Does International Adoption Hurt Women Outside the US?
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."
Are you an adoptive parent, or an adoptee? What do you think?