This week, I'm inspired by a few voices of sanity - rational, earth-oriented wisdom - quiet voices in the roar of TV advertisements for shows about huge families: the ubiquitous ex-Jon and Kate franchise, the new Bravo show "Nine by Design," and, of course, the top child-producing TV dynasty, the Duggars.
The voices of sanity come from three sources: an advertisement by Liberty Mutual Insurance promoting their "Responsibility Project" by questioning whether eight kids might be too many for one family. Referring to Octuplet Mom, Nadya Suleman, the narrator asks, "Tell us what you think: Is there such a thing as too many children?" I heard this on my car radio. I was so shocked to hear a voice from corporate America suggest there might be such a thing as "too many children" that I almost skipped a stop sign. This is a gratifying tidbit - even if it takes a radical form of procreation to prompt such a practical question.
The next voice came from an op-ed in our local newspaper questioning the anti-birth control tactics of the Catholic Church, and subsequent impact on world overpopulation. Public questioning of anything Church in this very Catholic city is surprising, so opening my morning paper and seeing an outright debunking of papal reproductive authority was mind-blowing - and heartening.
On the Internet, I came across the most encouraging new voice. The popular green-topic website, Grist, features a "GINK (green inclinations, no kids) Manifesto" by Lisa Hymas. This is a comprehensive critique of our multi-child producing, greedy, grasping society by a young woman with a refreshingly rational point of view.
Hymas doesn't apologize for politicizing the personal. In her opening paragraph she describes a 1969 speech by graduating senior Stephanie Mills describing reasons to never have kids, saying she was ashamed of the ecological devastation that made her want to choose a childfree lifestyle. While I don't think Mills was ashamed of her personal choice to remain childfree, Hymas detects reticence in her speech and counters with renewed vigor in her own manifesto, "I come here before you today to make the same proclamation-with a twist. I am thoroughly delighted by the fact that the most humane thing for me to do is to have no children at all."
Hymas continues, "A person who cares about preserving a livable environment has lots of options for doing her bit, and you've heard all about them: live in an energy-efficient home in a walkable neighborhood; bike or walk or take public transit when possible; drive an efficient car if you drive one at all; fly less; go veg; buy organic and local; limit purchases of consumer goods; switch to CFLs or LEDs...But even in aggregate, all of these moves don't come close to the impact of not bringing new human beings-particularly new Americans-into the world."
After reading this essay, I realize that I've become reluctant to openly admit to political inclinations in my choice to not have kids. Perhaps, I've allowed the current mass-culture love affair with multi-kid families to suppress my voice. Still, I've always believed that living childfree is the best choice for an over-populated planet. And, "green" considerations did play into my husband's and my decision to not pursue medical intervention to conceive.
I also recognize that politics stem from personal experience. My parents, in spite of producing four kids, believed in zero-population growth and were sometimes openly misanthropic. For my first five years, our home was the only house in the midst of lovely farmer's fields and woods. Soon after, there was a building explosion and we mourned every inch of field and trees lost to the growing sprawl of suburban tract homes.
My father and mother would look around us in dismay and say, "People ruin everything they touch." And, interestingly, of four children, only my eldest brother produced any kids. All four of us are involved in some form of environmental activism: national park and open space advocacy, animal rights, sustainable farming initiatives.
Recently, I read about traditional Native American perceptions of gay people as "two-spirit" people, embodying a balance of male and female energies. Although in the minority, two-spirit people were, and are, considered positive and useful members of society, with important lessons to teach about gender roles.
Recognition and appreciation of childfree lifestyles may just be whispers in a roar of kid-centric media, but new voices like Hymas' indicate that, like two-spirit people, childfree people have something valuable to teach: We know how to connect with a wider community outside the confines of the nuclear family. We don't produce earth-stressing future consumers. We appreciate and focus on our "families of two" rather than marginalizing our spouse in favor of kids. We value friendship and work. We are good for the planet.
The new GINK movement proudly and logically argues myriad reasons not to bring more kids into a stressed-out world. Hopefully, the movement will grow. I doubt there will be a reality show featuring a GINK couple anytime soon - obviously, environmentally-conscious, childfree people don't sell advertising as well as multi-kid families consuming loads of products. Still, it's empowering to know there is a movement, an acronym, a small voice of sanity out there advising us to "Say it loud! We're childfree and proud!"