Facebook and Apple Offer to Put Motherhood on Ice

woman trapped in ice

IF YOU are a female employee of Apple or Facebook, you can now get your elective egg freezing procedure covered by your boss. What brand consultant weighed up the male-centric tech industry messaging with the populist feminist movement, with all its leaning in and CEO-or-bust rhetoric, and thought this one up? Who saw the pro-choice campaign cry “Not My Boss’s Business” and figured that what women want to see is their boss’s wholesale support of delaying motherhood? I have to say, I kind of feel sorry for that person, because on the face of it covering egg freezing seems like a very feminist-friendly idea.

In the boardroom I’m sure he thought it sounded really savvy, very current. They probably bought him a subsidized lunch and invited him to play squash next Wednesday at the campus gym. But what happened, once his idea was aired out to the public, was akin to online feminism holding up a big “No” sign. That brand consultant,well, he’s now living the de-perked life.

What’s interesting to me is that obviously they had thought this would be welcomed with open arms and that they would be praised for supporting feminist ideals. Now, why would they think that? Might it be because populist feminism does concentrate on women succeeding in man-made work environments and has disdain for women who reject careerism? But the thing is, when a crude version of your position is sold back to you, a sort of logical end product of what you have said you wanted, it can look ugly. When the bargain you’ve made is to be as a good as a man in a man’s world, is it fair to be horrified when they keep their end of the deal?

As far as the brand consultant could see, women have fully embraced technology as the answer: just look at how we uncritically accept the Skyla IUD or the coming wireless birth control implant. Give it 20 years and each female employee will be furnished with an artificial womb for her tenth year of service. We might have seen Apple neglecting to integrate menstrual cycle data into its new Health App as a sign that the more distance we can put between ourselves and our biology, the better.

One writer for The Daily Beast astutely noted that Apple and Facebook were not offering men reversible vasectomies to ward off surprise interruptions. What we are asking, though, is that women get on long-term birth control methods like IUDs and implants until they are “ready” (read: appropriately situated in their career) to have a child. In the last few weeks, via coverage of The Choice Project, we’ve seen a number of articles from feminist writers arguing that all young women need to get an IUD. Slate went so far as to demand it: “Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters The IUD.” How women delay motherhood, and that we in fact choose to do so, seems to be the business of every feminist pundit out there right now.

And to be fair, Apple and Facebook offer a maternity leave package that’s better than most US companies. The problem seems to be that once someone has a child, they’re not so likely to return to work after that maternity leave runs out. Meaning, that employee in which you’ve invested training and who has divested themselves of all of your perks becomes lost value. The same Daily Beast writer speculated that  there are reasons why women don’t return to Facebook and Apple: the tech-industry’s passive-aggressive persuasion techniques (laundry service, subsidized meals, gym, sports, entertainment, low-rent apartments – all without leaving the company premises) that make balance between work and life a problem of the past, coupled with its male-centric ethos (only 30% of employees are female) doesn’t make the space a welcoming one for women, and for people who want even the slightest modicum of a life outside of the office. Facebook and Apple must be stunned that, despite everything they do to keep their employees happy (read: productive 24/7), some people just see work as, well, work. A job is a job at the end of the day, no matter how much free sushi you throw at someone. You’re still working to earn some money so that someone else, higher up the chain, can earn a whole lot more.

Some women just don’t want to put their child in daycare, some women would like to work, but from home or part-time and find neither as a viable option, some just find they have different priorities once they’ve given birth. Facebook and Apple seem to see having children as an impulse that needs to be fulfilled, a box to be checked, rather than a experience that some might prefer to have full-time, or at least part-time.

Of course, stagnant wages in the face of rising living costs are already keeping us from having babies we can no longer afford until we’ve put a couple of solid decades of savings into the bank. Apple and Facebook know their employees might not even have the money for a child until they’re forty, but apparently they still want them to have children, because otherwise, who will be buying the latest iPhone? We will all get old and no longer bother to update to the latest design. Babies are a resource they can’t do without.

Once something like this – see, again, the IUD for another example – is made a socially-supported choice for women, it’s not a far step from becoming an expectation. If women can delay motherhood, then why would a corporation, or society at large, need to support them if they have a child earlier than is deemed beneficial to the company? What if a woman thinks having a child when she’s younger and avoiding the health risks to herself and the baby that pregnancy at 40 can bring is a better idea? Not to mention avoiding the as-yet unknown long-term effects of freezing her eggs for her and the resulting child.

Clearly Facebook and Apple have one thing on their mind – getting employees to work more. But do their work cultures actually work? Does merging life and work into one bring the best ideas out of people or is it why we end up with iPhones bending in people’s back pockets?

In the past it was thought technology would give us more free time, but Silicon Valley is evidence it did the opposite. Working longer hours doesn’t equal higher productivity or increased innovation, that’s been proven. So what if the ultimate fix would be working less? Like, just four hours per day? Nathan Schneider, for Vice, made a case for the ‘Four Hour Work Day’ campaign on the basis that it would decrease unemployment, put a check on corporate takeover of politics and the environment, and solve the problem of childcare for working parents. A necessary first step, he suggested, would be to detach work from necessities like health insurance (including the kind that covers egg freezing). Schneider points out that science fiction has imagined this for us already, but that said, it has also imagined artificial wombs for every woman. Which future will we choose?

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