Monday, June 3, 2013

Family planning at the cusp of a career (Part II): Get busy fertilizing or get busy freezing?

In my last post, I discussed an all-too-familiar concern of many young professional women (and a recent campaign bringing it to the fore): the competing desire to have a successful career and the ever-increasing risk of age-related infertility. The problem, of course, is that many young, professional women “spend [their] prime baby-making years in the trenches” and put children on hold until later in life. The average age for entering medical school students at UC Davis, for example, is 25, making the average age at graduation roughly 29. The next three to five years are spent in grueling residency programs, resulting in new doctors finally beginning their careers between the ages of 32 and 34. By then, even the healthiest young female doctor’s fertility has already started its rapid, irreversible decline, while the young woman has barely had time to establish herself in her profession.

The response to this dilemma from some, including the aforementioned campaign, is to pressure women to conceive earlier lest the prospective mother “fritter away” her twenties. (N.b., Of course, I can only speak accurately for myself here, but I would imagine many women would not characterize the time they spent in graduate school or the professional trenches -- working toward their goals and overcoming ubiquitous male preference -- as time “frittered” away.). Other women, though, are turning to technology to give them ultimate control over family planning. How? By flash-freezing their healthy eggs and storing them for future use.

The flash-freezing process is fairly simple and can be completed over the course of a few months: the woman takes hormones throughout her menstrual cycle and is monitored for a period of time by physicians until her eggs are ready to harvest. At that time, they are removed trans-vaginally, frozen, and preserved until the woman is ready to have them fertilized. Cost estimates for the procedure range from roughly $2,200 to $18,000, and the technique has dramatically increased in popularity since last fall, when the American Society for Reproductive Medicine lifted its “experimental” label on the practice. Since then, a number of women, including Yale professor Marcia Inhorn, have published books and op-eds imploring their younger counterparts to take advantage of the technology while their ova are still healthy and, as a result, take greater control over their careers.

But the procedure, unsurprisingly, is not without risk and certainly gives rise to other ethical concerns. First, the technology is so young that there has been very little research done as to its long-term success. Indeed, as author Miriam Zoll recently wrote, “The only thing we really know about [the procedure] is that an estimated 1000 babies have been born to women younger than thirty years of age who were facing life-threatening illnesses. . . . We don’t know if these live births were the result of 3,000 or 10,000 trials. We have no information about how many miscarriages or stillbirths may have ensued, and we have no idea how flash freezing might affect offspring’s health later in life.” Further, as Professor Inhorn has acknowledged, as a result of the availability of the procedure, “employers may come to expect women to postpone childbearing through egg freezing” and “[w]omen may be pushed into a burdensome and costly medical procedure that cannot provide guaranteed future fertility outcomes.”

The counter to the latter concerns, I think, is that similar arguments could be made against various forms of contraceptives, but since their introduction in the early twentieth century, the feminist response has been predominantly positive; indeed, the increased ability to plan one’s family has largely been credited as one of the primary reasons women have gradually moved out of the domestic sphere and into the marketplace. Might this same technology effect a similar result? That is, now that young women have entered the professional workforce, perhaps allowing them to postpone childbirth into their forties -- when they are still able to carry children and presumably are in better positions, professionally -- will increase the number of women who make it to the “top” of corporations and law firms around the country. Now that we have our foot in the door, perhaps this technology is the ticket -- at least for some women -- to finally climb the corporate ladder on their own terms and at their own pace.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Family planning at the cusp of a career (Part I): Beating the clock

Practically every time I see my family, I’m asked for an update as to when my husband and I are going to have children, and it bothers me. It really, really bothers me. But my problem isn’t that they are holding me to some traditional, domestic female standard or that they want me to duck out of the workforce for a few years -- they aren’t, and they don’t. They ask because in the past, they’ve heard me talk about how much I want children, and they ask because they know that being a mother is what I want to do. In fact, my problem is not with them or their question at all. My problem lies with the ominous internal reminder that inevitably follows: you’re not having kids anytime soon -- not with those student loans, not with that new job, and certainly not with those lofty career goals. And so another family conversation ends abruptly with my dismissive, standby response: “We’ll get to it eventually.”

Lately, though, I have been unable to escape the message that “eventually” is not soon enough. Granted, I’m still young -- not yet 30 -- but pregnancy (much less childrearing) still hasn’t found a place in my five-year-plan. And that, according to a number of women, is simply alarming. In fact, “Get Britain Fertile” a new ad campaign in the UK, where the average age at first pregnancy is 30, is determined to remind young women like myself that “careers and finances [may] seem important, but you only have a small fertility window.” (Gee, thanks a lot, GBF.) One of the faces of the campaign, 46-year-old, successful British TV personality Kate Garraway, specifically wants to caution women that they should “start thinking about their fertility at a younger age than [her] generation did” and to “get prepared and make informed choices early so there is no chance of sleepwalking into infertility” later on. Ms. Garraway had her two children at 38 and 42 and deeply regrets that today, her “fertility door is slamming shut.

In theory, the campaign is innocent enough -- Ms. Garraway and her co-ambassador, Zita West, seem genuinely concerned about educating young women as to the effects of age on fertility. Yet, it is worth noting, I think, that the effort is sponsored by First Response pregnancy tests, and the name itself -- “Get Britain Fertile” seems to be more of a push for pregnancy than a call for increased fertility awareness. Further, the information the ambassadors have distributed thus far is not exactly being presented in a strictly-PSA format. Indeed, the photo slapped across British newspapers to promote the nascent campaign was the photo below: one of Ms. Garraway dressed as what some critics are calling a “cartoonishly ancient-looking pregnant woman.”
Get Britain Fertile, rather than simply educating, latches on to a fear already present in every young professional woman who wants to have children and rattles that fear into a panic with a message worthy of a Jack LaLanne infomercial: Act now! The miracle of creating human life can be yours -- but only for a limited time! You’ll look like this old woman before you know it… Conceive today and receive a FREE First Response EPT.

Whether the message is fear-mongering or not, though, it still fails to address the campaign’s ultimate underlying problem: how to embrace motherhood at a young age (which they certainly seem to be advocating) while still keeping a professional career on track. Tellingly, Ms. Garraway herself has had a busy fifteen years in the entertainment industry, but when asked about the double-standard her campaign seems to reinforce on young women seeking successful careers, she simply offered the following moderately coherent but impossibly nonresponsive answer:
“[W]e applaud young career women in their twenties and then before you know it you find yourself as I did at a friend’s wedding and being quizzed by everyone about why you haven’t got round to reproducing yet. If we listened to society we would be in a total spin. I am hoping this campaign will help everyone who is interested to get the information and facts they need to equip themselves to make their own life choices.” 
I, too, hope that anyone seeking to make family planning decisions is adequately informed of their options. But I also hope that British women are strong enough to recognize that three-kids-by-thirty is not the only path, nor is it necessarily ideal.

As for me, the marketers at Get Britain Fertile, which is scheduled to officially launch this week, can turn their attention elsewhere. Their message has been received, I consider myself warned: the clock, as I’ve known since childhood, ticks on, and one day it will stop. And notwithstanding the modern, vibrant conversations about leaning in, making it work, and having -- or rather, not having -- it all, I am still ultimately left with the unsatisfying conclusion that if I want to be a mother, the question is not whether to sacrifice my career, but when.


Friday, May 31, 2013

The king is dead: When Brute Force doesn't matter

I saw the recent PEW research that showed that women are more and more likely to be their families' breadwinner as good news. Four men on Fox News, however, found this to be a"concerning  and troubling statistic" and their discussion about how this is ripping American families apart has gone viral. See the full clip on The men stated many ridiculous things including (all direct quotes):
  • We are watching society dissolve around us
  • What we are seeing, with four out of ten families now, the woman is the primary breadwinner, you are seeing the disintegration of marriage, you are seeing men who were hard hit by the economic recession ways that women weren't, but we're seeing, I think, systemically, larger than the political stories we hear every day, something going terribly wrong with American society and it is hurting our children and and it is going to have impact for generations to come. Left. Right. I don't see how you could argue with this
  • And you mentioned children, and those are the children that survived. 54 million abortions since Roe v. Wade ... what has been the impact of that. What does it say about society? Our our edu ... High school dropouts.
  • I'm so used to liberals telling conservatives that they are anti-science. But liberals who defend this, and say this is not a bad thing, are very anti-science. If you look at biology, look at the natural world, the roles of male and female in society in other animals, the male typically is the dominant role, the female is not antithesis, it is not competing, it is a complementary role. We as people in a smart society, we have lost the ability to have complementary relationships in nuclear families and it is tearing us apart. 
  • It is tearing apart minority communities even more than white communities. 
  • This is a catastrophic issue ... the breakdown of family structure ... that could undermine our social order.
The subsequent response interview on Fox, found here, did little to qualm the situation. For me, it was the first time I heard something worthwhile on Fox as Megyn Kelly tells two of the initial four men that she was offended, that their science is wrong, and that this sounds a whole lot like the good ole days when we used "science" to say children of interracial families were worse off (though don't get me started on her comments about single mothers). I have so very much to say about this issue, but alas, studying for the California Bar has left me with not nearly enough time. Two quick quibbles (of many, trust me). For one, someone needs to remind these men that the nuclear family is a relatively new phenomenon, not something that has been with us for centuries or our the beginning of our existence (whenever you believe that to be). With regards to this affecting families of color, all I can say is, families of color continue to struggle in this country due to persistent racial oppression and discrimination that continues to exist (on both the individual and structural levels) and yet fails to be addressed because we claim to live in post-racial times. But a certain thought came to the forefront of these discussions that I just had to share - and that is the power of physical power.

In our law school's feminist legal theory seminar, we always came down to a difficult question: how much does physical superiority (in generalities) of men over women actually matter when we discuss positional power and oppression. I continually believe this is a factor in many situations. Even when it is in not in your face, it is a lurking presence. Even in the most civilized arenas, it becomes a player when emotions are high and logic is no longer the leading decision maker. If we were playing a video game, its a hidden feature that suddenly gives you extra weapon when you decide to use it.

The idiots ill-informed men cite nature as evidence to support their assertions. Indeed in many instances, female animals need male's physical protection for survival. My mother, who is a physician, explained this so simply and perfectly: "of course, the act of having a child is exhausting and it leaves you vulnerable." We all know that pregnancy makes us physically vulnerable, and so it is natural in those scenarios to have the person who does not have to undergo that vulnerability to step up to the plate and protect the female who is perpetuating the species. But humans are different.We do not have any natural predators (besides ourselves). We live a lot longer. We have way less children. We have minimized the vulnerability extensively, and therefore we no longer need men to fill that duty. (Of course we still want loving partners and fathers etc.) We accomplished all of this because of our Descartes-eque ability to think. To deny it, is to deny the accomplishments of our evolution.

And this world is becoming less and less the kind that needs physical power. For example, military, one of the last bastion's of brute strength, continues to become more and more of an intellectual game, played remotely (yes even scary drones where no individuals are there at all). Manufacturing jobs have disappeared, and guess what, they will continue to disappear! We have robots and machines who build cars and sew clothes. We even have 3D printers that can produce entire objects and even a human organ. Jobs are changing, because society is changing. Men cannot blame that change on women being in the workplace and not at home. The industrial revolution brought with it growing pains and so does this intellectual revolution. These men are scared. They throw out words like catastrophic and the end of society. And in some ways, I do hope it is the end of society as we know it. And that means, they are no longer the king of the roost, in control, being intellectually fulfilled, while their wives are barefoot pregnant in the kitchen raising their little brood. I want society to change and I'm ready for a new social order. A social order where men and women are true complements to each other. Where they stand next to each other as equals in life, love, and pursuit of what makes them happy.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Firearms and feminism

Historically, gun culture in America has not been kind to women. As recently as the May 2013 NRA Convention in Houston, Zombie Industries featured in its display of mannequin shooting targets a life-size bust of a woman called “Alexa.” Alexa’s dark hair brushes her shoulders, and her tight white tank top is torn down the front to expose her large breasts barely contained by her glittery purple bra. She does not appear to be wearing anything below her small, toned abdomen. Her mouth, neck, and wrists are painted with fake blood, and additional fake blood emerges when a bullet makes contact with her torso. Alexa, the life-size target, was initially marketed to consumers as “the ex” -- as in, “ex-girlfriend” -- and for just $90, she can be yours to maim, as well.

Unfortunately, Alexa is just the tip of the iceberg -- the commercial distillation of a grim reality for thousands of female domestic gun-violence victims throughout the country. While men comprise over 90% of gun owners, women account for nearly half of all nonfatal firearm victims in the United States, and in 2010 alone, firearms were responsible for the deaths of 4,316 women -- about one dozen each day. Gun culture is, indeed, a man’s culture, and the cries of feminist gun control advocates have historically fallen on deaf ears. Today, however, a different spin on firearms and feminism is emerging, and this time, the movement is coming from within.

Over the past six months, the market has seen a surge in everything from the advertisement of “bra holsters” to the sale of pink guns. (And yes, you can purchase a youth version for your daughter at Walmart) Indeed, even a blog at the NRA Women’s Outlook includes a “Stuff we love!” page, where the fashionable female shooter can pick up a gun-themed ring, pink firing targets, hunting apparel that fits “in all the right places,” and pink camou shooter bags. Along with the fashion advice, perhaps unsurprisingly, comes a slew of wild game recipes, just for her.

In fairness, the unabashed exploitation of gender stereotypes makes it exceedingly easy to criticize this up-and-coming industry. But the apparent encroaching paradigm shift warrants a second look -- and a thoughtful one at that. In particular, the uptick in female-focused advertising is a direct response to a devastatingly oppressive sub-culture in our society, and it may serve as one important -- albeit imperfect -- step toward alleviating gross gender disparities within gun culture. Guns, the argument goes, are the “great equalizer,” and, even as a marketing manager for Smith & Wesson has noted, they are arguably “the last bastion of male dominance.

I cannot close without disclosing that I am not personally a fan of guns, I do not think that arming everyone is the only way to protect against armed criminals, and I agree with a number of commentators who argue that the optimal conversation to have is one of violence prevention rather than self-defense or anti-victimization. Yet, I think that by feminizing this highly masculinized culture -- whether by pink firearms or ladies’ shooting leagues -- the new trend is at least a nudge in the right direction. That is, if the Second Amendment retains its post-D.C. v. Heller force and guns are here to stay, perhaps encouraging women to be as armed as their male counterparts is not a bad idea. Indeed, perhaps the increasing prevalence of female gun owners will give voice to women within the industry and edge out the disgusting “Alexa” mannequins and offensive advertising campaigns that are so deeply harmful to all women -- gun owners and control advocates alike.