By Dr. Casey Taft
Anti-natalism is a philosophical position that assigns a negative value to birth or that views non-existence as preferable to existence (source). There is an increasing population of vegans publically expressing aggressive anti-natalist views and here, Dr. Casey Taft explores how doing so can have a negative impact on our vegan advocacy efforts...
In a patriarchal society there is great pressure on women to have children. Women are taught from an early age that one of their primary functions is to have babies. When they don't fulfill this societal role, they may be subtly or not so subtly pressured by those around them to get with the program.
I have great respect for those women who decide that having children is not right for them despite the pressure they're under. For many, the decision not to have children represents a reclaiming of their personal identity and what it means to be a woman.
Other women make a different choice and opt to have children. This choice also may connect them with their womanhood.
There is perhaps nothing more personal than one's reproductive choices. I don't think that anyone should be shamed for these choices, whatever they may be.
Unfortunately, within the vegan movement, many women and men who refer to themselves as "anti-natalists" engage in shaming women for their choice to have kids, creating an unsafe space for many women in the movement. In anti-natalist spaces, and even in other vegan spaces, women with children are derided as "breeders" and far worse, and jokes are made about women who have miscarriages or babies with disabilities.
The ugliness I've witnessed knows no bounds. But yet, even when direct calls for violence towards women and babies are exposed and made public, there is often a disappointing silence among other "child-free" vegans who otherwise are strong anti-violence advocates. I suppose it's human nature to ignore violence and hatred by those whom we may share certain other beliefs or characteristics.
The anti-natalist argument is based primarily on scientific claims that rapid overpopulation will be the death of us all. The science behind these arguments is weak, with data showing that birth rates are actually declining in developing and developed nations.(1) The birth rate in the United States is the lowest rate ever recorded. (2,3) Despite this, 16% of the world’s population in developed nations consumes 80% of its natural resources, indicating that the real problems lie with overconsumption and misallocation of resources.(4) This overconsumption is clearly occurring at the corporate rather than the individual level, as we have a global economic system that has no regard for the damage that our major industries cause to the planet.(5) Vegans are as mindful of this as anyone, since our vegan advocacy helps combat climate change. The data seem to be telling us that focusing on people having babies is placing the focus in the wrong area.
But one should not engage in shaming, coercing, or abusing women based on interpretations of scientific data regardless. Our reproductive choices are protected human rights, and efforts to take away these rights are oppressive and abusive. Looking the other way when others in the community do the same is also an injustice. Just like Veganism is an issue of justice and not merely an issue of nutritional science, so too is the issue of reproductive choice.
Another tenet of anti-natalism is that it's cruel to bring other humans into this terrible world. If one believes that living on this planet is a form of cruelty, I absolutely agree that having a child may not be a good decision for them. But many of us feel gratitude for each day that we exist on this planet. Many of us are vegan because we believe that being alive is amazing and no animal should be deprived of this gift.
Yet another argument made by anti-natalists is that there's no guarantee that a vegan child will grow up to be vegan, and thus they will do greater harm. As a father of a 3-year old vegan girl who just grilled all our neighbors about veganism while trick or treating for Halloween, I call BS. Our little girl is stronger in her vegan convictions than many adults we know. When kids are not brainwashed to do harm to animals, it becomes unthinkable to do so, and it’s highly unlikely that anything is going to change that.
Having a vegan child has forced us to engage in vegan education efforts in all kinds of spaces that we otherwise would not have: with neighbours, pre-school, family, and friends. If we truly want a vegan world, we need to raise awareness everywhere, not only with those from a singular demographic or lifestyle choice.
Our veganism has been strengthened by having a vegan child. It was the impetus for starting a vegan-themed publishing company with a mission to raise vegan awareness. Our connection with our child has made the bond between non-human animals and their babies more real and personal for us. When we see a young non-human animal in an animal use industry, we see them as we see our own child and it pushes us to try even harder to make a difference for animals. Our parenthood is a fundamental part of our veganism.
That is just us, of course, and others will have a different experience. I'm not trying to suggest that every vegan should go out there and reproduce, but at the same time, we should not gloss over the good that can come from parenting and we should avoid thinking of vegan babies as some kind of plague for humanity.
Before somebody blurts out "Just adopt!" they should educate themselves on the difficulties and costs of the adoption process. I wish this was a more accessible option and I urge anyone with the inclination and the means to please do so, but adoption of a human is simply not the same as saving a companion animal, and I know of no vegan anti-natalist who has actually adopted a human child.
Since I've become more vocal against anti-natalism, I've had several vegan mothers thank me and tell me stories about how they've been bullied and abused by others in the community, and how their "friends" have failed to speak out for them. Many have also described not feeling safe in the vegan community anymore because of this. It should go without saying that this is the opposite of what we should be doing. We should be inviting others from various backgrounds and lifestyles into our movement, including parents.
How are we going to convince others that we're a social justice movement if we promote violence and injustice among ourselves? How can we be taken seriously when we speak out against violence towards non-human animals while promoting or ignoring abuse towards our fellow humans? It's time to get serious as a movement and cut out the oppression, in all of its forms.
(1) Nargund, G. (2009). Declining birth rate in developed countries: A radical policy rethink is required. Facts Views Vis Obgyn. 2009; 1(3): 191–193.
(2) Park, M. (August 11, 2016). U.S. fertility rate falls to lowest on record. CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/11/health/us-lowest-fertility-rate/
(3) Rossen LM, Osterman MJK, Hamilton BE, Martin JA. (2016). Quarterly provisional estimates for selected birth indicators, 2014–Quarter 2, 2016. National Center for Health Statistics. National Vital Statistics System, Vital Statistics Rapid Release Program.
(4) Utley, G. (October 12, 1999). World’s wealthiest 16 percent uses 80 percent of natural resources. CNN. http://www.cnn.com/US/9910/12/population.cosumption/
(5) Global Sisterhood Network (Fall 2006). 10 Reasons to Rethink “Overpopulation.” http://www.global-sisterhood-network.org/content/view/1319/59/
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