Christina Patterson: When there's a male crisis, blame the women

Which is better: to keep society ticking along, or the planet?
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The Independent Online

Darwin, who didn't bat an eyelid over the evolution of the barnacle into Russell Brand, might well have been worried about fish. They're all turning into girls, apparently, sprouting little bumps and pockets of eggs where there should be lean, mean, male muscle. I don't know what the implications of this are for the global fish economy, fish boardrooms or fish foreign policy, but I'd be surprised if this crisis in masculinity didn't produce a bit of fish agonising, some beating of (rather overly endowed) fish breasts.

The Vatican didn't mention this in an article on the "devastating ecological effects" of the contraceptive pill published this week. Maybe it didn't mention it because it doesn't care about transgender in fish, or perhaps because it thought it might revive unhelpful thoughts about men, women, fish and bicycles, or perhaps because it shares the view of many scientists that fish feminisation (but not, one hopes, feminism) has as much to do with oestrogen-mimicking industrial waste as the mass excretion of that creation of the Antichrist, the Pill. It did, however, assert that the "tons of hormones" unleashed on the environment had impaired male fertility.

It's certainly a novel approach to plummeting birth rates – and one that a leading gynaecologist and member of the New York Academy of Science, professor Gian Benedetto Melis, called "science fiction". The Pill, he explained patiently, worked by blocking ovulation. You could (I'm paraphrasing here) try drinking the Adriatic, but it really might be quicker if you just press that little blister on the packet, pop that tiny tablet in your mouth, and swallow it.

If, of course, what you're trying to do is not have a baby. Which, of course, is not what the Vatican wants. Not least since it's based in a country that has the lowest birth rate in Europe. Which, quite frankly, is embarrassing. No wonder it has seized on the confession by Carl Djerassi, one of three scientists who created the contraceptive pill, that his invention was responsible for a "demographic catastrophe". There was, said Djerassi in an Austrian newspaper, now "no connection at all between sexuality and reproduction", as his fellow Austrians were opting "to enjoy their schnitzels while leaving the rest of the world to get on with it". If it were not possible to reverse the population decline, he warned, then Austrians might have to understand the necessity of an "intelligent immigration policy".

Interesting, perhaps, that the countries with the lowest birth rates in Europe (Italy 1.23 per family, Austria 1.38) should also (think Berlusconi, think Haider) be among the most xenophobic. Those wizened Austrian DINKs and Italian singletons will soon, surely, be begging for black and Roma hands to wipe their bottoms. But let's assume that the Vatican wasn't thinking about immigration, or pensions, or care homes. Let's assume that it was thinking, as it always does, about the state of our souls. And female souls, as we all know, thrive on two things: total celibacy or the bringing forth "in sorrow", every year of their fertile life, of a tiny human being, until such time as the womb, or spirit, dies. If sex was created for procreation alone, there really is no alternative.

If sex isn't about procreation, however, if it's about recreation, or fun, or commodification, or barter, or boredom, or blackmail, or masochism, or abuse, with no (wriggling, burping, excreting) consequences, then it's no holds barred. But, actually, freedom always has a price. The sum total of female sexual pleasure may have increased, but so, some women would argue, has the sum total of male irresponsibility and female exploitation.

Whatever. We can't know. There are no graphs for such things. No graphs for the ethical choices either. Is it better to replace yourself, and perhaps throw in another one for good measure, in order to keep your society ticking along, or not to, and keep the planet ticking along? Is a baby better, in carbon monoxide terms, than a cow's farts? Or should you have a hamster instead?

I don't know. All I know is that, with the exception of the Scandinavian countries, where women are cajoled and bribed into motherhood, low birth rates are a sign of affluence and power. In the West, we eat like there's no tomorrow, but we wait for tomorrow to breed. In the East, they breed like there's no tomorrow, and eat when they can. Because, of course, they know that sometimes there is no tomorrow.

In the past week, it has been commonplace to hear of three sisters in a single family being blown to bits. The average birth rate per family in the Palestinian territories is, in fact, 4.6. Arabs, says a report from the Palestinian National Authority published last June, consider children a "future support". Darwin might have talked about the adaptation of species to their environment.