This story is by Eva Adair and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Gloria Faludi clasped her hands low, rocking from heels to toes, waiting alongside the proscenium stage. Her eyes traveled over the audience, illuminated by projections of colorful data.
The event’s host patted her arm. “Good security here. Won’t be like the last time. Don’t let the fanatics silence you. Ready?”
She inhaled. She exhaled to a five count.
“Welcome to the the final presentation of the World Sexual and Reproductive Rights Conference. I am Dr. Edward Owens. I have the enormous privilege of introducing my colleague and friend, Gloria Faludi. Dr. Faludi has dedicated her career to advancing sexual equality for all. Her fellowship treatise on environmental stewardship and global population growth defines national policy. Welcome, Gloria.”
Cursory applause rose from the small theater.
“Thank you, Ted. I am delighted to discuss two subjects near to my heart: the environment, and attaining sexual and reproductive rights for everyone on earth.”
Characters from the Marvel Universe flanked Dan Brown’s Inferno book cover, flooding the screen behind her.
“Foreordained threats of overpopulation have intrigued not only theorists like the Ehrlichs, but also popular imagination. Trans-humanist Bertrand Zobrist created a virus to kill en masse as his ultimate contribution to save humanity from its self-inflicted Armageddon. Genocidal warlord Thanos aimed to exterminate half the world’s population, citing lack of resources.”
The crowd murmured.
“This dystopian future keeps audiences on the edges of their seats- as you are for this speech- with impending visions of sacrificing swaths of the global population.” She motioned to the screen. “Our heroes, Robert Langdon and Warlock, thwart the evil plans of these delusional crusaders.”
Smiles and nods complemented silent attention.
The intersection of a Venn diagram sparkled on the screen. A green circle labeled “environment” overlapped an orange labeled “human population,” and a purple labeled “consumption.”
“The previous fictitious examples focus solely on overpopulation, rather than the overconsumption that rides the coattails of modernization. To mitigate climate and environmental damage, both must be addressed.”
Gloria paused, scanning faces. “Imagine the narrative if Inferno and The Infinity Saga were told from the opposite points of view. Bertrand Zobrist created a virus to deliver the world from its irresponsible self. Thanos made an impossible battle decision to save half the world, instead of allowing us all to perish.”
A Powerpoint slide glowed on the screen with a climbing arrow of the global population since 10,000 BCE. “For millennia, population expanded slowly. The first decade of the 19th century saw the world’s population reach one billion. We hit the second billion in the 1930s and the third billion just 30 years later. Today we are nearly eight billion. Ninety percent of the increase occurred in developing countries, but overconsumption emanates from the developed world.
She sighed. “The Covid pandemic globally overwhelmed ICUs. News reports featured panicked fistfights in supermarkets over scarce resources such as flour and toilet paper.”
A white, marble statue filled the screen. “Aristotle asserted that large population increases bring poverty, which is the cause of sedition and evil.
“Poverty is, at its core, the inability to secure necessary resources. Sedition and evil in aisle six.”
Laughter snaked through the theater.
“Did you know there is a Global Invasive Species Database? Feral hogs, lion fish, and Burmese pythons wreak havoc on ecosystems, so we attempt to suppress their numbers. Dogs and cats are spayed or neutered. Deer are culled by hunting, and more recently, with birth control vaccine darts. Human beings must look in the mirror and realize we claim the top spot on the destructive species list. Our numbers and consumption patterns are not in balance with our environment.”
Waves of uncomfortable fidgeting rolled across silhouettes in the darkened room.
“Population control in art concentrates on random genocide. Nature relies upon disease, disaster, and famine. Population control as government policy violates humans rights by employing sinister methods including forced sterilizations, abortions and infanticide, all disproportionally and negatively impacting women.
“As the most evolved species on earth, that’s the best we have to offer?
“According to the Brookings Institute, one-third of the 140 million people born each year are unintended.”
The powerpoint flashed to a balance scale. A cornucopia of produce set upon the upper platter. On the lower, pictograms of people piled on top of each other. “What if we eliminated accidental pregnancies?”
Uncomfortable silence settled. A woman disturbed her entire row to leave. Others followed.
“Instead of random genocide, abortion, or infanticide, what if 45 % of pregnancies were never conceived? The impact on global population, and as a result, the environment, could not be anything less than spectacular, with 46 million fewer people born each year.
“For humanity to thrive, we must stabilize the human population and reduce consumption. Empowering women through education achieves both. Girls and women need to understand the connection between poverty and family size. Educating only women, though, is not enough. Boys and men must also comprehend that typically patriarchal culture factors of high fertility and a preference for sons are antithetical to escaping the cycle of poverty. Just as overconsumption-”
A beer bottle sailed by Gloria’s head.
A collective gasp from the crowd preceded heads snapping in anxious syncopation. The fainthearted ducked, their knuckles drained of blood clutching the chair backs.
A second bottle struck Gloria’s shoulder, spurting lukewarm beer. It bounced off the podium and fell to the floor, rolling away.
A woman shrieked: “you will burn in hell for eternity for what you say!”
“Contraception is a sin!” The man at her side rolled a third bottle in his hands. “Children are a gift! God will decide how many children a woman should have, not a coward professor telling woman they can be whores as long as they use birth control!”
“You preach to women to murder their unborn babies! How many children do you have, Doctor? None! Did you abort them all to feel empowered?”
Gloria Faludi’s eyes darted around the room. When she saw police approaching the screaming couple, she allowed a measured exhale. Her rigid body fought to conceal her internal trembling.
A police officer grabbed the bottle. Another restrained the heckler.
The other protester failed to run, her necklace shattering to the floor.
“So smug, Doctor Faludi! Lecturing us how to live from your ivory NGO tower!” The man continued spewing insults as a police officer steered him away. “The problem with women like you? You’ve never had a real man show you-”
“Enough!” The officer yanked the handcuffs.
“But I will be waiting for you, Gloria!”
The officer shoved the belligerent man through the exit.
“You will deserve it!” The woman kicked and spit while two officers dragged her away.
The head of security appeared beside Gloria. “Are you alright, Dr. Faludi?”
Her disconcerting nod reinforced Edward Owens’ irritation. He shoved a handkerchief at her. “How the hell did those two get in here with beer bottles? Isn’t this exactly why we have a no glass policy? The entire point of these conferences is for the exchange of information in a safe, non-threatening atmosphere. Your team failed.”
The security guard pulled his elbows into his ribs. “The police asked if you’re gonna press charges, ma’am.”
She sucked in a breath and held it with wide eyes.
“Of course she is! They verbally and physically threatened her!”
Gloria mopped the side of her cheek and neck. “I’m not as cool as Chris Rock.”
A man called from the front row, “Chris Rock gets paid a hell of a lot more than we do!”
“Exactly,” Ted agreed.
She stared at the wet wall with scattered brown glass on the floor. “A prime example of patriarchal beliefs suppressing the rights of others.”
“Let’s wrap things up, Gloria.”
She expelled air from her lungs. “If I don’t speak now, Ted, the fanatics win. They are right about me. Am I going to hide in academia, or stand for what I know to be right?”
“Read the room, Gloria. No one wants to sit through a speech after that. If you want to stand up for what you believe in, press charges this time!”
Her eyes studied her shaking fingertips.
The remaining crowd tittered. Empty, red-backed seats peppered the previously filled theater.
She ran her ring finger over her eyebrow, checking her notes. “Thanks, everyone who has stayed through the drama. I realize we are all distracted. If I may? Just the conclusion?”
“Humans can coexist with the planet, becoming good stewards of the earth. Reduce, reuse, recycle. It’s possible to check population growth, without sinister means, by empowering everyone to select the number of, and the timing for, the children they wish to have. We can all live happily ever after if we have the courage to address controversy. We must be accountable, especially when we fear bullies who wish to silence us. Thank you.”
Gloria Faludi turned to the guard. “Do I have to go to the police station to press charges?”