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?