I was having a chat with a friend yesterday about the announcement that, along with a range of other “female friendly” policies Facebook and Apple are going to offer employees the opportunity to have their eggs frozen. My immediate reaction was “eeeww, that doesn’t sit comfortably” and I can understand why that has been a general reaction from some of the comments I have read. I get it, the implication is that these companies are saying “hey, come to us, as long as you postpone having babies because it’s the babies that are holding you back”.
But having reflected on this for a few hours, I think I’m coming to another conclusion, and kind of wanted to explore that.
Firstly, from what I have read, this new benefit has been put in place following discussions with the employees themselves. I have no idea how those questions were framed, but we should keep in mind that this is the US and if your employer doesn’t pay for your healthcare you’re pretty much screwed. If enhancing your healthcare insurance included freezing your eggs, I can see that there are lots of reasons why you might tick that box. I had a friend at university whose menopause began when she was 20 years old, for her and I’m sure the countless other women who experience this and had intended (or at least thought about) motherhood in the future, the option to freeze your eggs must be a huge benefit. Then there are the women who fight cancer via treatments which can prevent fertility, giving them the option to freeze their eggs surely is also a positive. Again, keep in mind, that without support from your employer, in the US, these options are likely to be too costly to be available to the majority of women. Yet all of the critique I have seen around the Apple/Facebook announcement seems to focus purely on the assumption that this benefit would be used exclusively by women who choose to delay pregnancy.
If a woman wants to freeze her eggs because she doesn’t want to have kids until she’s older and she thinks this will make her more fertile, why the hell wouldn’t we (as feminists) be okay with that? If we’re fighting for the right for women to have abortions as easily as possible, why aren’t we also fighting for a woman’s right to have a baby as easily as possible? Why does family planning begin and end with ensuring a woman doesn’t have a child when she doesn’t want one? Why not also encourage the use of fertility treatments to help a woman have a baby when she does want one? If we trust that a woman can make an informed choice about whether or not she wants to have a child, why are we reluctant to accept that freezing eggs might also be a choice that she freely makes?
I’ve read at least one piece which implies that these companies are only providing this benefit as a way of somehow making women delay motherhood. So, let’s just have a think about that for a second… This is an expensive treatment that will put Apple and Facebook’s insurance premiums up annually, depending on how many women take up the benefit. So, from a purely financial perspective, (writing as an insider within a big US corporation) I think it’s highly unlikely any woman would be encouraged to freeze her eggs. It’s a lovely headline grabbing new policy which points very clearly to the tech sector trying their best to create a more diverse workforce, well done them and their PR. But in reality, do they really want women to take it up? Why would they? It’s invasive therefore reducing productivity, it’s expensive and takes time; all things that companies tend to want to shy away from. It just doesn’t make business sense to encourage a woman to freeze her eggs.
I suppose instinctively I agree that putting the money towards affordable childcare which benefits male and female employees seems like a smarter policy in attracting and retaining talent. But then I wasn’t one of the employees that they talked to about how to attract women into their sector. Perhaps that simply isn’t a concern in those industries/locations, I have no idea, and so I can’t assume that it would have been a better/worse policy.
But what I keep coming back to is this underlying idea that somehow we don’t approve of women wanting to freeze their eggs because they believe it will be better for their careers and families. They might be right, they might be wrong, but isn’t it brilliant that they are being given another choice? Or, when we say we’re pro-choice, do we only mean if that choice is about not having a baby? If Apple and Facebook announced on demand abortions for female employees, the feminist hive mind (I know we’re not the borg) would likely be singing and dancing with joy. So why are we finding it icky that a woman might want to work for a business that will allow her to enhance her chances of getting pregnant later in life?
And I guess that’s where I’ve come to at the end of my pondering. Why are we seeing something sinister in this, unless it’s that we don’t trust women to make informed decisions about their own medical treatment? Which we do, right? Whether we agree with that medical decision or not, whether we think we would do it or not, that’s not the point. The point is, I trust the woman.