Fertility seminars are on the timetable for certain female students at the University of Cambridge this term. But not for the boys, it seems. Perhaps they’re too busy.
In an interview with The Times, the new president of Murray Edwards College said she wanted to “empower” female students with lessons on fertility. Dorothy Byrne said the seminars, held at the women-only college, would help young women she believes are currently at risk of leaving baby-making too late.
“Young women are being taught that they all have to do well in school, get a degree, be successful in their career and be beautiful,” Byrne said. “The thing that is getting lost along the way is that you forget to have a baby, which I nearly did.”
She added that she felt lucky to now have a daughter, having previously prioritised her career for many years. “Young women tell me the minute they register with a GP, the doctor says, ‘What form of contraception are you using?’ Parents and teachers just give out information about how not to get pregnant,” she said.
“We are teaching about consent, we are teaching about harassment but we are not teaching them the facts about their own fertility. It is a woman’s right to choose to have a baby.”
Learning about fertility is all well and good, but many people online have pointed out that women are already well aware of the facts. After all, conversations about the “biological clock ticking” and the “fertility cliff edge” are hard to avoid if you were born with a womb.
What’s missing is an abundance of men willing to have children under the age of 40. Oh, and affordable childcare, manageable student debt and reasonable housing costs.
Imagine thinking that women who are smart enough to get into Cambridge don’t know that your fertility changes over the course of your lifetime.
— Rebecca Reid (@RebeccaCNReid) October 11, 2021
Absolutely hate this. Who is having conversations with boys about planning a family, and what it means for their career? Why is all of this always thrust onto girls and women? Stop infantilising men and gendering the very nature of caring for others. https://t.co/lPy560hJW9pic.twitter.com/LqI8ALMcSZ
— Caspar Salmon (@CasparSalmon) October 11, 2021
Been thinking about this Cambridge women’s college fertility nonsense & feeling alarmed by the white supremacist vibe it has. Nice educated white girls should have babies! (And accept the inevitable career hits because their nice white husbands can advance further that way.) https://t.co/02YGaXyidH
— Rachel Moss (@menysnoweballes) October 11, 2021
OK, let's talk to women at Cambridge about planning for children alongside careers. That's important. Why aren't we talking to men about this too? IME a massive part of the problem is finding professional men who are willing to have a baby under the age of about 40.
— Hannah Fearn (@hannahfearn) October 11, 2021
lessons on how not to be a shit boyfriend to widen the pool of actual grown-up, emotionally capable men for women to choose as birth partners? Just an idea https://t.co/9Zcr8mIVB2
— Eve Simmons (@EveSimmns) October 11, 2021
Katherine O’Brien, the associate director of communications and campaigns at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas), agrees that the seminars are “absurd”.
While she broadly supports the idea of young women and young men being given information about reproductive health, she believes the framing of the fertility seminars is “quite problematic”.
“Dorothy Byrne talks about how this is to stop women ‘forgetting’ about having a baby. I think it’s patronising and just not reflective of women’s lives today,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“I think that women are acutely aware of fertility, to the fact that at Bpas, sometimes we’re seeing women experiencing unplanned pregnancies in their 30s. Because of all these warnings about leaving it ‘too late,’ they’ve assumed that actually their fertility is declining at a much faster rate than it does.”
The most recent research suggests 37 is the age when women’s fertility usually starts to decline, which is much later than many people think. And even then, it’s a gradual change – not one that happens overnight.
“I don’t think it’s that women are ‘forgetting’ to have a baby or are blindly walking into infertility. Actually, there are lots of societal reasons why women are having children later in life and some of them are really positive,” O’Brien adds.
“The fact that women can control their fertility through contraception and abortion if needed, the fact that women might want to pursue a career or further education in their 20s... these are things to celebrate.”
She also points to the many constraints preventing women and their partners from having children at a younger age when they do want to, such as poor maternity pay, the motherhood pay penalty and employers’ reluctance to create truly flexible workplaces.
“It’s really not a case of people forgetting about fertility or forgetting about babies,” she says. “We see them quite a lot!”
HuffPost UK contacted the University of Cambridge to ask if there are any plans to offer fertility seminars to male students. In response, we were told this is a “Murray Edwards initiative”. So... that’s a no, then.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.