“Exciting and terrifying”: A young feminist scholar reflects on (social egg freezing as a solution for) “having it all”

by Antonia Pop on October 16, 2014

Guest post by: Lesley A. Tarasoff

In the most recent issue of the International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics (IJFAB) you will find an article critiquing the view that social egg freezing is the solution to “having it all,” that is, a thriving career and a family (children) at the same time. This is one of many arguments made in the article entitled “Breaking the Ice: Young Feminist Scholars of Reproductive Politics Reflect on Egg Freezing.” As one of the co-authors of this article, in this blog post I reflect on some of the things that inspired my contribution and why social egg freezing as a solution to “having it all” is a lot more complicated than most people think.

I’m a bisexual, feminist PhD candidate interested in perinatal health and reproductive politics, among other things. I love the independence that academia has afforded me thus far and I’m very invested in my career. Some days I’m not sure if I want to have children. Really, some days I almost forget to feed my fish.

A few weeks ago I stopped by my best friend’s place as I was finishing up a run—a much-needed run. I needed to clear my head of the many writing projects I have on the go and bubbling feelings of a failed a long-term, same-sex relationship that at times I had thought would be “the one.” My friend and I got to talking about work and future family lives. Central to this conversation—and to many of the conversations I have had with my female friends over the past year—was the theme of time. My friend said, “I’m 28 and I want to have 2 kids by the time I am 34 so I need to have my first kid by 32 at the latest,” said my friend, who is in a long-term, opposite-sex relationship, not yet engaged (but I suspect it will happen any day now), holds a Master’s degree and works in policy. She continued, “But I still want to move up in my job.” This friend is conflicted about the idea of putting her career on hold to start a family, yet increasingly aware that her “biological clock” is ticking.*

Our conversation reminded me of an email exchange I had with another good friend about a year ago. This friend is doing her PhD abroad, holds a very prestigious scholarship and is well-traveled. At the time of this email exchange she, 30, had just gone through the break-up of a long-term, opposite-sex relationship and I was questioning the future of my own long-term, same-sex relationship. She wrote:

Ugh the trials and tribulations of being in a relationship.… It seems like so, so many of us women in our late twenties/early thirties are going through this right now… I have a whole philosophy on it like how we are truly the first generation of women post-feminist revolution to actually have options and possibilities that really weren’t available to our grandmothers, and still fairly inaccessible to our mothers, and so it is a bit scary for those of us forging new paths. [Be]cause we really don’t have to ‘settle down and get hitched and pop out babies’ if we don’t want to. And not having this as our only option, and being educated and privileged and traveled etc etc to set us up for success just opens up a whole can of worms! So it is exciting and terrifying. I swear that ¾ of the conversations I have here [at graduate school] are related to this at the moment. We could probably host a conference on it…

Part of my inspiration for the piece I co-authored in the IJFAB comes from these and other conversations I have had with my female friends. My thoughts on the idea/l of “having it all” and social egg freezing also come from my experience working as part of a Toronto-based team of LGBTQ and ally researchers who explore how LGBTQ people experience health and access health services, including services that enable them to become parents (www.lgbtqhealth.ca). For me, as a bisexual woman, the questions are not only do I want to have kids and when might I have them, but should I be in a same-sex relationship when these decisions are made, who will carry the child (me or my partner?) and will we be able to afford assisted human reproduction services should we need them to have a biologically-related child? Would we use a known or unknown sperm donor?

From our article on social egg freezing and my narrative above, it is clear that the idea/l of “having it all” is very complicated. “Having it all” may not be desired by everyone and it may not be attainable for many (or anyone?). Indeed, social egg freezing as the solution to “having it all” is not an accessible option for many. We need to think about what it means to “have it all,” not only at the individual level but also the macro level. “Having it all” and the solution of social egg freezing to attain it must not be thought of and decorated with the rhetoric of “empowerment” for women. We need to think about who is excluded from “having it all” if social egg freezing is the solution, as well as the social, political, and economic conditions that produce the need for such a solution. We need to think about who really has access to social egg freezing, and, more importantly, who benefits from it (i.e., do women themselves really benefit in the long-run from social egg freezing?). We really do need a conference addressing all of these questions, but in the meantime, I hope our article and the narratives and reflections it includes will help to answer some of these questions, or at least, get people talking and asking more questions.

*In a follow-up conversation, swayed by in the idea of biological determinism or bio-essentialism, she suggested that it may be impossible for women to participate in the labour market in the same way that men can. Though in reality it is inequitable socio-economic structures that keep the argument that women are biologically predetermined not to succeed in the public sphere alive, it is hard not to feel discouraged when women continue to make less than men and the competence of successful (white, upper-class, heterosexual) women who have families, such as Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and Hillary Clinton continue to be questioned or is overshadowed by focusing on what they are wearing. In other words, even if you can “have it all,” whatever that means, you will not be free from criticism.

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