Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Study Findings of Adoption Stereotypes in the Media

I am always posting about how disheartened that I am with the media's portrayal of adoptees.  My biggest bone to pick has always been that the media goes beyond accurate portrayal of adoption or telling of an event involving adoption, and into enforcing damaging stereotypes of the actual people who live adoption every day.  Adoption is an institution; we should be able to discuss it without portraying unhealthy and condemning views of entire groups of people.

My most recent annoyance with this issue was the Sony commercial where a gentleman playing a woman's father growled "you're adopted!" at her to try to distract her from dominating the game the family was playing.  Another recent appearance of adoption in the media was the reporting of an adoptee who was adopted from Mexico that various media sources used to bring up the topic of deportation.

The 2009 study I just read reviewed news stories on adoption from 2001 to 2005 (309 stories).  They researched the common types of adoption-related stories that tend to make the news (e.g. fraud, crime) as well as the impact it might have on perpetuating negative stereotypes of the individuals involved in adoption.

The quote is from the abstract:
"Adoptees as defective or unhealthy were depicted more in negative news event stories, birth parents appeared less overall, and adoptive parents were most likely to have healthy depictions in positively oriented adoption experience, big family, and reunion stories. Although three quarters of the stories used primary adoption participants as news sources, one-third of the negative event stories did not contain healthy depictions of adoption participants. The authors discuss ways journalists and researchers might improve adoption news coverage."
The study seemed to suggest the interchangeability of a positive portrayal of adoption with the positive portrayal of individuals impacted by adoption.  In essence, stigmas against adoption participants are partly due to which types of stories (crime, fraud) the media pushes most.  They discussed that stigmatization may also result from poor word choices and reporting.

I agree to an extent.  I do think that the media uses poor word choices and often specifically chooses to represent a generalization of adoptees or a specifically negative portrayal of an adoptee as a person, rather than sticking to the issue being discussed.  I do not, however, see promoting a singularly positive view of adoption as being synonymous with portraying a positive view of individuals impacted by adoption.  Thinking well of the institution of adoption does not mean that a given person will think well of the individuals living adoption, or understand their needs past stereotypes.

Kline, S. L., Chatterjee, K., & Karel, A. I. (2009). Healthy Depictions? Depicting Adoption and Adoption News Events on Broadcast News. Journal of Health Communication, 14(1), 56-69. doi:10.1080/10810730802592254

Photo credit:  jscreationzs


Lori said...

I have a question -

Why would language change opinions that are already pre-formed and solid in society?

Amanda Woolston said...


When so many people make their opinions based on what the media says, encouraging the media to report on the issues, rather deamonize actual individuals or groups of people, will likely therefore change public opinion on those issues and people.

I believe people's opinions can change if they are given new ideas to think about and process. Being referred to respectfully in the media should also be out of respect for us as individuals. People have to understand, we are real people, not just some story for them to exploit to try to increase their own popularity as journalists.

Anonymous said...

I represent impoverished mothers and fathers whose children are forcibly taken by our government. They are humiliated in court by a system that demands the impossible and labels "reasonable" the most paltry of efforts to reunify them with their children. When they cry out in anger and protest, they are accused of being mentally unstable. There is no shortage of evaluators willing to pass judgment without ever seeing them with their children. Many of these tragic parents ultimately sign agreements to adoption, after they discover that they cannot win their children back in a society that denies them housing and a living wage. There are legal incentives to relent rather than risk losing at trial, and if open adoption is offered, it may be their only avenue to maintain a connection to their child. They are courageous, intelligent, insightful, loving parents. They want their children to know, they love them, but they could not win against Goliath. I have come to believe that the only way to change the system is through the voices of the lost children. I am waiting for them to grow up, and speak truth to power.