I was chatting with some guests at a wedding when a few kids trotted past the table where we were swilling wine. Someone scoffed and bemoaned weddings that don’t ban kids from the guestlist. I recognize kids are difficult. Some of my best friends are children, but even I can’t always handle the disarray they leave in their wake.
But if we get a peek under the hood of off-hand comments about how kids are awful, what initially seems like playful mockery is the engine of something more sinister. An outright hostility toward the presence of children pipelines to a specific pool of ecofascism.
Women and queer folks especially favour this brand of humour, miming projectile vomiting when kids are mentioned in conversation. No one can really be blamed for these reactions — women are so often expected to want kids, as if they have no interiority unspooled from motherhood. Women who say they do not want children are sometimes accused of being “selfish” in a feat of logical acrobatics.
Queer folks experience a special iteration of this, where walking crust buckets like Arizona state attorneys have argued queer relationships are illegitimate because they won’t have biological kids. Society treats childlessness like voluntary social leprosy.
People’s reproductive rights have been under threat for a long time. Alongside the deterioration of their choice to get an abortion in the wake of the overturning of Roe vs. Wade in the U.S., many people’s rights to permanently abstain from parenthood are often unrealized.
For people with fallopian tubes, undergoing a tubal ligation — where their tubes are tied, cut or blocked — can be near impossible. Doctors often block women in particular from undergoing sterilization procedures on the chance they might regret it.
Fighting for a system to honour their reproductive rights leaves many people jaded and traumatized. In search of community, some stumble onto Reddit, and they spiral through r/childfree to r/antinatalism.
The childfree movement has grown in popularity over the years as people without kids have pushed back against assumptions that we all must have children to live full lives.
Partly because the internet is a poisonous hellscape, many people on r/childfree are less affirmative and have flipped the dehumanizing language they’ve dealt with onto children and parents. These Redditors have not only developed a lexicon of pejorative terms like “breeder” and “spawn” to refer to parents and kids, many are vocally antinatalist.
Antinatalists typically hold that giving birth is an immoral action, because life inevitably involves suffering. Take the earwax-infused philosopher David Benatar, who argues by creating a person, you are introducing them to suffering that they wouldn’t have experienced in non-existence.
To the uninitiated, this sounds like a tempered position on human reproduction. Even I’ve parroted the truism that I would never bring a person into this terrible world. But this is the point where antinatalism careens into outright ecofascist territory.
Ecofascists are often antinatalist, viewing a climbing population as an ecosystemic nightmare and generally holding that less people will solve the climate crisis. This position ought to always be viewed with suspicion, because it conveniently does not account for the wealthiest 10 per cent of people in the world producing a whopping 50 percent of all emissions worldwide, according to a 2015 Oxfam report.
The other problem is that any belief that humans should stop having kids is disproportionately going to impact racialized communities. Most places flagged as “overpopulated” tend to have Black and brown populations. The fact that most kids are going to be racialized means that vocalizing a hatred for kids is racist in the same way that saying nurses should be paid less is misogynistic. Inadvertently, the statement applies to specific people.
What we have is a cascading effect from frustrated people finding community over their lack of reproductive freedom under institutional barriers to pure stigma spilling over into toxic attitudes about children.
Ultimately, children come to symbolize the infringements people face on their reproductive rights, and those people are pushed into ever more radical positions like antinatalism. We normalize hating children and become numb to the pangs of ecofascism hampering our collective psyche.
It’s not the explicit agenda of the people who spend substantial amounts of time on these subreddits to eliminate Black and brown people, but their attitudes are compatible with, and conducive to, that fascistic end.
Logic like the antinatalists’ takes advantage of people who are frustrated and railing against a world that denies them the right to choose to be parents. It is conducive to ecofascism. Not too long ago, I wrote on the ways fascist ideology builds a mythological homogenous population by encouraging sameness and disappearing differences.
Complaining that children exist in a space that we aren’t in command of, that children are near us, and asking that a space be childfree for no other reason than certain people do not want to associate with them, invites ecofascism in.
You don’t have to have kids, but you don’t get to hate them. The social contract you opt into by being in the world demands that you at times accept there are people unlike you in your community. If we ever feel rage against the system that grinds us down, the only wrong place to direct those feelings is toward groups of human beings.