It’s a man’s world out there, that much is for sure. Although this traditionally has been the case, with plenty of cultural practices and social expectations preventing women from truly realising themselves, change is in the air, and the post-industrialised (and secularised, may I add) society is becoming increasingly egalitarian. However, although things are moving in the right direction, it can be slow at times, and a current issue that keeps being highlighted is the lack of women in prominent positions in society.
I have very mixed feelings about this latter issue: that for all our progressive Enlightenment values, women still remain an underprivileged minority in relation to men. While I don’t deny that a degree of sexism seems ingrained in Western society (for which I blame the legacy of Christianity, in no small part), I am sceptical that the current measures that are being taken are enough to fix, or even ameliorate, the issue. Although I don’t have any data to back it up, I suspect that the lack of women in positions of power is more complicated than the media leads us to believe, and that it involves both biological and psychological causes, in addition to the social ones that take most of the limelight.
Not only do I believe that specific occupations have a tendency to select for specific personalities (analytical in academia; caring in childcare, teaching and medicine; etc.), I also believe that the frequency distribution of specific personalities is going to differ between the sexes (although exceptions, as always, always, do exist), since I strongly believe that sex is a biological, and not social, construct at its core — regardless of what sociologists want for us to believe. And although the ever-increasing numbers of women entering traditionally male-dominated occupations such as academia (wherein I am myself a young woman in the early stages of my career), suggest that these biological bases have yet to be properly delineated, I believe that they are at the core of the issue, as, at the end of the day (before the in vitro pregnancy has been developed and perfected and put into practise) it is going to be women who carry babies and bring them to term. And no sociological waffling or social accommodation can change that painful, biological, fact.
Until this inherent inequality has been properly addressed, alongside everything that is associated with conception, pregnancy and childcare, no society can consider itself perfectly egalitarian. Part of my mixed feelings about the issue however relate to my failure to understand why such a perfectly egalitarian society is seen as the utopia towards which we should strive? In my eyes, the argument that women and men should enjoy equal opportunities is, on one hand, obvious, and on the other, self-contradictory. Whereas I don’t believe that women (or men) should be under-privileged because of an issue that is outside their control (like their sex), I also do not believe that we should create a society where everyone is the same; where individuality has to give way to homogenous equality. Rather, I’d prefer to see a society where differences matter; where people are allowed to capitalise on their individual assets and personal aspirations; where we don’t try to herd people into pens where they’d prefer not to be.
So, that’s why I am incredibly sceptical of the next ‘big thing’ that has been proposed to reduce the inequalities that exist between women and men: the fact that women’s career prospects are often marred by the desire to have a family and can be fixed by prioritising one (career) over the other (family) by allowing a woman to freeze her eggs. In truth, this suggestion seems, (at least to me) to be incredibly misinformed: it’s a feeble (and dangerous) attempt to allow women to become more like men, rather than to address the real underlying issues: that (at present) having a career is in many ways incompatible with family life.
Personally, I think the problem of balancing work with family is because the many of the expectations of the professional world developed during a time when men were the dominant sex in the workforce: where a career is forged from hard work and long hours — which was possible for the traditionally bread-winning husband, and currently for the single or childless professional. These expectations are however less compatible with having children: dependent human beings who muddy the waters and complicate the work-family equation.
The answer to the inequality between professional men and women is not to give women the ‘opportunity’ (a blessing, which is really a curse in disguise) to work longer hours: that is to validate the professional life of a man, rather than to empower the professional woman. Just like there are women in top positions (again, there are always exceptions) who willingly chose their career over their family, there are going to be women who jump at the offer of having her employer freeze her eggs. But these women are never going to be representative of women overall, where many are going to choose to prioritise family over their career (as I will myself do, at some point down the line), rather than to postpone pregnancy and family life until a more ‘convenient’ time.
In fact, I find the entire suggestion of freezing eggs ludicrously sexist, for it solves nothing, and only provides the sneering suggestion that women can only be equal to men if they try to emulate the traditional male lifestyle of staying away from the family and the home to focus on personal development and career progression. As a woman, I find the prospect offensive, and if I ever were to be employed by a company that suggested such a thing — that I forfeit my own nature to progress — I would seriously contemplate a change of employer.
In truth, the only way that society can become truly egalitarian is not to force women to become men (or men to become women), but to recognise and accommodate the needs of both. And for that we need a change of culture, and that involves not rewarding the self-sacrificing workaholic, but to reward the person who manages to strike a healthy balance between the demands of work and family life — and to make it at all possible. And that involves to not expect women (or men) with small children to put in the same amount of hours as their child-less peers at work (unlimited paid sick-days if your child falls ill, anyone?), and to encourage men to take part in the raising of children (paid paternity leave, anyone?).
To encourage women to freeze their eggs is validate the very system that the egg-freezing wishes to oppose: by allowing women to become equal to men by the sly suggestion that being a woman (rather than a man) just isn’t good enough.
And that’s not even getting into the many risks and disappointments that are involved with freezing your eggs and having them fertilised in vitro before implantation…