Fertility rate and population growth are issues that have gained a lot of attention in the Danish media recently and various attempts were made to convince Danish women to have more children at an earlier age. I decided to take a closer look at three concurrent Danish campaigns that have put women’s reproduction on the political agenda.
“Do it for Mum (Do it for Denmark)”
A commercial from the Danish travel agency Spies explains how Danes have too few children and how this is a national problem. (Some of you might have stumbled upon it since it received international attention). The premise of the commercial is that if you combine a sunny holiday with an active holiday you are pretty much guaranteed to get a baby out of it. Since the production of more babies is crucial to the survival of both the welfare state and Spies’ future business, the company encourages young people to go on one of these enjoy-the-sun-and-make-a-baby-holidays. The commercial in itself is not necessarily a big deal in a country where sex is used to sell almost everything. When the commercial was launched in Demark, most people just shrugged their shoulders and found it a little weird. However, the angle of the commercial is somewhat interesting and it turned out to be just one in a series of campaigns focused on pregnancy, birthrates and fertility.
“Count Your Eggs”
A few weeks later, the people of Copenhagen woke to a city covered in posters about a new campaign developed by the municipality of the city of Copenhagen as a way to improve young people’s knowledge about fertility. The campaign consisted of two posters; one directed at women and one directed at men. The first is a picture of chicken eggs with the headline “Have you counted your eggs today?” followed by the statement that the chance of becoming a mother is twice as high when you are 25 years old than when you are 35. The poster directed at men is a picture of sperm cells and the headline “Do they swim too slow?”
Health & Care Mayor Ninna Thomsen stated in an interview that the campaign has a funny twist because this will create greater attention towards the main message: fertility. I am guessing she thinks the comparison of women’s eggs with chicken eggs is a funny twist. But reactions to the campaign make it quite clear that people do not find it very amusing. The ‘funny twist’ that Thomsen refers to more seems abrasive. In the days that followed the release of the campaign, in pictures of actual chicken eggs and the Copenhagen municipality’s Facebook page got flooded with statements like: “Yes, I have counted my eggs and I have eight” and “I only have one egg. At least it is organic”. Thus, the campaign was not perceived as funny – it just crossed a line.
“Screw for Denmark”
This massive focus on fertility proliferated even further when Denmark’s national broadcasting corporation (DR) aired the television show “Screw for Denmark” on October 10th. In this live-event two popular television hosts illuminated what can be done to boost baby production. A journalist reported from a maternity ward so the viewers “gain an insight” into the apparent lack of activity. His role in the show was to praise the new parents in the ward so they would be more motivated to have another baby. Personally, I found this journalistic approach very distasteful. The journalist was overexcited at all times, and turned the maternity ward into a weird setting that did not at all honor the women who had just given birth.
The show claimed to be relevant for the entire Danish population, but it seemed more directed to young people, especially young women, and our lifestyle and life choices were more or less shamed. Somehow, the show managed to make the issue of slow population growth a national problem that affects all of us, while at the same time blaming the individual woman’s choices for the population stagnation. For example, on the promotional page for the show, a sentence reads translated into English:
“We look back in history to the days when the Danes remembered that life is not only lived through the careers and fitness center.”
It was quite clear that my fellow twentysomething-year-old sisters and I should start figuring out whether our ideas of self-realization, careers and long-distance running really are as important as saving the nation by having babies.
Various experts visited the show and explained some of the many elements that create barriers to the ability to become pregnant; ironically contradicting much of the sex-ed and health advice we received growing up. Thus, the advice delivered from the television screen was that we should have unprotected sex (so we will get pregnant) and not exercise too much (because high adrenaline level is bad for the fertility). Apparently, STDs and lifestyle diseases are not issues anymore.
In all the campaigns, the woman’s age was emphasized repeatedly and is was made clear that women need to start having babies at a younger age than what is typical now. I am a 27 years old childless woman. If I swallowed the message of these campaigns uncritically, I would probably feel pretty stressed out since it is clear that my lifestyle and life choices are making it very difficult to have a baby. And, apparently, I am already “too old”.
I refuse to allow the state to make me feel guilty for not wanting children at an early age. I think it is okay to figure out who you are and explore life a little before (or if) you decide to get pregnant. And guilt-tripping is definitely not making me speed up my baby production. The public’s reactions to the “Count Your Eggs” campaign make it quite clear that I am not alone with this opinion.
Isa Romby Nielson lives in Denmark.