Egg Freezing Could Be The Next Great Gender Equalizer, But Striving For Work-Life Balance Should Be Gender Neutral

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shutterstock_133634633Except for a few studies warning that there may be some potential health issues (for the baby, not the father), it appears that men can procreate pretty much until the day they die. David Letterman fathered his first child at the age of 56 and Steve Martin did the same at 67.  On the other side of the coin, we know that a woman’s fertility diminishes drastically between the ages of 35 and 40 and it becomes (virtually) impossible to become pregnant after menopause, the average age of which is 51. Which means that vitrification (or other forms of egg freezing) could be the new great gender equalizer, especially as costs come down and there are options for home storage. So it’s no wonder that recent advancements and open discussions around egg freezing have caused quite a media love affair. Now there comes a wave of backlash.

While I agree with the Atlantic’s headline “There’s More To Life Than Freezing Your Eggs” I think by and large it misses why Sarah Elizabeth Richard’s Wall Street Journal article resonated with so many more women than just the Lean In set. By introducing a character who was equally interested in love and meeting “the one” — or even just procreating on her own terms — as she was as in pursing her career, the dialogue changed from simple career ambition to embrace larger concepts of family and how they are achieved.

The alternative for anyone in a committed relationship who is delaying procreation is to go ahead and have children (with or without the assistance of IVF or other reproductive methods), but if someone wants a partner to raise children with and they haven’t found that yet, egg freezing offers a real and important gender equalizer. A woman can freeze her eggs and ease the pressure that (some) women feel in regards to their biological clocks. Men may have a desire to follow conventional norms of the best time to have children, but they don’t carry the same burden as women. Egg freezing levels that playing field a bit.

The Atlantic article proffers that there are other reforms that would benefit women far more than postponing procreation by freezing their eggs. This is where the message gets lost. I wholeheartedly agree that the workplace is in need of serious change. However, pushing flexible work-life policies as an alternative to the egg freeze movement assumes – incorrectly – that instituting career balance is a mother’s responsibility.

From the Atlantic:

“There is no question that the media is hooked on social egg freezing,” said Diane Tober, a medical anthropologist and associate director of the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkley. It makes a great story, explained Tober, because they’re framing it through a “feminist lens”: that egg freezing is going to be “the big game changer” for women who want to have it all and break through their biological barriers.

But the real game changer for professional women, according to Tober, is a level playing field in the workplace — to become a society that supports flexible work environments and family leave policies, and provides better, quality childcare — so women actually can have children in their peak fertility years. Unfortunately though, for the media, this lacks the appealing personal narrative of egg freezing.

I disagree with the notion that if we are talking about one, we aren’t talking about the other. Nothing about cheering on the “egg freeze movement” precludes discussions about the issues many Americans have with current employment policies.

Work-life balance is about everyone. It’s not just about mothers — it’s about fathers too, and all human beings who want balance in their lives, like those millennials. So while I am behind policies that give all people the flexibility to take on charity work, or recharge with a hobby, or spend more time with family, I don’t want to see the discussion in a piece about egg freezing. Instead I remain grateful that if the workplace isn’t progressing, at least science is doing something to offer women something worthy of the title “the next great gender equalizer.”

(photo: Michael D Brown/Shutterstock)