Il faut manger pour vivre, et non pas vivre pour manger.
My mother would sometimes recite this Molière quote to me in my younger years, when I was stuffing my face for the umpteenth time on a given day. It means, "One must eat to live, not live to eat." Essentially, it's a very classy way to tell someone to stop being a fatass.
Though my thoughts on whether I live to eat or eat to live are still unsettled, I do feel, in a similar vein, that one must work to live, not live to work.
Being a young professional in New York City, I am all too aware of the blurred lines between working and living, and which is being done for what purpose. The number of times I've heard friends complain of having to cancel plans because they're stuck in the office into the wee hours of the night is, well, many.
Therein lies the problem: It's expected. Being a workaholic has become a glorified trait, as has prioritizing work life before personal life.*
This week, when the news of Apple and Facebook offering up to $20,000 to their female employees to freeze their eggs under health programs was widely celebrated, I couldn't help but maintain some skepticism.
Let me start by saying that I truly think offering any kind of coverage that allows women further reproductive freedom is fantastic. I, at the age of 23, still have no idea whether or not I want children.
Sometimes a childless life seems like a permanent honeymoon; other times I think, "Wouldn't it be nice to just get a surrogate?" At the same time, I wouldn't be surprised if seven years from today, I'm seven months pregnant, taking the last bite of desert from my husband's plate, claiming it to be "for the baby."
Regardless, the point is, no direction is wrong, and anything that increases a woman's ability to better accommodate her reproductive decisions for her chosen lifestyle is a win in my book.**
You can't shame a company for offering an insurance policy, especially not when it tells you it is empowering women. But, here's my question: Say you work in a place where no one takes his or her vacation days — will you take them? No, probably not.
Even though you can take vacation days, you can't help but fear that preferential treatment will be given to those who do not. A similar shift, which could be caused by the rise of companies offering this kind of coverage, may change the work culture.
However, as with most benefits, there are drawbacks. After speaking to multiple people in the workforce, ranging from my peers to a pregnant 32-year-old-lawyer to males ranging in age from 23 to 40, it seems there is widespread fear that this kind of coverage may promote a culture where women are expected and encouraged to postpone having children.
Despite the benefit of this change, it can also morph into an attitude issue toward woman in the workplace that is hostile to natural family planning. For example, women who do not choose to freeze their eggs and decide to have families during the more natural (younger) biological time might be discriminated against and looked down upon.
Instead of the workplace becoming more supportive of that aspect of a woman's life, those facets will become devalued. Although this form of financial support for female employees is great for those who need it, it may very well cause a step back, rather than a step forward regarding the attitude toward women in the workplace.
Christy Jones, founder of Extend Fertility, a company which promotes and offers egg freezing in the US, states that this benefit “can help women be more productive human beings.” In all honesty, I found this language a bit offensive.
“Productive” is a subjective term. Seeing a woman who chooses to have children as less productive than one who does not is not conducive to gender equality. It is also not a healthy attitude for women in the workplace.
Many will argue that Facebook and Apple providing such coverage is a possible solution to the long-overdue issues of inequality in the workforce, but others will disagree, and understandably so.
Rather than becoming more understanding and accepting of the biological role in which some woman choose to take part, these companies are essentially trying to "pay" for that role to go away for bit. It seems like a Band-Aid on the serious issue of gender pay inequality.
In a way, this causes a step backward in the mentality that so many woman have been working to move forward.
We must try to make workplaces more accepting of that [childbearing and family oriented] aspect of a woman's life. Rather than embracing that part of womanhood and being accepting of this key difference between males and females, are these corporations, in a way, promoting women to be biologically more like men?
Is this happening despite scientific evidence that it is safer for both the woman and child alike when a pregnancy takes place at a younger age? What about the evidence that egg freezing is not always successful?
A woman's biology should not be required to shift in order to have success in the workplace. In fact, the shift is needed in the attitude of the workplace toward the humanity of its workers. That includes a woman's decision to take on the role of child-bearer and mother, given that is what she wants for herself.
My female friends and I may very well be some of the women who choose to have their eggs frozen at some point. But, if that point ever comes, I only hope that it won’t be because we let an employer impose itself on the lines between our work and our life.
Hopefully by then, there will be more concrete solutions to gender and pay inequality in the workplace that don’t involve me having to make adjustments to the biology of my body.
*I am admittedly writing this from the small speck of my NYC perspective. I am sure, in many places, the work life balance is much more, well, balanced. Even personally, as far as my work hours go, I really can’t complain. In any case, long hours are often just part of being a young professional (or old professional, for that matter).
**Though, it would be foolish to think that Apple and Facebook’s decision was in any way altruistic. Both companies will benefit if female workers are employed with them for a longer duration, cutting down on company recruiting and hiring costs.
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