Thursday, November 19, 2009

Is Adoption a Feminist Issue?

Dawn from this woman's work has a great post up at Bitch, Adopt-ation: A feminist take on the state of the adoption industry:

Adoption is a feminist issue because it is a reproductive rights issue. It is an issue about the value of women as mothers and who has "earned" the right to be one. It's about how the states supports or does not support women who fall outside of the "good mother" rhetoric. It's about privilege. It's about class.

Right now the dominant voices in our cultural discussion of adoption are those like the NCFA who perpetuate stereotypes about the women who place their children and the women who receive them. It's a conversation that tries to erase the presence of the women who give birth to those children by pushing t-shirts that equate adoption with pregnancy thereby obliterating the origins of adopted people. The way we look at adoption – especially domestic infant adoption – is a manifestation of our Madonna/whore complex where birth mothers are saintly sinners – angelic enough to give away the babies they aren't good enough to keep.

We feminists need to start looking at adoption in new ways. We need to let the first mothers among us speak about their experiences past and present because their voices have been missing from our discussion. In the blogosphere we have feminist thinkers like FauxClaud, like Suz, like Jenna. They can tell us how Juno will likely feel five years from placement, ten, twenty or more.
And look at this article, Feminist lens on adoption, in the Minnesota Women's Press, by Katie Leo, an adult Korea adoptee (I stuck it in my "Favorites" months ago, and Dawn's piece made me go looking for it today):
I am part of a growing number of adult adoptees who view adoption as a feminist issue, part of a continuum of reproductive rights. This perspective extends to the right to raise one's child the same importance as the right to choose whether or not to bear one.

* * *

Over the years the social justice argument for adoption has proved increasingly problematic for many. In her article "Birth Mothers from South Korea Since the Korean War," scholar Hosu Kim states, "Although it often has been understood historically as a humanitarian effort ... I argue the practice of intercountry adoption is a radical example of global inequality played out at the site of actual woman's
bodies and often pits two women-the birth mother and the adoptive mother-against
each other in a struggle to claim a legitimate motherhood."

* * *

I believe that if the spirit of feminism creates solidarity between women across social, economic and racial barriers, feminists should work to remove the obstacles that render women around the globe so powerless, rather than using their situations as a reason to take their children from them. We should also question adoption language that carries implicit judgments of who makes a legitimate mother. Other issues to address are using children as a commodity, and racial coding of mothers and children. And we should work toward the extension of reproductive rights to include the rights of women to raise their children.
OK, let the Feminist Anonymous meeting begin. "My name is Malinda and I am a feminist." Are you? If so, reactions to these articles? If not, reactions to these articles?!


Wendy said...

Of course I am a feminist and so is my husband! Anyone who does not define themselves as feminist seriously needs to look up the term, it doesn't mean you burned a bra or hate men.

Yes, it is a feminist issue on so many levels. It is a family issue, but at the core are the women who conceive and delivery children and those that "mother" them--this can include men btw.

Dawn said...

What I don't get is why this ISN'T seen as a feminist issue? I was once talking to a woman about pitching an article about adoption ethics to a feminist mag and she said, "But really, Dawn, why should feminists care?" Ummm, because birth mothers are WOMEN? Because many of those women are forced into birth motherhood as a direct result of our Madonna/whore complex? Of our devaluation of motherhood? Of our inability to give women access to safe, reliable birth control? Oh the list goes on and on!

But why haven't feminists talked about it more? Marley wrote about it some yesterday:

I've read a lot of feminist scholarship around reproduction and (in)fertility but not so much around adoption -- there doesn't seem to be as much available. But I do get the sense that this is changing.

(I also wonder if some of this has to do with the idea that the women who place must not be feminists -- after all they didn't have abortions -- and so are out of the feminist jurisdiction? Or -- thinking of one of the comments on the Bitch post -- that bringing up the topic of coercion feeds into the idea that women are children who can't make a decision about abortion either? Although the minute someone really learns about adoption, I think that falls apart because the abortion industry looks NOTHING like the adoption industry as far as compensation goes or rhetoric or ACCESS or the fact that women do not receive adoption services absent of the psychological presence (for them and for the adoption workers) of the waiting adoptive parents. (Oh I so totally want to write about that tomorrow but I think I might not have time. Rats.)

malinda said...


I think one of the reasons that feminists haven't addressed adoption is the same reason feminists don't address many issues important to poor, minority women. Feminism has traditionally been a white, middle/upper class movement, with an emphasis on professional work -- the same women who tend to be adopting rather than placing for adoption. . . .

I loved your piece in Bitch -- and hope you find the time to write more on this topic!

atlasien said...

I was raised by a feminist and I'm 100% a feminist. I believe in feminism as the ideal of equality between men and women and the end of sex- and gender-based oppression.

I understand criticisms of feminism but I'm never swayed by them, simply because I don't have an unrealistic expectation that women are fundamentally more moral than men. Women can be just as racist, elitist, mean-spirited and so forth as men. I don't expect them to be pure so I'm not particularly disappointed when they mess up. Plus, there are so many different kinds of feminisms nowadays that I think it's almost impossible to generalize.

I used to call myself a sex-positive feminist but I stopped doing that once I realized that most people who called themselves sex-positive feminists were really insensitive to issues of racial fetishization. Now I call myself a "just plan feminist" and don't really get involved in arguments over definitions.

Adoption is a feminist issue but other issues -- race and class - have blinded major feminist organizations to its significance. Critics often cite "choice feminism" as a problem... the idea that any "choice" a woman makes is feminism. "Choices" do not get made in a vacuum, however, and they affect many people and many communities other than the one individual who is choosing. They're also deeply linked to ideas of the individual as a consumer who expresses power and self-actualization through choice.

I think Dawn's article and Katie Leo's article (which I commented on when it came out) are great because they raise awareness within feminist media.

My only criticism is that because they're fighting against such a well-defined enemy (right-wing NCFA propagandists) the implicit definition of adoption remains fairly narrow.

Domestic adoption and international adoption are numerically not that high. There are 2.5 times as many foster care adoptions than international adoptions, for example. Adoption is a huge spectrum, and a working-class African-American single mother who adopts her ten-year-old biological niece is just as much a part of it as a rich white couple who adopts a baby from China. I really hope that future articles in feminist media will also include discussions of the broad range of adoption, much of which falls outside the "machine". Yet, "machine adoptions" have come to define adoption in the American public mind, and this isn't right.

Victoria said...

Absolutely! Some day (sigh) feminism will cease to be a dirty word. We should all be advocating and working for improving the plight of women worldwide so eventually, adoption will not be the only alternative for many women.

Dawn said...

Atlasien - pitch 'em. I don't know much about foster care issues because my plate is full with domestic ones. But pitch 'em another guest blog for National Adoption Month. They don't pay but heck, that's not why I did it and I think they'd let you do it anonymously. Personally I think that you have to break up ADOPTION to talk about it in any meaningful way in a small amount of space (or heck, a large amount of space) but that's why more people need to be writing from their interest/expertise/experience. If you want the woman's email to pitch her a guest blog, email me. DawnFriedman AT gmail DOT com.

Shari U said...

I can't say that I'm a feminist, but I can't say that I'm not, either. I tend to be pretty conservative, but I believe that women should be empowered and should be able to make their own choices. This whole adoption it morally right, is it morally wrong is really interesting to me and I'm reading as much about it as I can. I do think that women should be given more support to keep their own children, I don't think that a women should EVER be forced to give up her baby. There are so many children in this world without parents and I think that's wrong. I believe they all need a family to love them and take care of them. I do wonder now, if by adopting my daughter from China, if I participated in making children a commodity in that country. If I did, I feel badly about that, as I think the one child law is horrendous. I believe the best thing for my daughter would have been to have remained with her first family, if that wasn't possible I believe she would have been better off with a Chinese family. Since neither of those things happened for her, I'm 3rd choice. I'm learning and I'm thinking and I know I'm becoming a better mother to her by making myself more aware of these issues.

atlasien said...

Dawn, it's something I definitely think about it and I'll continue to think about it. But even anonymous, I'm ridiculously visible.

I met someone from the internet once, and I sent them a picture before meeting, and they told me, "Thanks, but I didn't need a picture to spot an Asian woman with a white husband and a black son." Ha...

It matters a lot to me right now because of the situation with our son's brother. And I think this is common with a lot of families that come out of foster care. We're willing to participate in puff pieces (like the Family of the Month at but rarely beyond that... because CPS has so much potential power over us. One wrong word from an angry reader could lead to getting your kids taken away temporarily, especially if they haven't been legally adopted yet.

I do want to write more eventually. I am SO tired of hearing, in almost every adoption debate, from parents, "I couldn't stand to give a child back (e.g. I am entitled never to ever have to give a child back)" with the implication that foster parents are heartless subhumans.

I'm just not sure this is the right month or time. But I'll think on it more, and thanks a lot for the offer.

AdoptAuthor said...

I have been working on this issue for some time now, Last month I presented at the Association of research on Mothering, York Univ, Toronto. ARM is a very feminist organization.

The major problems to overcome is that while feminists and other progressives seek to eliminate exploitation of women, it is far easier to pint to patriarchal exploitation than to see how women's inhumanity to women.

American feminists are middle and upper class women - well educated. Can we say elitist? Privileged? Second wave feminism sold them the need to put off childbearing to pursue education and carer, creating massive infertility. (I didn't read all the comments and so may be redundant here).

Now they see themselves as "deserving" of a chid and impoverished mothers as not able to meet their children's needs. Win-win! For them!

We need to help women understand the loss they inflict on another mother to resolve their own loss.

We need to all think about not making Margaret Atwood's Handmaid Tale a reality!

Affordable Housing said...

Added to the increase an infertility, coupled with a decrease in American women losing children to adoption because of more access to lack of birth control and acceptance of single parentage...

Add to that same sex couples now also competing for babies to issue supported by "feminists" - if we can put all women concerned about women's issues under one umbrella [NOT!].

Adoption - classic stranger adoption - is classist.

Solinger got it. She said: "Adoption only exists on the backs of resourceless women."

Long before that. Joss Shawter got it and called for women to stop putting in order for other women's babies.

I think the time is ripe and I am trying to get some article out there on this very important subject.


(Copy and paste it ALL)

But it won't be easy. Many feminists are recipients...Same reason ACLU does not support equal access for adoptees!

Bukimom said...

In answer to Malinda's question on whether I'm a feminist, I would have to say yes in the sense that I am all for legislation that empowers women.

I'm also a masculinist in the sense that I think if more men stepped up to the plate to be the providers for/protectors of their offspring that they should be, a lot fewer women would be faced with having to be separated from the children they gave birth to.