Adoption Awareness Month on FB

(originally published Nov 21, 2007)

Like the rest of the (connected) world, I’m on facebook about 36 hours a day. This morning I noticed a reminder that November is Adoption Awareness Month. I clicked on it and this is what I saw:


Like so many other things on facebook (giving candy corn, throwing turkey legs, giving growing plants), adoption has become something that you can reduce to an online application (built byHoliday Gifts), a mindless gift sent from one person to a huge mass of people by clicking the “Send to All Friends” option. The icons completely infantilize adoptees by using a smiling baby face, baby footprints, animal doll, and pastel colors as if adoptees remain infants and never grow up into adults. And maybe it’s just me, but the thought of being able to “send” an image of an infant reminds me of the thousands of Korean children sent to the US by proxy adoption, and the images of thousands of adoptable “waiting” children circulating online today.

I’m also bothered by the wording: “support adoption” “adoption awareness” “adoption is love.” What exactly does it mean to support adoption? Support the one-way flow of children to wealthier/white/western nations and the reverse flow of money to poorer/nonwhite/nonwestern nations? To raise awareness in a post-closed adoption society where it’s quite obvious that the little Chinese girl is not the biological child of her Jewish American father? And if adoption is love, then does that mean that birth parents do not love their children because they didn’t keep them?

Recently there was a fiery censorship scandal where the New York Times removed adoptees’ comments on its Relative Choices blog, thus silencing their voices and basically saying “Your opinions, even though you were adopted, don’t matter and aren’t welcome here.” The blog contained language such as “if you were still in China you would be working in a factory for 14 hours a day with only limited bathroom breaks!” The author also mentions “a recently published book in which many Midwestern Asian adoptees now entering their 30s and 40s complain bitterly about being treated as if they did not come from a different cultural background.” If adoptees (and people with common sense; did she really make that factory comment to her daughter?!) cannot respond to blogs such as this in the allegedly democratic space of the internet or within their own publications, then where are they to turn?

I wish I was artistic enough to create a new icon: “support adoptees.”

Gender and Korea

It’s so interesting how two different news agencies report the same research findings.

S. Korea’s women’s empowerment ranked among world’s worst (Yonghap News)

GENEVA, Nov. 8 (Yonhap) — South Korean women are among the least empowered in the world, despite high access to education and a long life expectancy, according to a report released Thursday.

The empowerment ranking of South Korean women stood at 97th out of 128 countries, lagging behind other major Asian economies, the Gender Gap Report, published by the The World Economic Forum, said.


Korea Gender Gap Narrows – Slowly (Korea Herald)

The gender gap in Korea is getting narrower, according to a report by a global research institute that was released yesterday.

The Geneva-based World Economic Forum issued its 2007 Global Gender Gap Report, which revealed Korea’s ranking in 97th place among the 128 countries surveyed. The Gender Gap Index assesses countries regarding how well and equally they are dividing their resources and opportunities among males and females.

In terms of a year-on-year ranking, Korea is in 88th place among 115 countries; up four places from a year ago, the data showed, and is good news, as it indicates a sign of slow but steady improvement regarding gender disparities.

Korea’s Gender Gap Index went up to 0.641 this year from 0.616 a year earlier. The WEF measures gender equality on a scale of zero to one, one being the status of equality. The study measured the degree of gender inequality according to the economic, political, educational and health-based criteria, the organization said.

“Korea is still one of the countries with a big gender gap, but it has shown progress in the areas of wage equality and labor force participation,” the WEF explained.

Korea topped all other countries, in terms of life expectancy and enrollment in secondary education, as it had last year. However, it was far behind in other areas such as the sex ratio at birth, and the number of women in parliament and ministerial positions. In these categories, Korea ranked in 120th and 110th place.

Nordic countries like Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland kept the top four spots, just as they did last year. Countries like Latvia and Lithuania made a big leap to 13th and 14th place, from in the 20s last year, the data showed. Korea’s neighboring countries, including China and Japan, were listed in 73rd and 91st place, respectively.

Saadia Zahidi, head of the WEF’s Women Leaders Program, urged countries to make greater endeavors to achieve gender equality. “Even the countries with the smallest gap recorded 0.8 in index, and the gap between the bottom countries was about 0.43 point,” she said.

“Narrowing the gender disparities is directly linked to economic growth and profitability,” she added, emphasizing that inequalities in pay and employment opportunity are still prominent and even increasing in developing countries.

By Jeong Hyeon-ji


What’s interesting is how Yonhap’s first sentence is “South Korean women are among the least empowered in the world” and the Korea Herald’s is “The gender gap in Korea is getting narrower.” The Korea Herald says it’s “good news” and that Korea is making “slow but steady improvement.”

The Korea Herald piece also says, “However, it was far behind in other areas such as the sex ratio at birth, and the number of women in parliament and ministerial positions.” Yes, absolutely, I’d like to see improvements in those areas, and for those improvements to translate into progress in other areas, such as in the family sphere. One area where Korea ranks highly is that it exports the highest proportion of its children for overseas adoption. Adoption researcher Peter Selman writes, “But many observers, including myself, have noted that intercountry adoption is an anomaly in a rich, low-birth-rate country like South Korea… The birth mothers of children placed for adoption in Korea (whether domestic or international) are predominantly young unmarried women facing the stigma of an illegitimate birth in a society which offers no support for the single parent.” (“The Rise and Fall of Countries of Origin,” Proceedings of the First International Korean Adoption Studies Research Symposium, 67).

In my humble opinion, even if Korean women begin to make the same as men (I purposely don’t say “earn the same wages” because I’m sure they work just as hard, if not harder, than men), many would probably still be and feel pressured to “give up” their children for adoption because of persistent social stigmas.

Korea still has a long way to go in terms of empowering women.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

by Michael Pollan (2006)

I live to eat, and I will drive almost any distance for a good meal, so I was excited when a friend recommended The Omnivore’s Dilemma. The title itself made me hungry. TOD is a fascinating cultural study of eating in the US: where our food comes from, how we’ve conditioned its production, how it’s conditioned our eating habits. Rather than making me hungry, it’s pretty disturbing. When we ask, “What should we have for dinner?” we probably don’t think, “Let’s eat corn!” (that is, unless you’re my friend Eunice, whose daily dinner consists of corn and beer). However,

“There are some forty-five thousand items in the average American supermarket and more than a quarter of them now contain corn. This goes for the nonfood items as well…” (p.19)

After eating at McDonalds with his family, Pollan writes:

“In order of diminishing corniness, this is how the laboratory measured our meal: soda (100 percent corn), milkshake (78 percent), salad dressing (65 percent), chicken nuggets (56 percent), cheeseburger (52 percent), and French Fries (23 percent).” (p. 117)

“You are what you eat, it’s often said, and if this is true, then what we mostly are is corn – or, more precisely, processed corn.” (p. 20)

Good thing I like corn.

Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Nation is Transforming America

by Adam Pertman (2000)

19,797 children were adopted from other countries into the United States in 2006. That’s more than half the size of a college campus, even a big one like UCLA. 

“The confounding dilemma in the adoption world is that there are probably more than enough needy children in the US to fill the homes of everyone considering adoption. There’s a big obstacle in the doorway, though: They’re rarely perfectly healthy white babies. “ (p. 31-32)

In other words, white American adopters don’t want to adopt domestic children if they’re black, Latino, disabled, emotional, or within driving distance (anywhere in the contintenal US) of their birth families. But they’re willing to pay incredible amounts of money to adopt Asian babies from abroad. 

Regarding the foster care system:

“…getting kids into permanent homes more quickly isn’t the ultimate answer if they continue flowing into the system unabated, and decreasing the influx would require finding remedies for the poverty, mental illness, racism, drug abuse, and alcoholism that underlie most people’s inability to raise their own children.

To date, society hasn’t done an exemplary job of resoving these problems. Whatever people’s divergent views about a nation’s obligations to its citizens, it’s a cold fact that even during the greatest economic expansion in our history, even as public adoptions set records, so did the number of children still in foster homes. If there’s no serious headway for the best of times, it doesn’t augur very well for the future.” (p. 281) 

So what is the future of adoption? As Pertman suggests and history proves, if white Americans continue to prefer adopting from abroad instead of at home, many children will be left circulating through foster care. And as some sending countries close their doors (Korea, hopefully), others will be thrown more open (China, unfortunately). Transnational adoption has become an easy solution to a difficult “problem”: excess children – but only children in other parts of the world. Not only does the child get parents and parents get a child, birth parents and governments are free of childcare responsibilities, and get paid for it on top of all else. The child gets free passage to the US to live out the American dream, and the US gets to celebrate and embrace multiculturalism.

What about the birth parents (mostly mothers) who are often forced into giving up their children, the unequal relationships between the sending/receiving countries, the highly questionable transfer of dollars for children and the subsequent commodification of children, the racial/ethnic/cultural hierarchies of preference, the illegality of adoptees accessing their birth records…

Children need loving homes, no doubt. But if we don’t address the problems that beget these children in the first place, then really, what hope is there for the future?