KEYWORDS | summer 2003
These are times that try women’s souls. During the all- war- all- the-time media blitz, I became fixated on the news garnering little attention: the intensifying assaults by the U.S. Republican Guard (Ashcroft, Cheney et al.) against domestic social programs, civil liberties and, relentlessly, our rights to reproductive choice and sexual preference. The First Amendment itself has come under fire. Free speech is deemed “unpatriotic” whenever critical of Bush administration strategies.
“It’s not that I’m against regime change. It can be good if it rids a country of a power-hungry, oil-obsessed, undemocratically elected millionaire indifferent to the security and economic needs of his own people, the rule of law and world opinion…
Wait a minute: Which country are we talking about?
Scary times, indeed. It’s no longer possible to comfort ourselves with thinking it can’t happen here. It is happening here. And there’s only one thing that can stop it.
Which brings me to the overlooked good news. For example, young women attending feminist gatherings in even-larger-than-usual numbers, spirited gray-haired women leading anti-war demonstrations, and more men who seem to be “getting it.” Two male authors recently made key connections. In Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles (Scribner, March 2003), Anthony Swofford rues learning as a boy that “manhood had to do with war, and war with manhood.” In War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (Public Affairs, September 2002), former war correspondent Chris Hedges exposes combat, whatever its political rationale, as an orgy of violence-lust, an “addiction” from which he had to detoxify.
Sexual analogies work deplorably well here, since this culture eroticizes violence. To co-opt the boys’ metaphors, we might say that George W. suffers from PET, Premature Ejaculation Tactics: showy, wham-bang beginnings (think Florida “election” battle, Afghanistan, Iraq) then limp or nonexistent follow-through (and to hell with his partner’s needs).
Back to overlooked news-- and possibly the biggest story of our time.
Recently, demographers expressed surprise that what feminists have said for decades was actually true. When women gain power over their reproductive lives (as opposed to enduring forced “population control” schemes), they have fewer kids. For years, demographers have assumed the eventual “total fertility rate” (number of children born per woman) would average 2.1 (2 who “replace” their parents, 0.1 who die before reaching reproductive age). But the Population Division for the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs recently revised the 2050 projections downward to 1.85.
All the so-called developed nations are now below “replacement” level (the USA just barely)-- but here’s what shocks U.N. demographers: The greatest decline is seen in less-developed countries, including Brazil, China, Indonesia, Iran, Turkey and Mexico. In India by 2001, there may be 600 million fewer people than predicted.
In the late 1960’s, the average fertility rate in poor countries was 6.0 per woman. Now at 2.9, it’s still plummeting-- due, demographers concede, to the growing emancipation of women. (The U.N. report also lists negative factors in population-growth drop, such as HIV/AIDS, but unlike the fertility factor, these were anticipated.) That dry statistic-- 1.85-- is huge news.
Ripples from this demographic shift will transform economics, politics, environment, the international balance of power. Fewer humans means less hunger, poverty and consumption of natural resources, including oil and fossil fuels. This means less global warming and pollution, and cleaner air and water. Fewer people need less housing and less commercial construction, which means more open spaces. Poorer countries reap a “demographic dividend” over the next 20 to 30 years, when their citizenry will be mostly of working age. This should lead to higher per capita income, inviting greater sociopolitical stability. Rich countries facing labor shortages will have to relax xenophobic immigration laws. Over time, a migratory diversity of populations could flower.
Sure, that’s a long-term solution while we face immediate crises. But it’s real, and already happening. And it demonstrates again how central women’s freedom and power are to freedom and power for everyone. We dare not forget that, especially in the difficult months ahead. Besides, it reminds us that feminists have been right all along: Women can save the world.