Crisis? What crisis? Why women are really freezing their eggs

Feminist author Susan Faludi pinpointed a widespread "backlash" against women that was designed to make them feel bad: ...
Feminist author Susan Faludi pinpointed a widespread "backlash" against women that was designed to make them feel bad: guilty, anxious and unattractive. Photo: Sigrid Estrada

My friend Leora, an oncology researcher with a PhD in biochemistry, was 34 when she decided to freeze her eggs last year. She wasn't panicked that she wouldn't find a man. Nor was she bothered about when she'd get around to starting a family.

"Whether or not I use the eggs, mentally, it put me in a far better place to relax and get on with my life," she told me after the procedure.

Leora's story is not unusual. To date only 6 per cent of women have used the eggs they've frozen (only half of these have been able to get pregnant with them). More than a third have become pregnant naturally, according to a study of women aged between 27 and 42 published in Human Reproduction earlier this year, and the rest have clearly found other alternatives.

With so few women using their eggs, hysterical reports last week about the popularity of the procedure among a "leftover generation" of women who can't find a man good enough to have a baby with, appear slightly insane.

Egg freezing is clearly a useful outlet for women – even if its comforts turn out to be psychological rather than practical. But are we really at a reproductive crisis point? I suspect not. Alarm bells rang loud and clear when I read that women are taking "desperate steps" because of a "missing generation" of "eligible men". Is this not simply version 2.0 of that old chestnut – aired so strenuously in the '70s, '80s and '90s – that women who choose careers over the joys of hearth and home will suffer?

"Man shortages and barren wombs: the myths of the backlash." So begins chapter two of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Susan Faludi's 1991 work Backlash. With female educational attainment and career achievements both rocketing, Faludi pinpointed a widespread "backlash" against women that was designed to make them feel bad: guilty, anxious and unattractive. The main weapon in this assault was women's fertility and, by association, their romantic status. With their highfalutin' degrees and professional ambition, it was no wonder that men were declining to put a ring on it, in Beyonce's hallowed words.

Admittedly, the terms of debate about the current female reproductive disaster story have improved. Previously, the barely-disguised moral of the story was that women should jolly well stop disrespecting their biology by having careers instead of children in their 20s and 30s.

Now at least the academic who produced the report admits that if the problem is a lack of eligible men, we should be trying to get men better educated, not only expecting women to lower their standards.

After the generational massacre of the First World War, there really was a man shortage. Today, the argument is on far shakier ground. People like Leora are not freezing their eggs because of men. They're doing it for themselves, because they can: they've got financial independence, a range of life options and best of all, control over their reproductive futures. That so many women are freezing their eggs isn't a sign of crisis: it's something that could be celebrated. Women are flexing their psychological and economic independence, not succumbing to a desolate wasteland of man shortages or barren wombs.

Telegraph, London

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