There has been widespread discussion in the adoption community about an offhand remark from a recent episode of "Rules Of Engagement" on CBS. You can watch the clip here.
One character said, in response to the news that there would be no food at an adoption fair he was planning to attend with his wife:
"A lot of nerve calling it a fair when they're not offering some sort of meat on a stick."
His wife says: "...If we get serious about adoption we need these people to like us."
His response: "If they can't like me for who I am then I'm not going to buy one of their used babies." (cue canned laughter)
And that's just the commercial. I can only imagine how the rest of this adoption-related plot is going to work out.
Okay, yes, this is a comedy. But discrimination against a particular group of people should not be fodder for the laugh track. This is why adoptees and first mothers face discrimination: because people make light of our situations. Losing your family is not funny. Surrendering a child is not funny. (Neither is infertility, for that matter.) There is also something to be said for comedy that isn't afraid to make a point when a point needs to be made. M*A*S*H comes to mind -- comedy combined with serious assessments of the impact of war.
I know a number of adoptive parents who are open-minded, honest, and willing to accept adult adoptee and first mother viewpoints even if those viewpoints make them uncomfortable. In my opinion, these folks totally rock and I wish more adoptive parents were like them. Unfortunately, far too frequently I encounter the other end of the pendulum: adopters with an entitlement mentality, who believe they "deserve" to be parents at all costs, who stick to the stereotypes because anything else interferes with their mental image of themselves as "rescuers." (Go check out Cricket's Blog Of Shame list for some nauseating examples.)
To me, this dialogue smacks of that: "Of course we should be fed, if we're going to an adoption fair! Of course we should be wined and dined and pampered; we're the paying customers! We expect top-notch service and prime quality merchandise -- which we'll return if it doesn't match our expectations." To such people, first mothers are mechanical wombs and adoptees are malleable Barbie dolls who never grow up. Note also the currying of adoption agency favors: Hide your true self, suck up to the agency and maybe you'll be rewarded with a kid. Sadly accurate.
I don't care that the dialogue is supposed to reflect the abrasive personality of the particular character who said it. The fact remains, people who don't have direct connections to adoption (and even some that do) get their ideas about it from TV, movies, and books. Which means that if writers are going to use adoption as a plot point (I'm talking to YOU, Diablo Cody) then they better get their facts straight and realize what an impact their words will have on people for whom adoption is more than just a sitcom.
We also have to consider the impact upon young adoptees, who are at the forefront of adoption discrimination. Many are already ostracized, especially those who are of a different race than their adoptive families. I can tell you how such a remark on a television program would have felt to me when I was a child. In the era of "Diff'rent Strokes," all adoptees were assumed to be poor kids who were damn lucky to be raised by wealthy whites. I hated the show, hated the assumptions, yet it was the only portrayal of adoptees I knew so I absorbed the stereotypes even as I struggled to find my own identity. Adoptees deserve better, and we as a society know better, thanks to the voices of the many people who write, blog, and otherwise share their viewpoints on this polarizing subject. Yet Hollywood is still stuck repeating the same damn stereotypes with a 21st century facelift. Instead of wealthy white men, we get adoption fairs. Instead of adorable black kids, we get international adoptees, donor conceptions, and donated embryos. Same crap, different era.
The dangers of discrimination arise from stereotypes and assumptions. Adoption agencies are to blame for setting unreasonable expectations in the minds of many prospective adopters. The mass media is also to blame for continuing adoption stereotypes: that adopting is "the same" as giving birth, that adopting a child negates the traumas of infertility, that "good" adoptees don't ask questions, that "bad" adoptees search, that all first mothers are "whores" who didn't deserve their children... the list goes on. People still believe this nonsense precisely because it is perpetuated.
What we need is open, honest discussion about adoption: what the stereotypes are, what makes them stereotypes, and how those stereotypes hurt people. Just as we shouldn't accept discrimination based on race, gender, or sexuality, neither should we accept it based on adoption.
If you want to contact CBS, here is the contact information. It wouldn't hurt to contact your local CBS affiliate, too.
Ms. Nina Tassler
President, CBS Entertainment
7800 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90039-2112