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Ideologies of Motherhood and Kinship in U.S. Adoption

Christine Ward Gailey

·         In the US, birth is the prevailing way that children enter families and the dominant idiom of kinship is that “blood is thicker than water” (Schneider 1968). But adoption is becoming increasingly popular. Interesting!

·         “master narrative” of kinship > namely, the belief that kinship is strongest where there are genetic connections between parent and child:
- those with genetic ties have greater claims to a child than others (nature over nurture)
- women who can bear children should try by all means financially possible to do so before “resorting” to adoption
- in infancy, at least, maternal bonding is stronger than paternal bonding because of pregnancy and birth.

·         In one case, an adopted child had lived with their adoptive parents for five years, yet the birth parent was granted custody after revealing that they felt pressured into relinquishing their child at birth. The bonding or attachment of the child to the adoptive family was deemed not to supersede the parents’ claims.

·         The objection of transracial adoption center on the question of appropriate identity formation in a racist society or the right of children to grow up among their own people, especially where that people is targeted in terms of discrimination.

·         Those who are in support of transracial adoption tend to argue from a needs basis – there are a disproportionate number of black children in foster care – or a “race blind” position, that is, laws should not distinguish by race (Bartholet 1993).

·         Critics argue that “race blind” policies ignore the persistence of racism and its effects and thereby support white privilege.

·         For those who have adopted through … agencies, adoption provides us with a way of seeing how the major vectors of difference in society – class, race and gender – affect the meaning of motherhood.

·         Biological determinism: the notion that women are predestined by nature to be mothers by virtue of having uteruses and ovaries; motherhood is created by women’s role in biological reproduction.

·         Gender essentialism: across cultures and time periods, women and men have basically different natures, temperaments, and predispositions; women are inherently more maternal than men, and maternal behaviour is marked by nurturing.

·         Genetic determinism: assumed though not demonstrated that genetics plays a determining role in the social potential of an individual, focused variously on criminality, intelligence, or personality, depending on the context.

·         Together, these three form an ideology that “real” kinship is based on genetic connection, and that childbearing and child rearing are women’s natural role, whatever else they may do in a society.

·         Emphasis on birthing > position of fathers? Closeness based on notion of genetic similarity.

·         Studies have shown that usually wives persuade husbands to adopt, following an extended period of unsuccessfully attempting to conceive or a series of miscarriages or stillbirths. The husband enters the…


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