm thinking "Why in the hell did they have so many f***ing kids?" It's instances like that that make me not want to have any of my own. Ever. It's also instances like that that actually make me glad I live in a place like the U.S. where having a large family isn't necessary and birth control is readily available.

    Like a couple of the other bloggers who posted on this article, I too felt a little angry when I read the part about men beating their wives for wanting to have control over their own bodies. It seems crazy that things like that happen in parts of the world because you don't often read about similar things happening around here. I kind of want to track down the men that the doctor in the Mexican clinic was talking about and beat the crap out of them. A woman wanting "to limit the number of mouths to feed" is "challenging [her husband's] authority, his power over her--and thus the very nature of his virility"? Puh-lease! Get the f*** over it!

    Although a tad depressing (and upsetting), overall I guess I enjoyed reading the article (probably partly because it was half the length of most of the ones we've read so far and partly because it had a touch of "woman power!" in it). I thought the authors had an interesting take on the problem of overpopulation and I think their examples made their arguments convincing.

  4. I am appreciative that I have finally read something that shows the effect of patriarchal societies on population growth. It is very rare that we see something that applies the failed and immoral policies of controlling population by legislative means. I believe it is more difficult than just giving a quota of children to families, the problem lies in the way that men and women are viewed in this greater culture. We speak of women as the fertile ones, which presuppose the men as not being involved in the process. The problem with this is we spend more time focused on controlling the one piece of genetic material in a woman, but we lack focus on the millions in the men. We apply methods in controlling birth such as a literal dam of fluids or hormonal We seem to have a preconceived notion that we can control the nature of sex by contraception and education, but this is only the case with drastic measures such as legislation or medical intervention. We start with the inequality between men and women but we ignore the fact that rape is something that happens in all societies even in marriages.

    The solution to the population problems is to change patriarchal ideology altogether, in all societies. It’s a task more daunting than controlling the biological nature of both men and women but in the long run it would be a better solution. Technological solutions for ecological preservation are a method to stave off the impending doom scenario, not to solve it, the same goes for population growth.

    Even in this country are lucky if we have learned the proper definition of anything in public education let alone feminism or gender inequality. To apply the knowledge and theory of these fields promotes greater social understanding of what is the problem, and what we can do to alleviate this problem rather than postpone it for future generations.

    And to ignore the fact that at one time we also promoted the idea of making babies in accordance with keeping the farm or family business going and to say to the world "stop making babies you ignorant poor people" when at one time we did the same.

    This problem is pervasive and the only thing that we can do is either change our thoughts on how the world really is or to sit back and watch the population grow.