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Carrying Capacity & Impending Doom: Cultural Soap Operas & Fertility Rates (Part 2)

Guest Blogger • Feb 08, 2012

Photo: Digital Democracy's Flickr page

by Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone

Michael Tobias, an advisory board member for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) concluded his recent interview with Bill Ryerson, the president of the Population Media Center, (PMC) which is located in Shelburne Falls, Vermont, with a discussion of the family planning efforts undertaken by PMC and the Population Institute.

Ryerson says in his interview that “providing family planning services has helped reduce fertility rates, particularly in Asia and Latin America.  But meeting unmet demand for contraceptives is only part of the solution. The countries that have most successfully reduced population growth have emphasized changing attitudes of the people regarding the role of women, ideal family size, age of first pregnancy, and the benefits of using modern contraceptives.”

Here is where things get really sinister.  The Population Media Center creates radio plays and stories (soap operas) that specifically target cultural attitudes surrounding pregnancy, birth rates, and sexual health.  Were their only intention to provide families and potential parents with facts and access to safer sex supplies, the Population Media Center would be admirable.

Unfortunately, they formulate these soap operas to attack cultural attitudes in developing countries and attempt to directly influence how women think about their families.  Ryerson clearly states that the ultimate goals of the PMC are not to help women and their partners make informed decisions about when and how to have a family.  Rather they are to change the “desired family size” in developing countries, so that population might be “stabilized.”

Ryerson paints himself as some kind of feminist crusader, while standing behind organizations that use manipulative tactics to portray certain sexual choices as more correct than others.  Ryerson claims that his programs “never tell the audience what to do.  But by showing the audience the consequences of various behaviors, they help governments achieve their goals with regard to population dynamics.”

Ryerson and his organization makes assumptions that leave room for interpretation that women don’t know what they’re doing when they have children is insulting and dangerous, as it implies that women are too stupid to have control over their reproductive choices.  Ryerson’s argument also allows space for interpretation that, given the opportunity, women would not have children and that there is something fundamentally different between white motherhood and non-white motherhood. The dangers that accompany such assumptions and the possibility of overshadowing any positive impact PMC might have when it comes to providing accurate family planning services.

Tobias concludes the interview by claiming that we must embrace the empowerment of women as the means for lowering the global population…or else.  These men reveal, by association to each other and their respective organizations, that they really mean we must control the bodies of women of color so that they don’t have too many babies and destroy the world.

Rather, these men should place the blame on the structures and patterns of industry, globalization, and colonization that allow some people to have so much while others have so little.  They should be examining the myriad of “complexes” that promote rapid and unyielding production and consumption, even in the face of ecological disaster.  They should consider the different types of resource scarcity and how some are far more deadly than others.

It will always be easier to blame the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the silenced.  Fortunately, women of the Global South and of developing nations can speak for themselves.

(Click here to read Part 1)

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