By Fleishman, Diana; Fleishman, Norman
The Humanist , Vol. 63, No. 2
We have certainly acknowledged and accepted, during our almost four-decade membership in the American Humanist Association, bedrock humanist support of rationalism and rejection of dependence on a higher power to resolve human problems. And by 1979 we had been holding meetings in Hollywood, California, homes for five years--getting writers and producers together for educational and inspirational gatherings on aspects of population issues such as birth control, overcrowding, sex education, women's rights, abortion rights, and others. Then television mogul Norman Lear asked us to consider switching the focus from population to nuclear war prevention. We agreed and by 1986 had been holding such discussion groups for seven years.
Back when we married in 1960, our first "work" was being part of a leadership program for three years in the Ethical Culture Society. This was consistent with our individual backgrounds prior to that point. We both came from families where reliance on a supernatural being was treated as nonsense. We each grew up in an atmosphere of naturalistic thinking where organized religion was seen as a convenient out from cooperative human responsibility for facing and dealing with the real problems confronting the human family.
It makes some sense, then, that the chief cause we have been associated with during our marriage has been working with various efforts to stem the glaring problem of human prodigality--the apparently infinite capacity of the human family to increase its numbers--on a finite sphere. (When we married there were a paltry 3 billion people on earth; today it has zoomed to 6.2 billion.)
Our mission really began in 1966 when then AHA Executive Director Toby McCarroll (who we had worked with as assistant director in Yellow Springs, Ohio, in 1964) directed us to the national office of Planned Parenthood. We worked in the New York City office, then took a position directing the PP of Houston, Texas, and subsequently ran the PP chapter in Los Angeles, California. In this latter assignment we were fortunate to break bread with Lear--who was then producing the television series All in the Family--and suggest to him that he give "Meathead" (Archie's son-in-law) a vasectomy. Lear said, "Let's talk about it," so we set up an evening at his home. We invited international family planning consultant Donald A. Collins and renowned birth-control authority Leonard Laufe to join us. During dinner, Lear's questions were answered and it was clear he loved the idea.
The result was a true-to-life and very funny episode of All in the Family. The character Gloria complains that taking care of a young human person is backbreaking work--a lifelong challenge in itself--and that there is nothing at all wrong with a one-child family. She asks why the woman should bear sole responsibility for birth control--why not the man as well? The weekly drama--with characters so well known, frequently beloved, and appearing regularly in homes across the country--discuss the sensitive issues involved thoroughly and poignantly. Michael expresses every man's fear that "it will hurt." Gloria replies, "Oh Michael--it's just snip, snip, snip," and Michael winces. The episode concludes with Michael on the couch in the urologist's office, leaning back with the doctor saying, "Okay, let's boogie."
The impact of this episode was wondrous. On the one hand, it became possible to speak to a school class or the local Kiwanis Club about birth control or overpopulation, to send out a mailing, or even have an article on the subject published in the newspaper. In addition, it was possible to reach millions of people in their homes with characters they already knew, interweaving such crucial, controversial issues into their daily lives--often brilliantly and humorously crafted--in story form. Americans were never the same after Meathead got a vasectomy.
We felt our efforts in the mid-1970s were paying off. …