This post was inspired by the article “Adoption as a Feminist Issue,” and is expanded from a comment I posted there.
The awareness of adoption as a feminist issue, as a women’s issue, goes back decades. Feminism as a movement is concerned about the exploitation and oppression of women. It speaks out against the violence and abuses which are perpetrated against women because they are women. Reproductive exploitation is thus a feminist issue. And reproductive exploitation is the basis of the adoption industry.
In her landmark book Death by Adoption (Cicada Press, 1979) feminist policy analyst Joss Shawyer states:
“Adoption is a violent act, a political act of aggression towards a woman who has supposedly offended the sexual mores by committing the unforgivable act of not suppressing her sexuality, and therefore not keeping it for trading purposes through traditional marriage. The crime is a grave one, for she threatens the very fabric of our society. The penalty is severe. She is stripped of her child by a variety of subtle and not so subtle manoeuvres and then brutally abandoned.”
(I would also like to recommend Shawyer’s article “Adoption ‘Choice’ is a Feminist Issue.”)
And, in 1986, Celeste Newbough wrote the landmark article “Adoption, Surrogate Motherhood and Reproductive Exploitation” in the feminist quarterly Matrix: for She of the New Aeon.
Shawyer’s quote, to me, sums up adoption. Along with the statistics that show that the majority of women who surrender babies to adoption do so against their will. These are babies they love and want to keep, but there is a thriving industry that currently sells newborns for $25,000 and more. See some sample price-lists for newborns. Just google “adoption situations” to find many more.
In most other nations, it is illegal to sell children, it is considered to be human trafficking. In Canada and the U.S., however, it is just considered to be business. See Gerow’s article “Infant Adoption is Big Business in America” (PDF) for a good analysis of why this unregulated industry exists. It is easy to exploit a woman if you deny her the supports she needs in order to keep her baby, and then convince her that she is undeserving of her child and that surrender is “heroic, noble, and selfless.” It is even easier if you get her to meet people who are eager to adopt her child, who she may then “fall in love with,” and who she then won’t be able to bear to disappoint by “changing her mind” and keeping her baby. Coercion takes many forms.
How is it not a feminist issue when women are being harvested for their babies, due to combination of a lack of legal protections and an enduring stigma against “un-manned mothers” (or now, “teen mothers” who are now the new “undeserving mothers,” striking fear into the hearts of the populace). Pregnancy and childbirth is an experience unique to women, it is part of their innate biology, a natural process that defines womanhood. When governments violate human rights by withholding the support necessary for a mother to keep her baby, this is blatant sexism and in effect punishes her for being a woman.
Let’s look an example illustrating the sexist double-standard. Men are not punished for fulfilling their reproductive imperative. Men don’t have body parts amputated off by agencies in retaliation for impregnating a woman (another natural act that is specific to their sex) — so why are women’s babies taken away from them (or women being manipulated into surrender (“choosing adoption”) by the NCFA’s “adoption is the loving option” crap), a traumatic act that feels like an emotional and physical amputation, if they get pregnant at a time that “violates” the artificial mores of society, who has “offended the sexual mores by committing the unforgivable act of not suppressing her sexuality…”?
A friend of mine, Karen Wilson Buterbaugh, who lost her baby to coerced surrender during the Baby Scoop Era, approached N.O.W. for their support. They refused to talk to her, and a woman there implied that it was because many in N.O.W. are adopters:
” When I was working in Washington, D.C., I called the N.O.W. office to schedule an appointment to speak with a representative. I wanted to discuss the issue of adoption surrender, especially during the Baby Scoop Era, being a major feminist issue. I wanted to see what they thought of this and if they were aware of the fact that so many babies were removed during that time from mother, mostly under age 21, who wished to parent their baby but were denied that right by social workers practicing in adoption, many of whom worked at maternity homes around the country such as the Florence Crittentons and Salvation Armies.
” I arrived and was told to wait. I waited and waited. An hour later I asked how much longer it would be. I was then told that I would not be seen. I asked why. She said she didn’t know but that no one wished to speak to me. I left and walked down the stairs to the lobby of the building. A woman approached me saying that she had overheard why I was there. She said, ‘Don’t you know that the women of N.O.W. adopt?’ I admit that I was startled at this as I had not considered that to be a factor!
” She then said, ‘Don’t tell anyone but here is the email address for the current President of N.O.W.’ (whose name I do not recall at this time). This would have been approximately 1997 or 1998. I thanked her for her flagging me down and for the information she shared with me. When I arrived back at work, I composed an email to the President of N.O.W. and sent it. Not hearing back, I sent it again,. I never received a reply. Not even a response saying she had received my emails or even saying she wasn’t interested in speaking to me or even defending adoptions. (My concern was specifically infant adoptions.)
” That experience was certainly a rude awakening to the fact that NO ONE cared, not even other females, about babies being removed from unprotected single mothers. “
So, mothers who have lost children to adoption have no advocates to speak for them and no support from the feminist community. I would like to call out to all feminists to help change this.