Feminists sometimes throw provocative stuff with unsubstantiated claims out there and hope that some of it sticks. That's the reaction I had reading Katha Pollitt's latest article –– "Europeans do it Better" (The Nation, April 2, 2007). What got her in a tizzy is the upcoming World Congress of Families IV in Warsaw, May 11-14 –– a conference that she accurately described as promoting large natural families and religious orthodoxy. But when she described the founder –– Allan Carlson, a respected conservative scholar who heads the Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society (a Rockford, Illinois think tank) –– as a right-wing, "family values" ideologue she revealed her bias, sarcasm and condescension.
In Pollitt's view, the people who have large families are those who marry early, lack sex education and birth control, and fall for religious propaganda and/or community pressure. Those same people, according to Pollitt, would deny women education and jobs. Over 90 countries have low birth rates and escape her negative characterization –– birth rates have fallen below replacement level in Ireland (1.9), Portugal (1.4), as well as in Italy, Poland, Greece and Japan (1.3). Even in the U.S., the fertility rate hovers right at 2.0. Even so, it's the developed world, she cries with exclamation points, that is "doing the earth in" with our overuse of resources. She declares that the current population of six billion people is "plenty."
The central part of her article goes all over the map. She claims that countries with the lowest birthrates are those that have rigidly patriarchal families and the most sexist workplaces. A few paragraphs later she mentions that Sweden's birthrate is only 1.7 and they have done the most to help working mothers. How do patriarchy and sexism explain Sweden's low birthrate?
Her next premise is that the problem of population growth in the developed countries is at the heart of all environmental problems. But she then says "…indeed most population growth will come in the developing world."Finally, she whines that the coming dearth of young workers is a population problem that will leave the aged without economic security. She doesn't even take into consideration China's very anti-family one child policy which has caused a dearth of women and thus an increase in violence against women and sex trafficking. Manipulating the size of families has caused terrible ramifications in countries around the world. The reader ends up with no idea where she stands on the issue of population. Except that people shouldn't "throw away" those children who are already here; I assume she just wants to get rid of the "unwanted" ones who aren't quite born.
To buttress her own case about "doing it better," Pollitt claims that getting a better deal for mothers has been at the forefront of the feminist agenda for decades. I really laughed at that one. The feminist Bible, the Platform for Action from the 1995 Beijing Fourth World Women's Conference where Hillary Clinton famously claimed that "Women's Rights are Human Rights" mentions "gender mainstreaming" a couple of times per page, but barely mentions motherhood –– less than half a dozen references in the whole 200-page-plus document. Betty Friedan, the mother of the feminist movement, declared that "being a wife and mother" was not going to interfere with what she regarded as her "real life."
The tone of this article is elitist and intolerant. In the first paragraph she mentions breeding (her word) "ethnically correct workers" (sounds like an idea Margaret Sanger would approve), then in subsequent paragraphs implies children born in developing countries should be used to meet the dearth of menial laborers to support aging populations. Then she writes, "Instead of cajoling and bribing women into gestating the home-health attendants of the future, states should start treasuring the people—all the people—they have right now." I bet those home-health attendants feel treasured.
She defames the WCF for being pro-family, pro-life and pro-religion and then rails against anti-family government policies in France, Russia and towards the Gypsies in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The WCF looks to improve the family unit and in so doing improve the lives of children. Where is the harm in that?