The more the media contorts itself to advise women how to “have it all,” the more it insults us. And here we go again: The latest cover of Bloomberg Businessweek features a well-dressed white woman standing with her hand on her hip, underneath the words
“FREEZE YOUR EGGS, FREE YOUR CAREER.” No longer shouting, a teaser above her ankles continues, “A new fertility procedure gives women more choices in the quest to have it all.”
Oh, you guys.
While success in the paid labor force is far from the be-all, end-all of equality for women, the quest to move more women from cubicles to corner offices should be on the cover of business magazines more often. After all, in 2013, women (presumably mainly white women) held fewer than one in six executive officer positions in Fortune 500 companies. It’s frankly stunning, however, that the best Bloomberg Businessweek has to offer to women who want a better shake in the workplace is an encouragement to go to the gynecologist. Ten days after National Equal Pay Day!
The article itself includes stories of women who struggled with angst over managing careers and starting a family, ultimately deciding to freeze their eggs to buy more time to focus on their careers before attempting pregnancy at a later age. That’s fair enough as far as those women are concerned, but the framing of their stories as something like career advice for women is sickening for several reasons.
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First and foremost, it’s plain fallacy to believe that an individual woman can outsmart a racist, sexist job market by pulling herself up by her bootstraps—or freezing her eggs. It’s insulting for a business publication to weigh in on some of the most intimate aspects of a woman’s life as if that’s the career advice she needs.
Having children is for many people part of normal human life, and the fact that employers aren’t required under federal law to accommodate this with common-sense supports that are considered basic in other industrialized economies—paid family leave, paid sick leave, fairness for pregnant workers, and affordable child care, to name just a few—speaks to the
These supports would benefit everyone, but they must be considered in the context of male dominance in the workplace along with outdated assumptions that working fathers can and should outsource their responsibilities at home. In one outrageous example, radio host Boomer Esiason ridiculed New York Mets player Daniel Murphy for missing the first two games of the baseball season for attending the birth of his son. “You’re a major league baseball player,” he said. “You can hire a nurse.” Those legions of working fathers who can’t afford to hire a nurse also can’t often afford to take unpaid paternity leave, which is not guaranteed and even considered generous when offered by individual employers.
Further, unsolicited advice about whether, when, and how to parent patronizes women, whether it’s coming from a business publication, a well-meaning stranger, or a nosy family member. This unsolicited advice assumes that a woman, by default, must want to have children, will be incomplete without them, and that others have a right to tell her when and how she should do so. It communicates that her body and those prospective children are accountable to the public. This practice isn’t gender neutral. Women are singled out far more often then men, even though both women and men can be parents.
Specifically, egg freezing does not offer a systemic solution to the root problem of discrimination against women in the workplace—and it’s impossible to say whether it has actually helped any individual woman navigate a corporate ladder with greater ease. As reported in the Bloomberg Businessweek article, egg freezing can cost
around $10,000 and is not covered by insurance, a considerable cost that places it out of reach of many working women. Further, the procedure requires hormone therapy in order to stimulate egg production, which means that it is a physically invasive experience for those few who can afford it.
In 2012, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine removed the “experimental” designation it had placed upon egg freezing, but also noted that pregnancy rates and health outcomes are comparable to those of in vitro fertilization using fresh eggs—the statistics for IVF success rates hover slightly over one in three cases resulting in live births, with 61,740 babies born as a result of 165,172 procedures performed in 2012. What this means is that recreational egg freezing is no guarantee that the rare woman who can afford it can simply press a button and have a baby after the boss has finally decided to promote her.
In making decisions to pursue or delay childbearing, or not have children, women’s “choices” are not to blame for our seeming inability to “have it all” under the watchful eye of media outlets largely run by men. By shifting the focus to individuals and their private decisions, policies that are hostile to caregivers get a free pass. Women’s careers may be far from “free,” but biological clocks are not to blame. Our bodies and lives and reproductive capacities do not oppress us. What we must be freed from is discriminatory attitudes, policies, and practices that do not acknowledge women and children as part of the normal human family.