Thursday, August 4, 2011

Has Covert Adultism Made Feminists Forget Adopted Women?

Cross-posted at Declassified Adoptee.

Bloggers and commenters have been buzzing on feminism and adoption since Feministe asked a series of questions about how the two topics intersect. I was glad that I and other Adoptee Rights and Adoption Reform activists had the opportunity to talk about feminism and adoption from a perspective people least consider and least expect. The usual discourse of this topic in my experience centers around supporting the ability of the middle class woman to adopt while ignoring that this often takes place at the expense of marginalized women and impoverished families. Less often included in these discussions are perhaps the invisible group: adoptees, namely, female adoptees We experience the double oppression of being commodified twice over, first for the "adoption fee" placed on us often based on our gender, our age, our skin color, and other attributes, as well as experiencing the comodification that women endure in society.

I think most adoptee rights activists reading many of the comments by fellow feminists in the Feministe post would agree: there is an obvious need for the feminist community to be educated on adoption issues. This discourse should, of course, be lead by women who live adoption each and every single day. Some of the concepts stated there are certainly not the first time I have heard such things said; I would like to address some of them here, specifically highlighting how covert adultism shapes these views. You will notice in the ideals hailed as "feminist," adopted women get the short end every.single.time (and those of you who know me know that by saying this I do not mean to suggest that these things are uplifting of surrendering mothers either).

Note that these comments are not verbatim, rather, are quotes I've created from frequent concepts I saw expressed in the Feministe post, as well as from my experience hearing what other feminists have to say about adoption in-general.

"There is no right of a child to remain in his or her own original family because women have a right to choose not to parent."

This is a failure to understand what the right of the child to remain with his or her family means. It means that we understand how important it is for a child to be raised by her or his biological family whenever possible and will explore that option first before others. When a child is born to a family, this is the child's first family; separation is loss and we ought to seek to reduce the losses of children. This means that the biological parents have rights. If they are unable or unwilling to parent, then the extended family has rights. If they are unable or unwilling to parent, then the child has a right to remain in his or her own community, culture, and country of origin. Drastic loss should be a last resort and avoided whenever possible.
As I've explained, this does not at all mean "forcing" mothers to parent. The false claim that there are conflicting rights, and as a result the child can have no rights because the mother's rights are better, is morally reprehensible at best.

"Women have the right to choose not to identify as 'mother.' This means that perpetual anonymity for women who have surrendered babies to adoption is their right."

I agree that a woman should identify however she pleases. But this should not translate into the legal right to alter another woman's reality or negate another woman's right. What this says for an adopted women is "you have no right to know your origins because another woman says so." Where is the adopted woman's right to identify how she pleases and to define her own family relationships?

Feminists may feel they are protecting the right of one woman by saying birth certificates should be sealed or have conditional access allowed to them. But they are forgetting about the other woman it impacts. This means adopted women cannot be equal. It means their rights are conditional. It means that feminism has failed to see us, an entire group of women, as fully human.

"Adoption is important because it allows people who do not want to give birth to children or cannot give birth to children a way to form a family."

While it is true that many families have been formed through adoption (and by saying that I will also acknowledge the losses that many families also endure because of adoption, and the adoptee's loss of their original family). However, the needs of adults should not be the focus of adoption. Adoption should seek to find parents for kids (kids truly in need, without erasing their heritage); not kids for parents. Saying that the purpose of adoption is to form families for people who want to have a family turns children into a commodity.
And as I said previously, adopted women experience the double commodification of women in society, as well as in adoption.

"Parents who adopt children have a right to choose closed adoption so that they can form their family how they choose."

I take this to mean that the amount of information an adoptee is or isn't allowed to know about themselves (including being told nothing at all) as well as the amount of contact they are or are not allowed to have with their original family is dependent upon the wishes of their adoptive parents---for the purpose of allowing the adoptive parents to view their family how they choose. In other words: it's OK to pretend the adoptee's ties to their original family don't exist because the adoptive parents do not want to be reminded of them.

This not only ignores the reality of the daughter who has been adopted, it takes away the right of the original mother to identify as mother of her daughter. Everyone has a right to know about their life from chapter one: adoptees included. Whether an adoption is opened or closed, it should be about what is best for that particular adoptee, not the adults involved.

"I know an adoptee / first mother and they......"

Stop. Just stop. You cannot stand behind a friend, a friend's cousin's sister, someone you met one time, your hair dresser who is adopted, or your boyfriend's boss who surrendered a child to adoption, and pull the puppet strings--voicing our narratives for us.

Some more examples of unacknowledged privilege:

  • Those who do not think adoptees should have unrestricted access to their OBCs likely have unrestricted access to theirs.
  • Those who think adoptees have no right to know their roots likely know their own roots.
  • Those who think adoptees have no right to define their own family relationships likely have defined their own.
  • Those who have had trouble defining their own family relationships but are still insensitive to adoptees fail to understand that how they felt about being oppressed in this regard: adoptees feel the same way.
  • Those who do not think family medical history is a big deal likely have the knowledge of their own.
The scenario below has been adapted from "Shared Fate."

A woman desires to have a baby with her partner. However, since she has a family medical history of diabetes, grew up watching her own mother suffer with diabetes, and has had many problems and complications as having diabetes herself, she decides that it is best that she not have a biological child. So she uses a "donor" egg instead of one of her own eggs when she becomes pregnant and gives birth to a daughter.

However, because of the "right" of the adults involved a.) to "donate" eggs anonymously and b.) to receive eggs from an anonymous "donor," the inequality of the daughter has been formed. While it was very important to her mother to have a child and avoiding that the child would also have diabetes, the manner in which this happened left the daughter born to her unable to make the same decisions for herself. Half of this daughter's medical history is unknown.

The daughter will have half of the available information to make her own decisions as her mother had for her own (just because someone is healthy at one point in their life does not mean that other issues will not arise later, e.g. after the "donation" has been made). If donor sperm was also used or if she had adopted instead, then it is likely her daughter will have none of the same information about herself to make the same health care choices. This is not because the information wasn't there. It is because "anonymity" for the adults s involved was more important than the daughter's right to information. This imbalance remains the same even after the adoptee or donor conceived adult reaches the age of majority. The position of "child" and the imbalance of rights is perpetual for us.

How is that fair?

I do not mean to say that the above points and quotes made by feminists, though they seem to want to uphold the best interests of surrendering mothers, are actually uplifting to or are actually respectful of surrendering mothers. I read adoption research, I know many, many mothers of loss and I do not at all recognize perpetual anonymity or children's rights being opposed to their rights to be at all something that respects them or acknowledging to how they feel. These points and quotes were summaries of ideas expressed by women who had not surrendered children to adoption. This is a form of ventroloquism: where someone speaks on behalf of a marginalized person as to how they "imagine" how they feel or how they thinks a-friend-who-has-experienced-this feels.

I also do not mean to say that the above quotes and points made by feminists are in fact upholding of feminist values. As someone mentioned to me in the comments section of a previous post, feminism is about seeing women, all women, as fully human. It is about seeing women as equal. This means considering that adoptees are in fact women and that their rights deserve equal consideration to the rights of others. Lording the "adult" and "parent" position over adoptees past adulthood is not feminism, it is adultism. Treating children as if their culture, language, narrative, original information and original identities do not and are never allowed to matter because the adults may feel differently is adultism.

No, the quotes and points made by feminists above do not demonstrate feminism to me at all. Instead, they show that there is a need for dialogue about adoption within feminism where those women who have experienced adoption and live adoption lead. It shows that adultism and ventroloquism need to be replaced with a genuine desire to listen, to learn, and to acknowledge adopted women as all women: fully human.

Please note that I acknowledge that there are adoptees who identify with genders other than female and that issues for them are the same as I've described here for females. I acknowledge the same for donor concieved individuals. As this post is about feminism, I am specifically mentioning women to demonstrate the power balance of women within adoption which feminists tend to ignore or be oblivious to. Donor conception was not a part of the Feministe discussion and I regret not inclusing these individuals more in my responses.