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Laura Keynes: Egg freezing is no liberation for women. A family-friendly workplace is the answer


The news that Apple and Facebook are offering female employees the chance to freeze their eggs has been heralded as a great stride forward for women in the workplace. Words like “progress” and “freedom” are being bandied about.

As one advocate of egg freezing puts it: “Once you land the job and man you want, you can have your frozen eggs shipped to your fertility clinic, hand him a semen collection cup and be on your way to parenthood. You mitigate the risk of birth defects by using younger eggs, and you can carry a baby well into middle age.”

Yay for women! It all sounds so simple, so clinical, so easy, doesn’t it? You too can have it all!

Except that nothing could be further from the truth. Ovulation induction and egg retrieval are not simple procedures (think hormone injections and all the risks associated with minor surgery). Egg freezing can damage genetic material meaning that there’s a greater chance the embryo will carry some genetic abnormality. Success rates are low. According to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, “Around 580 embryos from stored eggs have been created. These embryos were transferred to women in around 160 cycles, which resulted in around 20 live births.” Not great odds.

You’d have to be pretty desperate to consider it. As one woman writes, “I’m single, I’m 36, and I’m freezing my eggs.

For many women, the decision to freeze eggs is less about career and ambition than about not having found a partner. Why are women finding themselves stranded in their late thirties and early forties, wondering where it all went so wrong?

Reading ‘Why I froze my eggs’ stories it’s clear that the common factor is a lack of decent men. This story is typical: “I loved my boyfriend but he still wasn’t ready to commit to children.”

Why should he? With contraception and cohabitation being the norm, men are getting everything they want without having to commit. So a whole generation of women have been drifting through their twenties and thirties waiting for a green light from their man, waiting for men to voluntarily consent to fatherhood when men have all the time in the world.

It’s time women wised up. Egg freezing is not the solution. It only enables men to have things on their terms. Especially in the world of work, where family life is seen as the enemy. Indeed, Apple and Facebook have just made a tacit admission that society is making it hard for women to have a family these days.

Paying female employees to freeze eggs is not encouraging loyalty to a firm, or levelling the playing field. It’s a slap in the face. Imagine if a man said, “I love you, I want you around, but there’s this one part of you I really hate: your fertility. If you get rid of that, you can stay.” Well that’s what Apple and Facebook are effectively saying to their female employees: ‘Hey, you’re great, but can’t you be more like a man? You can stay if you can make yourself more like man. Get rid of that ticking biological clock for a start.’

Nothing could be more anti-woman than giving female employees the message that they’re only valuable to the workforce if they negate their femininity. It would be far more empowering if women demanded family friendly working conditions.

Women complain that it’s still a man’s world in the workplace, but it won’t be a woman’s world unless we start demanding more and stop dancing to someone else’s tune. Anything else is capitulation. Egg freezing allows a male-centric system to set the terms; it demands that women fit around its system and timeframe. To truly change the world of work, women should be asking the system to change to fit our needs and interests. That means valuing everything about women, our eggs included.

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Laura Keynes
Laura Keynes
Dr Keynes is a Cambridge-based academic, writer and critic with two very young children. She writes for Standpoint magazine, the Catholic Herald and The Tablet. Find her on twitter @LMKeynes.

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