the future is now: feminism and reproductive technology

At work, we get newspapers.  Every afternoon the latest lands in a neat little pile on the corner of my desk.  So sometimes, at work, I do something that I almost never do.  I read the news.

This afternoon I came across an article about reproductive medicine.  About how we’ve reached a point where young women could freeze their eggs and then wait until they are 30 or 40 or 50 or whenever to get pregnant.  Apparently Carl Djerassi, the guy famous for inventing the pill, used to go on about how awesome it would be if someday women could freeze their eggs, get sterilized, and sex and reproduction could be completely separated, freeing us all from the tyranny of our biology.  No more unwanted pregnancies and no more pesky biological clock ticking at you from across your desk.  I’d quote at you, but the article was in German, and I don’t want to take the time to put together a shoddy translation.

My first reaction: “Having a kid at 40?  Jesus shit, I’d be so tired.”  I’m already so fucking tired, having had a baby at 30, and I am ten years past my personal capable-of-functioning-on-very-little-sleep prime.  Otherwise, well, why not?  If someone else has the energy to have a baby at 40, then that is what that person should do.  As long as I don’t have to do it, we will all be happy.

My second reaction was something like a shudder.  Doesn’t that seem kind of unnatural? I caught myself thinking. Whenever the news starts to sound just like the science fiction books I love so much, I often notice myself having this thought.  But fuck that reaction.  What the hell does “natural” even mean?  Everything humans do is natural, if you want to get technical about it.   And if you don’t want to get technical about it, you are probably basing your opinions about what is natural and unnatural on your own moral beliefs.  Which can be fine, but can also be pretty douchey.  After all “but that’s unnatural!” has been the battle cry of the closed minded and the misinformed for centuries.

Instead of thinking of the issue in terms of natural versus unnatural, I like to back up and think of these questions in terms of evolutionary advantage.  Is this going to strengthen the human species?  Will it make us more robust, more capable of survival?  Or is it going to lead to an evolutionary disadvantage that will eventually either kill us all or favor the folks who prefer having babies the old fashioned way?  No matter how you look at it, neither choice is right or wrong, natural or unnatural.  But if you look at it from an evolutionary standpoint, I bet you could accurately guess whether something like this is going to become popular.  No one is going to want to participate in a program that spells long-term genetic suicide.  But I digress.

These methods of birth control (freezing eggs, getting sterilized, and then having them fertilized and implanted whenever you’re ready) or reproduction (just freezing the eggs for a late-life pregnancy) are unlikely to take off no matter your moral standpoint–making lab babies is expensive.  But there is another philosophically interesting aspect of this issue: the existence of this technology is being presented as a potential social boon to women.  It is, after all, biology that keeps women from enjoying the same kind of career opportunities as men, right?  It is our biology that keeps us from reaching true equality, because we have to take time off to have babies and maybe even to breastfeed them.  Well fuck that too.

So I need to be freed from my body in order to be granted equality?  So I need to be more like a man (biologically capable of having children later in life, when it would be more convenient for my career) in order to find equality?  So it is me that is the problem?  Not the fucking system that was not designed to cater to the realities of things like motherhood?  Well excuse the fuck out of  me, but I refuse to be given the blame for the gender inequality still rampant in our society, and arguing that science that allows me to ignore the usual biological obstacles will free me does just that.

How about this. How about we create fucking systems and jobs and scenarios where women can be who they are (and this includes women who do want to freeze their eggs and have babies at 45) and still find equal opportunity in the workplace and everyfuckingwhere else?  How about that?

0 Comments on “the future is now: feminism and reproductive technology

  1. Thanks for writing this. Also, thank you for not giving into hating what you at first reacted to as unnatural. I know one person in the United States that is going through this process. I think a lot of the motivation to do this in the United States is driven by fear about certain genetic conditions going up with age than career concerns, though that also plays a role. In general, people I know who are considering this procedure are more worried about having money to have a child than a career, though genetic condition concerns seem to be the number one concern as I mentioned earlier.

    The way the procedure is being marketed here seems really fucked to me, “Get your career going because you won’t be able to later and by then you’ll want kids but your eggs will be deformed!” Rather than looking at how the system is failing women and mothers.

  2. Lesley: Exactly! It seems to me to say we can give you equality if you change your body is really ridiculous. Instead of saying we can change this system because we built it stupid. Anyway, it does seem like something that could help some people be happier, so that is certainly good. Just as long as it doesn’t become THE answer to gender equality in the workplace.

  3. Yeah, I agree. Actually I’ve always felt like this about hormonal contraceptives too. I was 11 when I first read about how the Pill works, and I already was well aware that it was supposed to be a great savior of women, but the idea made me feel sick and betrayed. Because I had long and irregular cycles, doctors kept wanting to put me on the Pill. I resisted until I was 25. Then I tried it for 5 cycles, until the migraines and constant bleeding became unbearable, but the biggest reason I wanted to get off that shit was that I found it was a psychoactive drug: It made me feel emotionally and intellectually different from normal, all the time except placebo days 3-7. It’s lucky I happened to be unemployed and then working a temp job in a different field during that time, because my normal work of data management was not possible at my usual level; my brain was all mooshy and didn’t click right. I also had a much harder time being assertive and let people walk all over me in various areas of life and just felt vaguely wistful about it. My doctor at the time sneered about how I just wasn’t used to female hormones because I wasn’t a normal woman. But when I was pregnant, I was much more myself than I was on the Pill; I felt the hormones, definitely, but it was hormones affecting *me* instead of being trapped in a weird chemical imitation of myself.

    I’d like to see feminism embrace the Fertility Awareness Method, not as everyone’s only way to avoid pregnancy but for the goal of having all women, from puberty onward, understand how our bodies work and work WITH them, using devices and drugs and surgeries in a fully informed way, instead of treating fertility as an illness to be medicated all our lives long. (The doctor who put me on the Pill wanted me to stay on it until I was ready to conceive, then switch immediately to superovulator drugs.) If I were in charge, FAM would be taught in 8th grade to students of both sexes; men need to understand women’s bodies, too, and if everyone got their heads around these ideas a few years before they (most of them) need to start using them, we could have a much lower rate of unplanned pregnancy AND a reduced “need” for assisted reproductive technology because people would understand that pregnancy doesn’t necessarily happen the instant you decide you finally want it.

  4. When people talk about having a baby at 40 or over, they are generally thinking about pregnancy and having a well, baby.What they are not considering is that your baby at 40 is going to be your teen when you are 55-60! Believe me they grow!! Yes women own their bodies but our bodies are meant to bear our children until a certain age remember it takes a long time to raise a child it’s not just about conceiving it’s also about being there to be a parent and having a rich life of ones own.

    • I don’t see anything wrong with being that age when your kid is a teenager. It makes for a bigger generation gap, yes, and there is a higher chance of your passing before your child is an adult, but I don’t think there is one way or other that child having should or should not be done, that is more natural than anther way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.