I got on the train to London Paddington at 6:55 AM on Wednesday, bound for an all-day meeting at the Department for International Development. As I settled into my seat, someone handed me a newspaper. From the front page I learned of the newest gender fiasco in the workplace: Facebook and Apple are now offering to pay for freezing the ova of their female employees.
Astonishing as this news was, the journalistic take on it was even more strange: the story was all about how excessive the perquisites are in Silicon Valley, thus casually dropping this conversation-stopping innovation into a benefits bin with on-site gyms and Starbucks at your desk. The author apparently had not taken even a moment to meditate on how deeply weird it is for two huge corporations to be engaging in cryogenic interventions into their employees’ reproductive plans.This is not to mention that, given the frightening decline in birth rates, the tech sector was now offering to take the human species one giant step closer to reproductive perdition.
Last night, over a lovely Thai dinner with Stephanie, my brilliant economist/historian friend, the subject came up again. “I mean, you can just see it,” laughed Stephanie, “A bunch of engineering guys sitting around a table, trying to figure out how to keep women in their organisation through their middle career years. They are going to come up with a scientific solution: ‘Hey, guys, I know, let’s freeze their eggs!” We hooted at the image and then soberly turned back to the sweet chilli prawns. The problem, we agreed, is that the workplace needs “fixing,” not the women.
This morning, I have come up with an alternative solution: frozen testicles.
Now, don’t freak out. We would not surgically remove the appendages for cryogenic preservation, but could just freeze them in place, like you do a wart or a mole, in the hope of reducing the rate at which free radical testosterone is emitted into the atmosphere of the workplace. We might anticipate a reduction in sexual harassment, as well fewer turf wars and a lower incidence of generalized dominance assertion. Of course, regular applications would be required because of the proximal body warmth. I suggest the freezing procedure be done daily, at about 5.30 PM, to all male employees at once, for the sake of efficiency. Timing the application just before the close of business would minimise the effect of discomfort on productivity during the day. An unexpected behavioral benefit might be an uptick in men leaving the office early to take kids to soccer or pick up babies from daycare. Staying late at work might become uncool: the office could once again be merely the place one earns a pay check and all employees might at last have a life–and even (gulp) go home.
I am, of course, kidding about my idea. But Facebook and Apple are not.
I have several young friends (and some not so young) who have benefitted from the science of fertility interventions, though the process can be very difficult financially and emotionally. But using in vitro fertilisation as a career-planning device and a human resources strategy? I don’t know. Frozen eggs often don’t make it. Waiting til late in life to get pregnant reduces the chances of having any children–and brings down the overall fertility rate.
I don’t believe we should think about women primarily as baby machines feeding global demography; however, I also don’t think that the workplace should dominate our lives to such a degree that human reproduction is negatively affected on a macro-scale. And that is what is happening. We treat the desire to have a family as if it were some kind of shameful secret–and something only women want. We are already paying the price for that self-destructive prejudice in the form of ageing populations.
Children are a social good, as well as a private joy, and their care should be a priority for all of us, not something we are working collectively to delay, mute, or snuff out. Employers need to be held accountable for fostering expectations that fight so viciously with the rights of their employees to live their lives, raise their families, and realize their aspirations.
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