Review of “Missing Women and the Bachelor Time Bomb” (2019)


Seen in 2019.

I saw an abbreviated 52-minute cut with Swedish-language narration on SVT’s Dokument utifrån.

Purportedly the long-term consequences of the population-control efforts of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Population Council, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Planned Parenthood Foundation, particularly in the 1950s. The film portrays these organizations, and their white male economic backers in the US, Sweden and Norway, as responsible for a range of tragedies, including a cat eating an aborted placenta and/or fetus, a three-year-old being kidnapped, and a 177-million-woman population deficit across 19 countries, which allegedly exacerbates violence against women, apparently at the hands of young men playing video games.

It’s mostly India and China, with some South Korea. It’s an interesting look at the corruption of good intentions by pervasive sexism and racism, with concrete examples of symptomatic language and actual crimes back in the day: Segal’s unauthorized experiments in India and the systematic abuse of women across the generations. Curiously, the reasons for population control are not examined.

In the 52-minute cut there is not a word about the Japanese population decline in the absence of massive foreign intervention or imbalance, not a word about economic or medical advancement affecting child survival rates before population control, and not a word about a single positive consequence, not even for the Chinese economy. On the contrary, the filmmakers state that in the pre-industrial rural economies of India and China at the time, people had to have a lot of children in order to ensure they’d be looked after in their old age, implying economic damage from population control and nothing but. They propose that funding education would have been more cost effective, which is probably true, but they don’t show how the philanthropists were supposed to know that before Borlaug bought them time. The filmmakers do not try to picture a world without population control and say nothing of environmental degradation. Instead, they misrepresent the Chinese one-child policy, not saying how it permitted more than one child or how other sexist details of its implementation contributed to the gender deficit. Their focus lies heavily on abortion, the most spectacular aspect, to the point of misleading the audience.

Notice the title: The “bachelor time bomb”, akin to the Ehrlichs’ The Population Bomb (1968). The makers come across as alarmist and dogmatic in roughly the same way as the misguided philanthropists of the 1950s and 1960s. Factfulness (2018) gives a more balanced, bigger picture.

References here: One Child Nation (2019).

moving picture non-fiction