Does International Adoption Hurt Women Outside the US?

By Linda Lowen, About.com Guide to Women's Issues
Wednesday December 3, 2008
 
Is adoption a feminist issue? Does it pit adoptive mother against birth mother and create a hierarchy of who's fit and who's unfit to be a mother? Is international adoption a form of sanctioned social injustice that impedes the rights and freedoms of women in other countries?

These are the controversial questions that Katie Leo grapples with in "Feminist lens on adoption" at the Minnesota Women's Press website.

This issue is intensely personal to Leo; she was adopted from Korea before she was a year old. Today, struggling with the pain of her own infertility, she had been considering an international adoption until she began to read the work of feminist authors, adoptees, activists, and others who see a disconnect in the reasoning of feminists/social justice advocates who adopt from other countries.

Leo explains how her views on adoption have evolved:

[H]ere is the story I was told about myself when I was a young girl: You were abandoned on the doorstep of an orphanage with a note that read "Please take care of my child." Your mother loved you very much, but since she was probably a prostitute, a very young (probably teenaged) girl, or a single woman, she couldn't take care of you. So, she did the most loving thing a mother could do, she gave you up for adoption so that you could have a better life.

I accepted and retold-indeed, even took pride in-this story for years. This narrative, conveyed by my parents who first heard it from the adoption agency, illustrates [a] sort of manufactured positioning...It marks my birthmother with a presumed status, and this status ranks her on a social scale, at an inferior placement that highlights her lack of resources and defines her as therefore illegitimate for motherhood. Her economic and social vulnerability is an unquestioned given.

The story further implies certain suppositions about what "a better life" means. In this scenario, "better" clearly means American, but it also suggests wealthier, Caucasian, and most important, not with my birthmother. This notion of "a better life" has permeated adoption narratives since the practice began, often used as justification for its existence....

But who gets to define what "a better life" means? Colombian-born adoptee advocate Jennie Anderson, executive chair of the Resource Committee of Adopted Adults, pointed out that "adoption is defined by American ethnocentrism. What 'we' do is right. We have the solution for everything. We can take better care of these children than you can."

Nearly half of all international adoptions bring children to families in the United States. And for many mothers, Leo's comments may be regarded as 'fighting words'; they intend to parent responsibly, are unable to give birth or wish to provide a home to a child who needs one, and don't see what's wrong with going overseas.

Leo's perspective - that adoption is "part of a continuum of reproductive rights" - may be seen as radical by some and pragmatic by others. She feels that the "right to raise one's child [should have] the same importance as the right to choose whether or not to bear one."

http://womensissues.about.com/b/2008/12/03/does-international-adoption-hurt-women-outside-the-us.htm

 

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Feminist lens on adoption

http://www.womenspress.com/main.asp?SectionID=1&SubSectionID=1&ArticleID=3238&TM=55959.4

04 December 2008

Feminist lens on adoption
Personal story, research frame the issue

by Katie Leo

Katie Leo
Two years ago my husband and I decided, after four years of unsuccessful pregnancy attempts, to consider adopting a child from Korea. In doing so we joined the thousands of couples struggling with infertility who consider this option each year, in addition to fertile couples who choose to adopt, and the hundreds of thousands of couples who have done so since the practice of international adoption began. That number, in fact, includes my parents. I was adopted from Korea at the estimated age of 10 months.

Reproductive justice
As an adult Korean adoptee, I knew first hand how it felt to grow up divorced from the language, culture and people of my birth country. The undeniable question for me involved whether I could reconcile my political beliefs with participation in international adoption. Could I call myself a feminist and social justice advocate and still adopt? I realized that for me, the answer was no.

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.

In her book "Beggars and Choosers: How the Politics of Choice Shapes Adoption, Abortion, and Welfare in the United States," feminist historian Rickie Solinger examines adoption through this lens of reproductive rights. She states, "I believe it is crucial to consider the degree to which one woman's possession of reproductive choice may actually depend on or deepen another woman's reproductive vulnerability." In other words, how might an individual woman's right to choose adoption actually exploit another woman's lack of rights?

Jae Ran Kim, a social worker, adoption scholar and author of the blog Harlow's Monkey, is a Korean adoptee. She echoed Solinger's call for a broader consideration of reproductive rights: "Who has access to reproductive choice? We focus so much on abortion as a feminist issue, we haven't talked about a woman's right to parent."

Shannon Gibney, an African-American adoptee, activist and writer, said that many of her colleagues have redefined reproductive rights as "reproductive justice," which has broader implications beyond individualism and invites interrogation of systems of oppression versus privileging the individual. Using this language, Gibney explains, a woman can ask herself, "How can I make the most just decision, given my current historical context?"

Looking at adoption through this lens amounts to a paradigm shift, and I believe it raises crucial questions facing all Americans as we move through the 21st century. How do our choices and actions affect others, including people we do not see and will never know? Do our rights and freedoms impede those of others? And, what can an individual woman live with?

International adoption 101
International adoption, also called intercountry adoption (ICA) or transnational adoption, is generally defined as the global movement of children between countries which began on a mass scale after the Korean War and has been responsible for nearly a half million child migrations, almost one third from Korea. Initially conceived as a form of child rescue for war orphans, adoption from Korea grew into a profitable economic industry that would become the blueprint for international adoption in general.

The United States as a receiving country accounts for almost half of all international adoptions and has since the practice began. Rounding out the top five receivers for the past decade are France, Italy, Canada and Spain. Since international adoption's inception, the predominant sending countries have shifted, with Korea dominating until the 1990s. Although Korea remains a primary source for adopted children, in recent years the prevailing country of origin has been China. Russia, Romania, Ukraine, Guatemala, Colombia and Peru have also been major sources. A quick glance through this list of sending and receiving countries begs certain questions about international adoption. First, who benefits and who loses as a result of this practice? In "Beggars and Choosers," Solinger describes the "new baby consumers" of intercountry adoption as "wealthy choice makers from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe." Second, what economic and/or social conditions in the sending countries have left some women so powerless that they feel they have no choice but to relinquish their children?

While international adoption began in countries devastated by war (often U.S.-supported), it later expanded to include countries where the effects of globalization and state-sanctioned patriarchy have left poor women more vulnerable than ever.

In an interview with Mirah Riben, Solinger stated that "adoption, as a social practice, absolutely depends on the existence of groups of women rendered deeply vulnerable most essentially today because of their poverty." Some critics of intercountry adoption have noted that historically the streams of children have run one way-from the so-called Third World to predominantly white adopters-and likened it to a form of modern colonialism.

Myths of the legitimate mother
Conventional language around child relinquishment has often fixed birthmothers in a position that simultaneously acknowledges and negates them. As an example, here is the story I was told about myself when I was a young girl: You were abandoned on the doorstep of an orphanage with a note that read "Please take care of my child." Your mother loved you very much, but since she was probably a prostitute, a very young (probably teenaged) girl, or a single woman, she couldn't take care of you. So, she did the most loving thing a mother could do, she gave you up for adoption so that you could have a better life.

I accepted and retold-indeed, even took pride in-this story for years. This narrative, conveyed by my parents who first heard it from the adoption agency, illustrates the sort of manufactured positioning that Kim describes. It marks my birthmother with a presumed status, and this status ranks her on a social scale, at an inferior placement that highlights her lack of resources and defines her as therefore illegitimate for motherhood. Her economic and social vulnerability is an unquestioned given.

The story further implies certain suppositions about what "a better life" means. In this scenario, "better" clearly means American, but it also suggests wealthier, Caucasian, and most important, not with my birthmother. This notion of "a better life" has permeated adoption narratives since the practice began, often used as justification for its existence.

Who benefits?
But who gets to define what "a better life" means? Colombian-born adoptee advocate Jennie Anderson, executive chair of the Resource Committee of Adopted Adults, pointed out that "adoption is defined by American ethnocentrism. What 'we' do is right. We have the solution for everything. We can take better care of these children than you can."

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."

Writer and educator Sun Yung Shin, who was adopted from Korea, framed it this way: "How do white women-whether adoptive mothers, social workers, psychologists, nurses or missionaries-serve the needs of the white patriarchy by mobilizing resources (birth mothers, social workers, the children to be adopted)? How does this hive of activity serve the controlling white masculinity?"

Moving forward
As a woman dealing with the pain of my own infertility, I did not want to think through all these questions when I first considered adopting a child. Frankly, I just wanted to be a mother. My decision not to adopt after realizing that adoption was in conflict with my political beliefs is my personal choice. I do not condemn all adoptive parents, my own included, whom I love profoundly. Nor do I condemn adoption across the board. I do think, however, that we need to reframe our discussion of adoption. And though this story is about international adoption, I believe this discussion should include domestic adoption and foster care.

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.

The challenge of our times is to reach across divisive lines and work together. We have learned all too well in recent years how rigid adherence to emotionally charged political stances can damage public discourse and hinder progressive action. I fiercely hope that all invested parties in questions of adoption can strive together toward a just and equitable world for all women.

I recommend that those interested in this topic explore the tremendously rich body of scholarly and creative work by adult adoptees.

Online resources:
AK Connection Minnesota organization for adult Korean adoptees. www.akconnection.com

Resource Committee of Adopted Adults www.childrenshomeadopt.org/rcaa

Adoptee Solidarity Korea (ASK) www.adopteesolidarity.org

Adopted and Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora (AFAAD) http://afaad.wordpress.com

International Soundex Reunion Registry (ISSR) Aids adoptees and birthparents interested in reuniting. www.issr.net

. Check out Jae Ran Kim's blog at harlowmonkey.typepad.com

Reading list
Outsiders Within edited by Jane Jeong Trenka, Julia Chinyere Oparah and Sun Yung Shin. A collection of essays, research, poetry and artwork by transracial adoptees.

The Language of Blood by Jane Jeong Trenka. Memoir by an adult Korean adoptee who grew up in white, rural Minnesota.

Transnational Adoption by Sara Dorow. An adoption academic's look at American adoptive parents of Chinese-born children combines sociology and empirical data.

Beggars and Choosers by Rickie Solinger. Feminist historian, examines adoption through this lens of reproductive rights.

Write to us
Has adoption affected your life? Tell us what you think. We want to hear your voice. Email editor@womenspress.com.

Feminist views are great

Feminist views are great but....they kinda leave us males out of the picture... not that it's new. Feminism to me is a form of discrimination. Like it pisses me off to see a woman in the techfeild... getting screwed over or treated badly... but... Feminism discriminates against the male and is one of the core reasons I will never see my child again. Female crown, female social worker,2nd female social worker, female supervisor, female court clerks, female visitation supervisor, And a second female lawyer... I was the only male (denied a lawyer altogether).... and they worked me over....I am pretty sure it was cause I was male...I mean the girl before me got to keep her child and she was a recovering coke head. (Admitted in court she was still an addict.)

Feminism is disgusting we are all supposed to be equal... but that was not the reality... discrimination hurts everyone... Feminism is discrimination.... I have seen and felt it's wrath...and so has my son. Perhaps one day humans will evolve from hating discriminating animals to loving caring animals... but not in my lifetime...

All people are supposed to be equal feminism ensures that is not the case...
As a male I have fought for the rights of woman in a workplace and lost my job over it. Not just because she was a woman, if I seen a ethnic person receiving the same treatment I would say something just the same... but it's funny how a person can face this feminism/discrimination and not realize they are victims... until it's to late.

Discrimination is discrimination... and that means one person stands on another's backs to get on top. Hard to have respect for that or take anything said by such people with any sort of credibility. Funny how CPS and family courts employs thousands of these types of people. Kinda makes one think.....

And I tell you... I am now the last to stand up and say something when I see female discrimination.... now other forms of descrimination I am the first there to say something even if it costs me personally.

When I asked my other half (female) and suggested my view on this topic and if I was being to harsh, she said this:

"Feminists want a reason to hate men. They look for it. It comes from insecurity and the need to feel power over another. We are all equal and that is the bottom line. Any female who participates in feminism activities, really needs to get a life and grow up. You got screwed over by this mentality because your a male while the crackhead gets to keep her child that is the damage feminism does and why I will have no part in such hateful activities of such low IQ'd individuals..."

Coming from the brain child of the man who invented the CPU clock multiplyer that means something to me. In other words if not for the this man's invention computers would not be what they are today... lol... and she makes her father look like a toy maker :)

So I value her input perhaps more then my own.

Choosing opinions

I'm always amused by a feminist's "right-to-choose" issues because I think so much of a woman's anger towards "unfairness" is about things women cannot change about themselves.

I think fertility and sex has A LOT to do with personal identity so I can't help but wonder how many "feminists" resent others because one seems to have more than the other.  In any case, I think the feminist movement is all about finding respect for those who don't feel like they fit-in certain social-norms. 

What amuses me most about the feminist movement is how it has now parlayed itself into the adoption-trend.  Many of these (infertile) women who can't wait for a baby go back to work once their maternity adoption-leave is up, leaving the children in day-care, without their new-mommy OR new-daddy.  (So much for "having it all" and keeping child-care within the nuclear family a number one priority.)

As far as where I fit-in the feminist movement, I believe my opinion is reflected best by the author who wrote the article "The Abandoned Baby Syndrome".

I STRONGY believe there is glory in a woman's body and role; I simply find it very sad those elements of a woman's identity are rarely fully respected by both genders.

 

Well said!

Well said!

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