Best letter to the editor I have ever seen.

PregWoman_sm.jpg
UPDATE: 21st Century mom scanned the picture for me! THANKS!
I can’t seem to find this picture online, but my coworker pointed this out to me in today’s Chronicle. It is in response to a picture of a pregnant woman’s stomach from the side with an image of the world imposed on it. This was the response that one reader had and I applaud it.

Don’t blame women
Editor – Your picture of a naked, pregnant woman’s belly (Letters, July 22) to symbolize the overpopulation crisis is both vulgar and misleading. A picture of an erect penis would be more accurate. Men’s lust and arrogance, not women’s fertility, is the cause of overpopulation.
Patriarchal religions, such as Roman Catholicism, fundamentalist Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as patriarchal societies, such as just about every one in the world, are responsible for the overpopulation crisis.
Access to birth control is denied to hundreds of millions of women. These same women are often forced to have intercourse at the risk of their health and lives. It is they who are victims, not the perpetrators, of this crime against the Earth and humanity.

Bravo. If I can get the picture I will post it.
via SF Chronicle.

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30 Comments

  1. hanabira
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    hear hear

  2. 'b.
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    wait, women are being blamed for overpopulation TOO?
    in north america and other western countries, they’re being blamed for low fertility rates!
    i’ll try to find the link – mclean’s magazine recently ran an article about the fact that our (canada specifically but also other western countries – europe mostly) fertility rates are dropping below necessary levels for replacement – and that’s because the big bad women are choosing to work instead of having children.
    now it’s also our fault in the places where that’s not happening?

  3. alexmlwallace
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Overpopulation is neither gender’s “fault” and attempting to pin it on one gender is ludicrous. Neither a pregnant woman nor an erect penis (and I fail to see how the two are not completely and intimately connected) symbolize overpopulation.
    A cross would symbolize religion’s role in overpopulation much more than an erect penis, which is just reverse-sexism.

  4. mirm
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    In a system where one gender (men)has the power and one gender (women) is systematically oppressed, the concept called reverse sexism is systemically impossible. One must have power to institute oppression like sexism. Even if one woman makes a claim (about an erect penis, for example), she cannot insitute any policies to back her suggestion. Understand?

  5. Posted July 31, 2007 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Pregnant bellies have been symbols of fertility basically forever. I understand why the picture you mention might be irritating, but is it genuinely an attempt to ‘blame’ women for current overpopulation, or is it merely using a powerful symbol of the procreative power of humankind? I haven’t seen the original article, so I don’t know, but it seems likely that it was the latter.

  6. complicatedjeany
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    I love the letter, total genius, but laying the blame for the ever growing population solely at mens feet is misses the point. There isn’t an answer to this difficult question, look at China and it’s one child policy, not exactly working is it. Giving women control over their own bodies and reproduction would improve the lot of so many of us but it’s not going to drastically reduce the population of the world. There is no way to do that short of taking away people’s freedom over what they do with their lives and bodies or harking back to the dark ages when an epidemic could wipe out swathes of the population. We need solutions not finger pointing!

  7. Posted July 31, 2007 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Pregnant bellies have been symbols of fertility basically forever. I understand why the picture you mention might be irritating, but is it genuinely an attempt to ‘blame’ women for current overpopulation, or is it merely using a powerful symbol of the procreative power of humankind?
    The problem is that, as a symbol, it doesn’t exist in a void. A pregnant woman might be used as a symbol of fertility, but doing so still implicates women as the ones responsible for that circumstance. Thus, women end up getting blamed for either producing too many or too few children, while men’s role in the process is largely ignored. Even if that’s not the intention of the picture, that’s still a major implication, and I don’t think it’s a particularly harsh reading to see it that way. That something has been used as a symbol for a long time doesn’t mean that it’s free of bias or negative implication.

  8. Andrew
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    “One must have power to institute oppression like sexism.”
    Hey Mirm, surely sexism can also be an attitude or a simple statement as well as what you discribe?
    By the logic you use, if I said all female politicans were less capable then male politicians (IF I said it!) it wouldn’t be sexist as I have no power over these women?

  9. Ann
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    I am TOTALLY on board with using a religious symbol as a graphic accompanying stories about overpopulation. Or perhaps a picture of Bush’s face, as he’s sought to slash international family planning funds.

  10. Pup, MD
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    …fertility rates are dropping below necessary levels for replacement – and that’s because the big bad women are choosing to work instead of having children.
    Isn’t it honest to say that fertility rates are dropping because women now have more control over their professional and reproductive lives? It’s also honest to say that it’s a very very good thing that women have more control over their professional and reproductive lives.
    A diminishing birth rate is a concerning side effect of a major and absolutely necessary societal improvement. We’re all mature enough to accept causation without assigning moral blame.
    In fact, it may be even more proper to say that the previous birthrates were artificially high because women were denied their reproductive and professional rights, and that birthrates are now moving towards equilibrium in an increasingly egalitarian society. In that case, we can blame past misogyny, if we need a moral target.

  11. mirm
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Sexism is comprised of just those attitudes and statements, but it adds up to an entire system. A person can say something negative about men being the cause of overpopulation, but it does not feed existing stereotypes about men as baby makers, etc. It does in the case of women. In addition, you DO have power, as the entire system is already weighed to make people ready (and eager) to hear such statements. Also, as a man (I’m guessing by your name), you are automatically granted more authority to speak.

  12. Amanda Marcotte
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    She didn’t really blame men. She blamed a patriarchal culture that uses women’s bodies as sex toys and breeding machines. Which is fair. It’s been fairly well proven time and time again that the more power you give women, the more they limit their family size.

  13. Andrew
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Hey Mirm, that responce was interesting. It’s got me thinking, I have a few counter arguments both broad and specific but here is not the place.
    I don’t know if my view has changed on the subject but brain cogs have began to turn….

  14. AlaraJRogers
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    I love the letter, total genius, but laying the blame for the ever growing population solely at mens feet is misses the point. There isn’t an answer to this difficult question, look at China and it’s one child policy, not exactly working is it. Giving women control over their own bodies and reproduction would improve the lot of so many of us but it’s not going to drastically reduce the population of the world.
    Actually, I think you’re wrong, complicatedjeany, and this is why.
    In every country where the following things are true, the birthrate has dropped drastically:
    1. Women are given access to birth control.
    2. Women are permitted control over their own sexuality, not given away to men they did not choose.
    3. Women are educated.
    4. Women are allowed near-equality with men (that is there may be institutional barriers to female equality, or cultural barriers, but few legal barriers a la Saudi Arabia.)
    5. Elderly women are not dependent solely on the care of their children in old age.
    6. The society is not primarily agrarian.
    The last two are important because those are areas in which children are incredibly valuable; if you will die alone and untended in old age if you haven’t had enough kids, or if you don’t have enough hands to work your fields, no legal pressure can persuade you to stop having kids. This is what’s wrong with China. Social Security or something like it, more industrialization, and state-paid skilled nursing care for the elderly would do a lot to lower the birth rate in China’s case.
    In other cases, we see that in any culture where women have near-equality with men, including control over their own reproduction, the birthrate drops to less than replacement rate. Having kids is physically grueling; a real job is easier, and one can offer individual children much more love and attention if one has fewer of them, so people who have just one or two kids enjoy the same (or more) total amount of love and bonding with their children that people with ten have. Since in every culture it’s women who are responsible for child rearing to a huge extent, it makes sense that women know the real ratio of cost to reward and will control their reproduction accordingly if allowed to. Patriarchy functions as a mini-tragedy of the commons, in which men acquire social status and emotional benefits for fathering many children, but do only a fraction of the work that many children require — they’re externalizing the costs onto their wives’ bodies. They have a lot less motive to lower the rate of reproduction than women do.
    So yes, the erect penis is a better symbol for rampant overpopulation than the pregnant woman is. Women in control of their lives and circumstances have fewer kids. If all nations worldwide adopted even the level of autonomy for women that Japan, hardly a bastion of female equality, has, overpopulation would cease to be a problem in a generation or two. And no coercion would be involved, because women who *can* control their reproduction and don’t *need* to have children for power, status or security in their old age, will on average reproduce at less than replacement rate. Individuals might still choose to have six kids, but they will be balanced out by three women who choose to have none. We’ve seen it happen to every industrialized nation with anything remotely resembling female equality.

  15. LindsayPW
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    People are like the earth’s cancer. I know it’s a sad view of the world, but I can’t help but agree with it more and more everyday that I see some shit happen on the news.
    Awesome letter, btw.

  16. DT
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    LindsayPW – I don’t understand your comment. Cancer kills the organism in which it present. The worst that humanity will possibly do is wipe out our selves and take a few other species with us. It’s not a very big deal if you think about the magnitude of the Permian extinction.
    I’m a little uncomfortable with an image of a penis or a pregnant belly to represent overpopulation. I would suggest a picture of a man and a woman, because I’m pretty sure that’s what it generally takes for humans to reproduce.
    That said, AlaraJRodgers’ list looks very convincing, but I’d like a source for it (I happen to think that you’re right, but I’d be sure of it if you cited your reference).

  17. Doug S.
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    How about a picture of a screaming baby instead?

  18. keshmeshi
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Uh. China’s one-child policy is actually working quite well, if by “working” you mean controlling population, even at the expense of basic human dignity.
    China’s current population growth rate is 0.606 percent. Compare that to the United States with a 0.894 percent growth rate.
    When instituting (even severe) population control policies in the Third World, you’re actually going to continue to see population growth for quite a while. This is due to the large number of fertile young people in those countries. It takes at least a couple of generations for the population to stabilize then decrease.

  19. Posted July 31, 2007 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Honestly, I think this letter reeks “victim stance”. Fine, she doesn’t like the image. But saying “Men’s lust and arrogance, not women’s fertility, is the cause of overpopulation” isn’t just a gross generalization, it also implies that women are completely powerless, incapable of decision-making, and devoid of responsibility when it comes to conception and childbirth.
    True, some pregnancies are the result of rape, coercion. But the notion that ‘women should get pregnant and have children’ isn’t just a product of the ‘patriarchy’– it’s touted by most members of society, men and women alike.
    Blaming either gender is incorrect, and oversimplifies this complex issue. I doubt the designers of the image intended to imply that “overpopulation is caused by women” (since most people understand that pregnancy is usually caused by male/female interaction), but if that is the impression people are getting, they should find a non-gender specific image– not one that mirrors the problem.

  20. sasha0189
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    cest.la.vie said: “But saying “Men’s lust and arrogance, not women’s fertility, is the cause of overpopulation” isn’t just a gross generalization, it also implies that women are completely powerless, incapable of decision-making, and devoid of responsibility when it comes to conception and childbirth.”
    Umm, that’s because in many parts of the world women are completely powerless when it comes to their reproductive systems. Its not that they are incapable of making these decisions for themselves, its that the right to do so is being systematically denied to them by those holding the power in their society (read: men). If women are being denied birth control, raped by their husbands, having parts of their genitals removed for the removal of their own sexual pleasure and the increased pleasure of their husbamds, and/or given away by their parents to strangers in arranged marriages, I think it is perfectly fair to say that these women are not running the show, the men are. Therefore, the results of these practices (such as a high birthrate) are the fault of the perpetrators. The high birthrates in the places in this world that allow these practices IS the fault of the men there, not the fault of the women.
    I think that part of the overpopulation problem is indeed the fact that the subjugation of women has been systematically practiced throughout most of the world for many centuries.
    However, I also think that part of the problem comes from the fact that the average person today consumes far more than any generations previously. In this way, Americans are probably more to blame than any other country in the world. If people today did not think that they “need” so very many things, would a population of 6 billion really be a problem?

  21. Posted July 31, 2007 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    Again, that’s an oversimplification. I recently watched a disturbing piece regarding female genital mutilation, in which an 8 year old girl was pinned to the floor– not by men– but by her mother, grandmother, and aunts. She screamed and writhed and begged for them to stop, that she “didn’t want it”, and yet they persisted.
    In this case, I can’t default to “it’s the patriarchy”. I don’t know who started FGM, or what their gender was. However, I do know that both men AND women perpetuate the problem– which means both men and women need to be educated, to take responsibility, and work towards it’s eradication.
    As far as the other issues you mentioned are concerned, I don’t live in an area that promotes these practices, so I’m wary of pointing fingers. I haven’t seen who, specifically, is contributing to these problems.
    I do realize that the power structures in most societies are dominated by men. However, I believe this is an issue of education, above all else. Blame the patriarchy, blame who you will. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter–the problem still exists. Which means the real task at hand is not identifying the “bad guy”, but speaking out, raising awareness and promoting ways to combat the issues.

  22. Mina
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    “Overpopulation is neither gender’s ‘fault’ and attempting to pin it on one gender is ludicrous.”
    The idea seems to be that a whole bunch of these pregnancies are the guys’s fault alone because the woman or girl didn’t even consent to sex with him (let alone consent to marriage and childrearing with him) but he and their relatives forced her into it.
    “I would suggest a picture of a man and a woman, because I’m pretty sure that’s what it generally takes for humans to reproduce.”
    I wouldn’t call a 12-year-old a woman even if she is a pregnant housewife.

  23. Posted July 31, 2007 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    A diminishing birth rate is a concerning side effect of a major and absolutely necessary societal improvement.

    Or a side-benefit of a major and absolutely necessary societal improvement. It’s unsurprising that it’s primarily the right wing that considers it a problem; they have been instituting policies that increase unemployment, thus reducing labour’s bargaining power, for decades. A sensibly low birthrate, apart from preserving natural resources, makes it difficult to maintain an artificially high unemployment rate. The fact that a lower birthrate also helps maintain women’s freedom is likely another reason they’re so concerned about it.

  24. Mina
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    “It’s unsurprising that it’s primarily the right wing that considers it a problem; they have been instituting policies that increase unemployment, thus reducing labour’s bargaining power, for decades.”
    I heard that it also reduces the price of slaves.

  25. pronihil
    Posted August 1, 2007 at 12:12 am | Permalink

    “Again, that’s an oversimplification. I recently watched a disturbing piece regarding female genital mutilation, in which an 8 year old girl was pinned to the floor– not by men– but by her mother, grandmother, and aunts. She screamed and writhed and begged for them to stop, that she “didn’t want it”, and yet they persisted.”
    Ahh, yes. Because the mother, grandmother and aunts really have the power to decide the little girl really shouldn’t have to undergo genital mutilation after all, even though not going through with it means no man will find her eligible enough to “buy her” from the family. Of course, the father, grandfather and uncles were forced out of the room so the mutilation could go uninterrupted by their protests and concern for the 8 year old.
    I mean… behind every man is a woman, after all. Especially in the case of female genital mutilation.
    Then again, I’m sure if none of the eligible men around really cared for a mutilated vagina to bear his children, the girl wouldn’t have to go through such an ordeal. And of course, the change in the men’s attitudes DEPENDS on the willingness of the women to refuse female genital mutilation on their daughters. So you’re right. We can’t blame just men for female genital mutilation. We should blame the women, too. Because they are forced by the men to perform it on their daughters.

  26. Mina
    Posted August 1, 2007 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    “…So you’re right. We can’t blame just men for female genital mutilation. We should blame the women, too. Because they are forced by the men to perform it on their daughters.”
    Doesn’t that vary from family to family?
    http://abcnews.go.com/International/Story?id=79133&page=3
    “…In Fouzia’s case, her father — an Eldoret businessman — was opposed to having his daughters circumcised. It was only while he was away on a business trip that her mother called in the local circumciser and had Fouzia and her younger sister Fardhosa circumcised…”
    I suspect that in some cases FGM may be a variety of hazing. If a sorority’s sisters hurt their pledges in the name of making them sisters, do we automatically assume men forced them to do it? Likewise, if a village’s women torture their granddaughters in the name of making them women…

  27. ghostorchid
    Posted August 1, 2007 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    In a biological sense, cut it any way you like it, but an erect penis alone won’t make a kid.
    In a practical sense, regardless of this endlessly debatable reality, there’s no use or value in saying that it’s all women’s fault. Nor is there any use or value in saying that it’s all men’s fault.
    It’s just not productive to get caught up in these little battles about whose fault it is. It doesn’t go anywhere. It’ll never be resolved.
    So let’s focus on the common ground here: it would help if women had better access to birth control and more autonomy over their child-rearing choices. It would help if men had better access to condoms and less pressure to prove their machismo by going bareback. And it would help if cultures and religions in general stopped prioritizing the propagation of their particular value system over the fate of the environmental world.
    Disclaimer: I’m exempting our “endangered races”, namely the ones undergoing genocide. They’re not thinking about propagation, as in, “go forth and multiply your ideologies”, they’re thinking about cultural survival, period.
    Ultimately, if we aren’t willing to acknowledge that these things are complicated and we can’t make assumptions, whether it’s about who’s causing overpopulation or why FGM happens, then we can at least be practical.

  28. Pup, MD
    Posted August 1, 2007 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    A sensibly low birthrate, apart from preserving natural resources, makes it difficult to maintain an artificially high unemployment rate. The fact that a lower birthrate also helps maintain women’s freedom is likely another reason they’re so concerned about it.
    I think we need a group viewing of Idiocracy :)
    Serious policy folk are concerned about diminishing birth rates on any side of the aisle. We have a glut of old people ready to take on all the social services they’ve been promised since FDR, and a diminishing birth rate all but insures that there’s no way we would be able to continue to offer high levels of benefits with a diminished work force. That’s as much a liberal concern as any.
    I don’t believe even the most left of economists would include the population in an equation for the natural unemployment rate. The real threat to unemployment would be the absurd inflation rates that would come about as a result of a population structure so thin on the bottom with decreased productivity.
    There is simply no benefit to a diminished population rate in our lifetimes. Talk about our great-great-great-grandchildren, whose population structure could benefit from a stable low birth rate, where women and men have equal control over their lives, and you’ve got your (our) utopia.
    You build the time machine, and save me a seat :)

  29. Mina
    Posted August 1, 2007 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    “So let’s focus on the common ground here: it would help if women had better access to birth control and more autonomy over their child-rearing choices. It would help if men had better access to condoms and less pressure to prove their machismo by going bareback. And it would help if cultures and religions in general stopped prioritizing the propagation of their particular value system over the fate of the environmental world.”
    Yeah, those sound really good. I’d add that it would also help if girls had more freedom to postpone motherhood until womanhood in the first place!
    http://www.endfistula.org/family_planning.htm
    “…Young married girls are often pressured to get pregnant soon after marriage and may face a variety of barriers to accessing contraceptive services. In spite of laws against early marriage, 82 million girls in developing countries will be married before they turn 18. About half of all teenage girls will have their first child by the time they turn 18…”
    “Disclaimer: I’m exempting our ‘endangered races’, namely the ones undergoing genocide. They’re not thinking about propagation, as in, ‘go forth and multiply your ideologies’, they’re thinking about cultural survival, period.”
    Why should they be “exempt” from the good stuff you listed? Do you think it’s OK for white American women to have more autonomy over their child-rearing choices and white American men to have better access to condoms but not for, say, black Darfurian women and men to have those freedoms too?
    Personally, I think someone raping Anne Frank and forcing her to have a baby in 1943 would have been no better than someone raping a kid in Canada and forcing her to have a baby in 1943 would have been…

  30. ghostorchid
    Posted August 1, 2007 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    Mina: Sorry, I didn’t make that clear. I meant that, much in the same way we occasionally cull deer to keep them from overpopulating and weakening the whole population, I’m okay with regulations on our species similar to China’s, as in, you get to have a limited number of kids. (Which is of course only ideal in a non-patriarchal system.) However, “endangered races” should not be subject to these policies, because they’re dying out instead of flourishing. The aim is to keep population under control without wiping out whole cultures. I didn’t mean that “endangered races” shouldn’t be privy to the same improvements I suggested…I wasn’t clear enough in what actual policies I was referring to when I said we should prioritize the environment over individual value systems.

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