When you think of egg freezing, you probably think of the quintessential career woman. "I have a glossy image in my head of a professional woman in a nice silk shirt striding into a fertility clinic with a pile of binders and a four-year plan," writes Eva Wiseman for The Guardian. It's an archetype as much rooted in cultural debates about career-driven women as pop culture. Back in 2012, Anne-Marie Slaughter — of "Why women still can't have it all" fame — preached the gospel of egg freezing to young women just entering the workplace, arguing it would let them focus on their professional development before a family gets in the way. That same year, the TV show New Girl made much the same point.
Yet today, with democratic socialism is on the rise, something feels amiss about this perspective. Is a career really the only reason why a woman should freeze her eggs?
The answer to this question is what makes It's Freezing Out There, a new web series out today, so refreshing. Its creator, Pepper Binkley, smartly upends the trope of a professional woman freezing her eggs to "get ahead," instead emphasizing why even those of us still figuring thing out ought to be thinking about biological clocks.
Pepper (played by Binkley) is an almost-35-year-old cartoonist and storyboarder who gets an unexpected call from her gynecologist. She is standing on the edge of the fertility cliff, she learns, and the dwindling supply of eggs in her ovaries leave her three choices: Get pregnant ASAP, freeze her eggs, or risk never having children. Unsure she even wants children in the first place, Pepper is further isolated in her decision-making when her journalist fiancé, Frankie (Frankie J. Alvarez), tells her his career is more important to him than being a father: "I'm pretty focused on work right now," he tells her, to which she blurts back: "I'm focused, too!"
The tension doesn't come in the form of Pepper's hesitation over egg freezing — pretty early on, it's clear she's going to do it, despite some waffling over the costs — but rather from the question of why she's doing it.
Unlike the mythical binder-carrying career woman of our cultural imagination, Pepper isn't portrayed as put together and successful. As Frankie tells her during a fight, she is no Marjane Satrapi. When Frankie and Pepper break up, Pepper is forced to move back in with her mother. She dreams of being published in The New Yorker, despite constant rejections, and puts "take a shower" on her to-do lists. It is with frustration that Pepper has to repeatedly correct Frankie and her friends that drawing isn't a hobby, it's her job.
We don't likely envy Pepper, but we can probably relate to her. "I hadn't actually thought that much at all about having a baby," Pepper tells a psychologist during a required preliminary evaluation for egg freezing. "It just seems like it might be hard to balance having a kid and pursuing my career, pursuing what I love."
In crafting the series, Binkley is aware that many viewers may not have heard of a "fertility cliff" or an "ovarian reserve," so she makes us privy to the mundanities of Pepper's own discovery, from browsing a clinic's website to fielding nosy questions from family and friends. The creators even incorporated a real "Egg Freezing 101" session in the plot.
Importantly, it's not initially considerations of her career that drive Pepper to consider egg freezing; it is the dissolution of her relationship with Frankie. This rings especially true. In a new study, cited by The New York Times this July, of 150 American and Israeli women who froze their eggs, just two mentioned the pursuit of a career as the driving factor. For most of the women, egg freezing was the result of "facing the overarching problem of partnership."
So one reason Pepper hits snooze on her biological clock is to organically form a new partnership with someone else. As a journalist for The Guardian observed in 2016, "The women I talked to told me about lying about their age on Tinder, not wanting to appear 'desperate to settle down,'" a process Pepper awkwardly goes through in her own dating.
But like most things in life, it's complicated. Her career still is one reason she moves ahead with cryopreservation, it's just not the only one. When Pepper finally makes up her mind, she reflects that "it feels right to just liberate myself from my biological clock and let my career take front and center." Her to-do list becomes a list of affirmations, topped with I will be published in The New Yorker many times in my life.
It's Freezing Out There is far from the first depiction of egg-freezing in pop culture — along with New Girl, The Mindy Project was another early pioneer — but it might be the most healthy, sometimes swerving so far into the informational that it feels less like narrative and more like promotion. And although egg-freezing is explored as the right option for Pepper, the darker corporate nuances of the industry are less discussed. Still, it is no small feat to throw out an established trope, much less one that is outwardly progressive and feminist, prompting articles like Bloomberg's "Later baby: Will freezing your eggs free your career?" which perhaps unintentionally uses the same name of the fertility campaign in The Mindy Project.
In 2018, the old trope of the "career woman" does a disservice not just to the different experiences of women, but to the conversation around family planning as a whole. In exploring those nuances more inclusively, It's Freezing Out There draws laughs when Pepper's doctor clarifies, "So you're having a difficulty in your mind making a choice between drawing cartoons or having a child?" But it also reassures: That is perfectly okay.