Blue-Ribbon Babies and Labors of Love: Race, Class, and Gender in U.S. Adoption Practice

By Christine Ward Gailey | Go to book overview

FOUR
MAKING KINSHIP IN
THE WAKE OF HISTORY
Older Child Adoption

I was an egg dropped on the sand; a pauper by nature, hunted from
family to family, who belonged to nobody—and nobody cared for me
.

— MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT, MARIA, OR THE
WRONGS OF WOMAN
, 1798 (1975: 56)

Older child adoption1 in the United States today is a story of forming kinship bonds in the aftermath of personal and community-based trauma,2 specifically, violence that has simultaneous gender, race, and class dimensions. Adoptive parents and children struggle daily with a set of intersecting ideologies of child development, personality, and kinship that make change, transcendence, and healing appear impossible. It is a story that often revictimizes children by making them appear helpless and ignoring their strengths. Parents who subscribe to society’s dominant narrative of kinship as an expression of genetic replication, inheritance, and possession, and who reinforce society’s gender hierarchies and sexual double standards, may further traumatize their adopted older children by silencing them and remaining silent themselves on these issues. Since adoption of older children is one of the few arenas in which these issues are confronted on a daily basis (see Carney, 1976), we can learn from the experiences of parents about the dimensions of recovery from gendered violence.3

I consider “gendered violence” as bureaucratic or personal action or inaction that systematically truncates chances for mental and physical health or survival, with differential focus and intensity depending on how the perpetrator perceives the target’s gender. The utility of this concept as an analytical category owes to the ways gendered violence attacks what is in many societies a central facet of social personhood, namely, one’s gender identity and often one’s sense of bodily integrity as a gendered person.

Situations in which violence is gendered help us understand the coercion

-56-

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