Archive for August, 2013

Politics of Family Building – Part 2

Thursday, August 29th, 2013 by janice

(Trigger warning for discussion of sexism, homophobia and adoption related issues. Also, note, I am referring mainly to trends and beliefs here in the US.)

Folks who know me (IRL or from Facebook or Twitter) know I am an abashed liberal and lifelong feminist. Now being both, I will readily admit I focus a lot on women’s issues and how our patriarchal society short-changes girls and women on a daily basis. But it is also true that patriarchy is bad for boys and men. It sells them short in a lot of ways. One of those ways is intimately tied to adoption.

Across the world, more boys are available for adoption than girls. Boys wait longer in countries that allow PAPs to request the gender of their child. Boys wait longer in Special Needs programs. Boys wait longer in US foster care. I’ve read of PAPs who have rejected referrals for boys from China’s “traditional” (aka the Non-Special Needs) program!

(Full disclosure: Darren and I were open to either a boy or a girl and stated so in our paperwork. I actually had imagined having boys or one of each when we first started. But when we settled on China, which at the time was referring something like 95% girls to the US , we “knew” we would get a girl. Getting Alexei instead of Lorelei was a surprise but a happy one.)

I don’t want to be seen as judging other people’s family building choices. There’s quite enough of THAT going around (a post for another day!) I know very well that that individual families have very legitimate individual reasons for preferring to adopt a girl over a boy. Frankly, since I already have a son, I would like to have a daughter! So I understand. But although each individual choice may make sense, it is still part of a clear pattern: when there is a chance to make a choice, adoptive parents tend to chose girls.

There are a lot of theories about why this might be but all of them seem to come down to sexist notions about boys and girls.

One theory is that women usually drive the adoption process (which is probably true, at least if one goes by the skewed sex ratios on adoption boards) and women prefer daughters to sons (insert raised eyebrow here.) I guess because they want their child to be “like them” as possible. This is coupled with the belief that men don’t care as much about the sex of an adopted child as they do a bio child therefor they default to whatever the wife’s preference is (raised eyebrow again.)

My personal theory is many folks erroneously believe, consciously or not, that girls are more pliable and easy to raise  than boys. That girls are more loyal to the family (and specifically the mother) than boys. The flip side of this is the belief that boys are more trouble to raise and will leave the family and not look back.  I’ve heard these opinions from quite a few parents, bio, adoptive and foster, enough to make me think, consciously or unconsciously, that belief this drives a lot of the “demand” for girls in adoption.

I’m not even sure where to go from that point, except to say, this obviously does a huge disservice to boys who need families to love and nurture them and teach them how to be wonderful men. Seriously, if there is any thought that has given me more anguish about  not feeling equipped to parent a child with identified special needs, it’s knowing that so many boys are still waiting for a chance for a family based on their sex alone.

Annnnnd now I seem to be once again veering into “safe the children” territory. Perhaps I have more of a savior mentality than I like to admit. 😉 But for the record, we didn’t adopt to “save” a child. Our money would have gone a lot farther given to an NGO like Half the Sky if we had that goal in mind. We adopted because we wanted a family. An entirely selfish impulse. To go back and adopt another child with any other goal in mind other than creating a family is, in my opinion, not a recipe for long-term success for all parties involved. Like with the previous post, I don’t think folks should be moved to adopt to “rescue” a child from their situation. I do want folks to think about these issues when they are already moved to adopt for reasons of family building.

OK, I don’t have a good segue here but while we’re talking about issues of sex and adoption, I want to mention the issue of men adopting. (At this juncture I won’t even get into the issues of gay and lesbian *couples* adopting – again, that’s a post for another day.)

It can be difficult for single women to adopt, even domestically. Although attitudes are changing in this country, there is still a lot of bias against single mothers, so they may wait to be chosen by a birth mother or be discouraged by a social worker.  Many countries are closed to singles of either sex, because of the same bias and/or fear of  same-sex couples getting around bans on gay and lesbians adopting.

But hard as it is for women, the number of programs open to single men is minuscule. And again, the reasons come down to sexist notions about men, especially single men, and children. I have found that even I, as a person who is surrounded by examples of good, nurturing fathers, have to fight my own prejudices about single men adopting. But needless to say, I find it sad that people in a position to make decisions about about who can adopt, from government officials to agency representatives, can  judge someone to be an unsuitable parent on the basis of gender alone.

I have no pat answers about how to change any of this. However, this is one part of why I’m a feminist.  Continuing to fight the stereotypes of men and boys as difficult or dangerous or what have you is just as important as fighting stereotypes about women and girls being soft, stupid or what have you. I know this doesn’t solve the problem for boys waiting for families right now or men wishing to be fathers right now. But such is the nature of the struggle. Those we fight for may not even have been born yet.

Love and blessings,

Janice

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