“Facebook recently began covering egg freezing, and Apple will start in January, spokespeople for the companies told NBC News. The firms appear to be the first major employers to offer this coverage for non-medical reasons.”
“ ‘Having a high-powered career and children is still a very hard thing to do,’ said Brigitte Adams, an egg-freezing advocate and founder of the patient forum Eggsurance.com. By offering this benefit, companies are investing in women, she said, and supporting them in carving out the lives they want.” – NBCNews.com, 10/14/14
The ability to control of all aspects of one’s life is both a goal and an article of faith in the Silicon Valley-dominated consumer capitalist culture we are all now living with. YOU are in control of the media you consume, when you consume it, where it’s consumed… Devices and apps and software allow one to hack nearly every aspect of his or her life, recording myriad vital and not-so-vital statistics to be appraised when convenient and adjustments to steps or sleep or food intake or heart rate can be made later for optimal living. Every moment of experience is now documentable, and so it is documented and filed away for later review.
We are able to defer nearly every qualitative aspect of our lives by rendering them into quantitative material, time-shifting experiences from now to… when, exactly?
It was only a matter of time when time-shifting experiences made its way to starting families. Truth is, this was already happening. In a world where the vision of being able to “have it all” has been articulated regularly for a couple of decades, women naturally wanted to participate. But choices were made regularly by many women between careers and birthing babies. Now I don’t know anything about birthing no babies, but I do know that corporate America – Silicon Valley included – never made choices like this easy for women. There has neither been the industry will nor the policy support for women to be able to at the very least attempt to have it all. And so they have been forced to gamble at the table with Time, Career, and Biology.
Now medical technology has offered an alternative of a sort. The freezing of the female zygote was initially innovated to make possible future pregnancy for cancer patients. Since then the technology, and other forms of fertility treatments, made its way from only treating medical conditions related to illness or infertility to being an outlet for the one-percent to push the physical boundaries of childbearing when natural circumstances wouldn’t otherwise allow. Couples meeting later in life, both members having careers they’ve seriously pursued that left them at an age that challenged childbearing. The women in these relationships are already time-shifting the childbearing experience. Now two of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies are offering a form of time-shifting family formation as part of the industry benefits arms race.
The question has been raised whether or not this is just an enticement to get talented women to give up their souls to work longer and harder for the company. Free food, massages, concerts by famous musicians, and a whole host of other amenities have been offered for years to employees of companies like these for years to essentially achieve the same goal: productive knowledge workers who will not be distracted by the lure of the outside world. There’s nothing wrong with offering female employees the benefit of freezing their eggs to achieve the same goal. But let’s face it; time-shifting from now to never is more possible than anyone wants to admit.
The real question that should be asked is: Are we as a society incapable of solving the career/family conundrum for women in any other way? The problem with the Silicon Valley ethos that all problems can be solved, and that their solution is only a matter of better engineering, ignores the fact that all of life cannot be rendered into an algorithm that will spit out the answer to complex, nuanced and often times irrational problems. The complex difficulties a woman in the modern American workplace faces when trying to make compatible her pursuit of ambitions beyond motherhood with wanting to be a mother can’t be reconciled with better technology. The kind of systemic obstacles to bringing career and family together require changes in culture and policy that go beyond engineering.
It’s hard to not be cynical about Facebook and Apple’s extension to their female employees of the benefit of freezing their eggs. These are companies that haven’t gotten where they are by worrying first about humanity. Giving women greater control over their reproductive life, even if the motives are questionable isn’t a bad thing. But it doesn’t encourage a great deal of hope that as a society we can come up with a better way to let women work to live instead of live to work.
Jim Meskauskas is a co-founder and Chief Strategic Officer of Media Darwin, a consultancy specializing in strategic planning of commercial communicative action. He’s a medialogist who has spent the last 20 years living, breathing and thinking about how to use media to move people to action. Outside of that, his likes are horror movies, Southeast Asian cuisine, his wife and his cat — not necessarily in that order. His dislikes are mean people, people who text while walking in or out of the subway entrances, pestilence, war, famine and death.