Image Map

Feminist Intersection: Condoms, polar bears, and reproduction. Any rights?

I'm fresh from visiting "Rubbers: The Life, History, and Struggle of the Condom" at the Museum of Sex in New York City today (which I highly recommend to check out!).


But besides having "safes" (that's what my aunties used to call them) on the brain from that exhibit (and of course the fact that I work in sexual and reproductive health day in and day out), I came across a great article on Alternet by Kate McKay Bryson entitled "Use a Condom, Save a Polar Bear? Not That Simple" about the many factors besides human overpopulation that contribute to our environmental crises.

This is all coming from the Center for Biological Diversity's Endangered Species Condoms campaign launched in February of this year, which aims to link environmental destruction with the fact that the world population has doubled since the original Earth Day in 1970 - thus encouraging people to wrap it before they tap it, (yes that was my youthful condom slogan inclusion) and they've created lots of cool-looking condom packets to prove it to you.

Now of course many of us are all for condom usage and safe sexual practices in general – but I take issue with the over-generalizations that this campaign is making with what it views as the "problems" and "solutions" with over-population, particularly in the assumption that if we had less babies we'd be more environmentally friendly, thus better contributing members of human society. Not to mention trumping on people's fundamental human rights here to decide whether to have a child, not to have a child, and to parent the way they see fit (reproductive justice 101 folks!)

This is erring a little too close to the territory of "land rights before body rights", as opposed to being intersectional and equally important at the same time, which is also known as environmental AND reproductive justice. Oh and ignoring the horrific history of population control and having the West once again impose its superior values of "knowing best" (instead of, let's say, listening to Inuit a lot more and actually following through on ALL their recommendations for eliminating global warming. Just sayin').

Kate summed it up really well at the end of the article saying, "The fact that it's easier in the U.S. to make a case for further policing of people's reproductive freedom than to criticize consumerism and consumption doesn't make embracing that tactic the right choice. Instead, perhaps we could work toward an environmental movement that builds international solidarity, recognizes the importance of gender justice, and addresses the real causes of pollution, resource depletion and species extinction."

So what say you?

Bitch Media publishes the award-winning quarterly magazine, Bitch:Feminist Response to Pop Culture. Pitch in to support feminist media: Subscribe today

Subscribe to Bitch


7 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Condoms good for the environment? I think not.

The creators (?) of this campaign have obviously failed to comprehend that condoms are not eco-friendly. At all. There are far better forms of birth control available today if all we are going for is curbing the prolific rate of human reproduction. In fact, condoms are probably the least effective. This ad campaign is utterly counterintuitive. Clearly human overpopulation is a predicament as is rampant consumerism (particularly in the west), but condoms are not a solution, they are part of the problem.

In response to people having a fundamental right to reproduce... I probably shouldn't even start on that. Rights are one thing, but rights also need to have limits (i.e., freedom of speech does not include the right to slander or perpetuate hate) as humans have a tendency not to use their brains as often as we ought to. Just saying.

Do some research next time

It is obvious you have not read any of the Center for Biological Diversities materials. First off, they promote universal access to free birth control, the universal right of women to education, empowerment and reproductive choice. You apparently missed this from the Center's site:
"• Nearly 40 percent of all pregnancies in the world — and nearly 50 percent of all pregnancies in the United States — are unintended, meaning that universal access to birth control would provide a crucial means of reducing unsustainable fertility rates.
• Other key factors in stabilizing population growth involve the education and empowerment of women to choose when to bear children and how many to bear.
• Many studies have shown that women with improved educational and economic opportunity tend to postpone childbearing and have fewer children overall."
Which completely contradicts your unsubstantiated complaint of "trumping on people's fundamental human rights."
Secondly, the Center explicitly critiques over consumption and discusses the disparity between first and third world consumption.
Lastly, the Center's campaign is almost entirely focused on the highly consumptive U.S. population, thus is not in anyway trying to tell people in other nations what to do.
Maybe you also missed this from the Center's endangered species condom page:
"• combination of rapid population growth and extremely high levels of consumption makes the United States a key factor in the overpopulation equation.
• In studying the interrelation between climate change and overpopulation, Oregon State University researchers recently developed a measure of environmental impact they call a “carbon legacy,” the amount of carbon emissions that would be produced by a child over the course of its lifetime, as well as by the descendants of that child over succeeding generations. The carbon legacy of a child born in the United States is 168 times that of a child born in Bangladesh."
It looks a lot like you simply repeated the charges leveled by another blog without bothering to find out if they make sense. Listen, just because someone uses all the appropriate buzz words in a critique, does not mean the critique is accurate.
Your failure is particularly sad because without even knowing it, you are spreading false statements about what is one one of the most progressive, diversity-oriented conservation groups in the U.S. Check out for example, recent articles in The Nation and the New York Times about how the anti-corporate Center for Biological Diversity is upholding the progressive agenda against the constant sell outs of the mainstream green groups (Sierra Club, NRDC, NWF, etc.).

Be less of a wad next time?

Don't get me wrong. It's great to see that the Center for Biological Diversity is taking the intersection between reproductive rigths and sustainability seriously. I think anyone reading this post and the comments would be excited to think more about how the organization is doing that, if it is effective, what the obstacles are to getting that message out there. For example, it strikes me that even though the center focuses on "empowering" women, the downside of this is that it continues to center women as the cause of overpopulation. A catch 22 worth some critical thought, I'd say.

I think we are all actually agreeing that the public discourse around over population lacks insights that come from reproductive rights. The existence of your organization and your comment that its existence was missed by Jessica don't really negate that point. If anything, they affirm it, really. This comment also kinda comes off like a free advertisement for the center for biological diversity. Personally, I'm not lovin' that.

continues to center women as the cause of overpopulation?


How exactly does handing out free condoms to MEN "continue to center women as the cause of overpopulation"? The condom project and larger overpopulation campaign is very much about altering the behavior of men, both in sexual practice and political/social limiting of women's right to reproductive freedom, education and empowerment.

How does distributing

How does distributing condoms to MEN alter “the behavior of men, both in sexual practice and political/social limiting of women's right to reproductive freedom, education and empowerment”? That’s a tall order for a rubber. That also seems to unrealistically center individual men as obstacles to women’s reproductive freedom. Once we remove men as a barrier, women will choose to reproduce fewer children, thereby solving the environmental crisis caused by over population and over consumption. Do I have that right?

Like this

Fertility rates are negatively correlated with the free access to birth control and the political and economic freedom of women. So yes, removing barriers will result in slowing of population growth.

In this project, the condoms come in an educational package with links to an educational website. So the value is not just in the use of the condom, but the educational opportunity they provide.

Regarding individual men (or individual women for that matter), the project is primarily a public education tool, not a condom distribution service. The artwork, slogans, Valentine's Day initial launch, Earth Day secondary launch, and network of 5,000 volunteer distributors is designed to attract national, regional, and local attention (which it has in spades) to create a public discussion about overpopulation and extinction. This blog is a prime example. That public, political discussion will have more effect than the individual use of 350,000 condoms.