Opinion guest column

‘Genius Asian Egg Donor’ ad is offensive

Advertisement published in The Tech is potentially unsafe

On Nov. 30, The Tech decided to publish an ad titled “GENIUS ASIAN EGG DONOR.” The ad sought a donor of the Asian race with an exceptional academic record. The ad reeks of privilege and ignorance, as a couple seeks to manufacture its dream baby by placing all hope on a stereotype. We wrote this letter to highlight the racist and sexist roots of the ad, to protest its placement in The Tech, and to expose the creator’s offensive posting.

The capitalist system we live in allows people to place a market value on a product they desire — in this case the eggs of an imagined, Ivy League, perfect-SAT-scoring, 21-year-old Asian woman.

The posters of the ad specifically demand an Asian woman, preferably Chinese, who will fit their bill. Under this system, the onus is on an individual, in this case a young college student, to take care of herself financially through supposed “choice” — that is, choose from a position of financial vulnerability (the position of so many students) to do something that would otherwise be unthinkable. We should not tolerate a system that permits racial profiling for the benefit of those with wealth, while dumping responsibility upon those with less power.

Making a choice requires adequate information. What is not mentioned in the ad is the highly hazardous health consequence such a young woman would face were she to go through this procedure. Egg donations are high-risk, invasive procedures that subject women to a barrage of hormone treatments, a process that may be linked to infertility and reproductive cancers. The long-term risks of egg harvesting have not been well-studied, and there is no way of knowing what other potentially devastating effects women should expect many years after donating their eggs.

Because the ad commercializes the reproductive capacity of Asian women, while failing to provide important information relevant to the donor’s health, it is a sad reminder of a long history of the sexualization, stereotyping, and objectification of Asian women. We are reminded of the model minority myth, the widespread acceptability of fetishizing Asian women (“yellow fever”), stereotypes of dragon-ladies and China-dolls, the popularity of sexual tourism in Asia by Western men as a continuation of customs rooted in past instances of armed aggression, and other ways in which Asian women are so frequently reduced to their race and gender in narratives and practices that obliterate their individuality and disrespect their humanity. When this couple requests a “GENIUS ASIAN EGG DONOR,” they are perpetuating a colonialist and predatory lore with only the sheerest façade of false reverence.

Furthermore, this couple’s ad perpetuates a line of “race thinking” — racism under the guise of science. Yes, even a supposedly “positive” inflection on race, associating Asians with intellect, is destructive and debilitating. The assumption that all Asian people are “smart” lumps broad swaths of people under the supposed commonality of racial heritage, when in actuality the umbrella term Asian includes people with distinct countries of birth, citizenship status, immigration stories, and ethnicities.

This model minority myth of the “Asian genius” obscures real difficulties that Asian Americans and Asian immigrants face in the U.S. For example, among women age 15–24, the suicide mortality rate is highest for Asian American women across all ethnic groups. Yet, Asian Americans have the lowest utilization of mental health services across all ethnic groups in the U.S. The stereotype that Asians are “smart,” hence face no real oppressions in the U.S, masks real issues affecting Asian Americans and Asian immigrants. The ad’s obnoxious proliferation of this harmful stereotype does not belong in an MIT student newspaper.

As we were reflecting on this ad, we found a similar egg donor advertisement printed in The Tech in 1999 that received a response very similar to our own. It is shameful that we as an educational community continue to allow the posting of ignorant advertisements like these, over 10 years later.

Furthermore, even the most cursory Internet sleuthing shows that this ad may not be quite what it seems. The website www.eggdonorneeded.com contains almost an exact copy of the ad which ran in The Tech. A quick domain registration check shows that this URL is registered to a person called Will Naylor. According to the U.S. Tax Court, Will Naylor heads an organization which donates his sperm free of charge to recipients of his choice. To quote the Tax Court records regarding Will Naylor’s organization, “Preference is given to women ‘with better education’ and no record of divorce, domestic violence, or ‘difficult fertility histories’ and are from families ‘whose members have a track record of contributing to their communities’; who are in ‘a traditional marriage situation’; who are under age 37; who are ethnic minorities.’”

Needless to say, this raises serious suspicions regarding the ad’s author. He may not be who he claims to be in the ad (a white man and Chinese woman couple seeking to have a child), not to mention the blatant racism, classism, and sexism in his preference for sperm recipients and his creation of a noticeably egotistical sperm donation program. The writer of this ad may in fact be trying to get into contact with young, intelligent Asian women for more dubious reasons than egg donation alone.

Before running future egg donor ads, we ask that The Tech considers the safety of MIT students above all else. For one thing, it is inappropriate for a university publication to publish a solicitation for student egg donations from anything other than a licensed clinic, let alone an apparently unverified private individual. To put it succinctly, a school newspaper is not the place for this kind of advertisement. Taking safety into account also includes printing a disclaimer on any future egg donor ads about the potential negative side effects of becoming an egg donor, just as is required in states like California. It includes providing a link to a website that would provide readers with more information or referring them to MIT Medical. The best solution would be to simply not run ads that ask our students to subject themselves to danger for financial compensation.

This letter was written on behalf of the executive board of Feminists@MIT.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

I always assumed they wanted an Asian donor not because of any particular racial stereotyping, but perhaps because the parents themselves might be Asian and want a kid of their same ethnicity, which I guess isn't an unreasonable desire.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

So, if you are intended to marry someone of your race, would you be a racist then? If a man wants to marry a woman, is he a sexist? Why not pass a law to force everyone to be coupled with another random person? People have the right to have their preference.

Your criticism illogically accused that advertisement racist, sexist, promoting stereotype, etc. However, that ad did not claim or imply that any race/sex is inferior, since those conditions are parallel logically. That couple might place their hope on a stereotype. That was their choice.

I expect that you can justify your claims when it involves objective facts, not just throwing out incoherent accuses. Such as mentioning about the suicide rate and the oppression of Asian, while lacking any reasoning to connect these accuses with that advertisement. Of course, the irrationality displayed by the personal attack in the second to the last paragraph had trashed this article even further.

Perhaps, next time you should look for a male egg donor of no ethnicity.

Caroline Morganti \'16 over 11 years ago

Echoing what the first two comments said about (a) one or both parents might be Asian and want their child to resemble them and (b) wanting certain characteristics in an egg donor doesn't automatically make you racist/elitist in any way -- aren't you allowed some preferences? Yes, the tagline "Genius Asian Egg Donor" is perhaps unfortunate, but from the text of the ad the couple just wanted somewhat who was both smart and Asian. There's no evidence that their request was motivated by a stereotype.

On the side of the potential egg donor, undergoing medical procedures (even riskier ones) for money wouldn't strike most people as problematic. Thousands of people agree to be human test subjects for experimental drugs as long as there is informed consent I dont see the problem. And I don't think this is exploitation -- there are a lot of college students who could use money to pay tuition/living expenses (myself included), but no one is forcing them to take this offer.

Furthermore, whoever Will Naylor is (do you even have evidence that these two Will Naylors are the same?), Will Naylor has the right to give his sperm to whomever he wants.

Finally, the point raised about the person placing the ad not being who he says he is seems way more important than all that precedes it. Too bad it was buried at the end of the article.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

2, I like how you said

"Your criticism illogically accused that advertisement racist, sexist, promoting stereotype, etc....That couple might place their hope on a stereotype. That was their choice."

Are they or are they not stereotyping? Before you accuse others of criticizing illogically, you might want to look at your own arguments.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

BTW the couple discloses their races in the ad. Also, Will Naylor gives his email address in the ad, so that's pretty easy to trace.

And 2, it is the couple's choice to be racist and promote stereotypes, but it's also the Tech's choice to publish such an ad.

Caterina over 11 years ago

Dear commentators and Tech editors,

A simple Google search would reveal that the ad posted in the Tech is probably a hoax. For instance, look at: http://www.eggdonor.com/blog/2010/05/06/not-so-genius-egg-donor-advertisement/, and many similar postings on the web. Racism and stereotypes, which the letter's authors identified in the wordings of the ad, work because they are "sticky": because people embrace them, and even, as most of the comments to the post show, defend them.

This letter addresses crucial debates about, just to name a few, students' vulnerability to undergoing potentially health-threatening procedures for financial gain; about the weight of race and gender stereotypes on campus; and about, simply, the need for an editorial eye on the ads published on the Tech.

Marna Gatlin, Founder Parents Via Egg Donation over 11 years ago

I have read this article several times and I am still attempting to figure out the concern about the egg donation advertisement.

Clearly this couple is looking for an egg donor to help create their family. Why is it wrong for this couple to be clear about their criteria? Why is it wrong to have intelligence in a criteria?

When we choose our potential life mates we choose who WE want. Not who YOU or anyone else wants.

Selecting an egg donor, much like selecting a life mate is an incredibly personal decision that shouldn't be judged by you or anyone else in the world.

Infertility by itself is difficult to wade through but to be judged because you are selecting an egg donor with a specific criteria makes no sense to me.

If you were choosing for this couple who would you choose for them?

There's a lot that goes into egg donation, it's not just placing an ad, accepting the first egg donor who responds and then taking her eggs. There are many many steps to be taken.

And really at the end of the day -- if you are being completely honest, we all want our children to be smart, handsome, pretty, agile, artistic or musically inclined, maybe even gifted athletically, but above all healthy emotionally and physically. So you tell me what is wrong with this couple stating clearly what they are looking for. They are both clearly educated people and are both Asian and infertile. They are looking for someone who is :like them: and who perhaps resembles them.

I'd give it a rest, there are more important things in the world to worry about these days other than this couple who is trying to have a baby for Pete's sakes.

Quantumburrito over 11 years ago

This letter is a huge and lengthy overreaction by someone who seems to be pretty thin-skinned. The ad was by an Asian couple who quite reasonably want to ensure that they have the best chance of having a smart and accomplished kid. Being Asian they are naturally looking for a smart Asian woman which is reflected in the title; how on earth is this stereotyping?

Now you might question the exact wording of the ad, but isn't this what most parents want? In addition, donating eggs may carry risks but that's a discussion that the couple and the potential donor should have; it's not the place of the Tech to hold forth on these problems. Ultimately it's a personal transaction between the couple and the donor and the Tech is simply a conduit for the transaction.

We really shouldn't have a say in what Will Naylor or an Asian student or anyone else wants to donate. Ads for egg and sperm donation have been posted for decades by unfortunate parents who can't conceive, and the qualities that are looking for in their kids are no different from the qualities most of us want in ours. How about we let the two parties decide? The authors of this letter are simply being oversensitive and are perceiving slights where none are intended.

Mitali Thakor over 11 years ago

Hi, this is Mitali, one of the authors of the article.

First, thank you to everyone who has commented so far. I appreciate the dialogue and spectrum of viewpoints represented here. This is certainly not a black-or-white issue and I'm glad to have a community discussion.

Our primary purpose for writing this opinion letter was to protest the placement of this full-page ad in our school newspaper, a paper read for the most part by undergrad and grad students. Taking stock of the ad's content and its demanding language, the fact that multiple advertisements like this have popped up in the paper over the past decade, that the publisher of the ad has a dubious history, and the dozens of egg donation posters we have seen all over campus, we felt a strongly-worded letter was exactly appropriate to raise attention to safety hazards for students who might answer, and toward a procedure for which the long-term health risks are mostly UNKNOWN.

In response to Marna Gatlin and those of you who have commented that: so what? If the couple, whether White/Asian/etc wants to choose an ethnically-designated egg donor to make their family, what's wrong with that? And so on.

But I ask that we please consider the economy within which people make choices: a privileged couple (privileged in economic-racial-gendered ways) "choosing" to pay for an egg donor and the harvesting process; a young woman "choosing" to have her eggs harvested. How do people come to the point at which they make these choices? It is precisely the illusion of "choice" that we wish to destabilize.

What is the role of individual agency when we live within a capitalist market where everything has a commodity value? What is the tax for egg donation--and upon whose (gendered, racialized) bodies is it enacted?

I am not going to prevent this couple, if they do exist, or couples like them, from seeking egg donation. Nor am I naive enough to think that an entire capitalist reproductive economy might be dismantled with a few words. But I do HOPE that our community members at MIT take notice of omnipresent demands/ads like this that highlight how very raced, gendered, and imbalanced our local world is.



MIT Alum \'11 over 11 years ago

As a recent alum and current medical student who is hoping to donate her own eggs in future, I hope everyone also considers the altruism also involved in these processes. It is possible to willingly donate eggs simply because you want to help this couple have a child. I cannot comment on this particular couple's motivations, but many couples seek egg donation when the female herself is incapable of providing her own, for whatever reason. In that case, is it bad, as an MIT educated female, to WANT to give eggs to a couple who would clearly appreciate and nurture the traits I might be able to pass on?

John A. Hawkinson over 11 years ago

It appears worth clarifying the factual record: this is not the only egg donor solicitation ad The Tech has run recently. (I comment with respect to the 4th and 11th--final--paragraphs primarily.)

In March of 2012, The Tech ran a much smaller (and less prominent) ad seeking a woman "intelligent, attractive, healthy, and under the age of 28 with a tall/lean/athletic body type," for $25,000 plus expenses.

That ad ran five times, or so it seems from a cursory look.

See p.9 of the PDF of the Friday, March 23, 2012 issue: http://tech.mit.edu/V132/PDF/N14.pdf

MIT Alum \'12 over 11 years ago

To Mitali,

In this specific case, it appears the ad is not what it seems, and the tech should have investigated further. However, in the general case (taking the ad as entirely true and at face value), I think it is you who is being sexist by wishing to deny women the right to make their own choices.

You claim that the procedure is dangerous, and that, "The best solution would be to simply not run ads that ask our students to subject themselves to danger for financial compensation". But risking one's life and health for a job, or some other cause was once the exclusive province of men, with women "protected" from such choices by the privileged, male class. Your attempt to "protect" women seems to me replete with overtones from a regime that women seek to overthrow every day.

Women for the past 4 decades have been fighting to be allowed to join the military in an equivalent role to men. Many of them already have, though that recognition is denied them by a system that still maintains an artificial designation of combat and non-combat roles. Would you consider our ROTC programs here on campus to be predatory? What about police officer or firefighter recruitment programs?

So long as the risks are fully explained (and I have trouble believing that any MIT student would be foolish enough not to at least google "egg donation" and read the wikipedia article) it is entirely up to the woman in question whether or not to proceed. Your concerns about racism may have some merit, but giving the poster the maximum possible doubt (since we are judging this hypothetical couple), one can say that they want a child who is both smart and looks like them- who wouldn't?

MIT '12

roseanne over 11 years ago

I suspect your ludicrous claim that the authors of this article are the sexist ones is based on your misunderstanding of the idea of protecting women. You also missed a number of points.

You said I think it is you who is being sexist by wishing to deny women the right to make their own choices. The article is proposing that there is an illusion of choice in the egg donation issue. The criticism is that egg donation is presented as an altruistic choice so that women can be exploited more easily.

You seem indignant that the article supposedly assumes MIT students arent intelligent enough to do a quick google search on the risks of egg donation. Part of the problem is that there is very little peer-reviewed medical research on the risks.

The idea of protecting women and their rights is not an inherently bad goal. Think about who/what people are saying women are in danger from in these various situations. Who are people ascribing blame/responsibility to in each situation? Is it the desire to solve a problem that is unjust or are there unjust approaches? Have you considered how the authors response is different from something like sexists telling women they shouldn't go out at night for their own protection? There are many people calling for an end to sexual violence. The idea is to protect the 20-25 of women who are targets of sexual violence. This can be a very anti-sexist endeavor. What is problematic is claiming to want to protect women when: the goal is actually to limit women, the means limits women, there is nothing to be protected from (and exclusion of women would benefit certain groups), women are victim-blamed, etc. Consider how ascribing blame to women in cases of sexual assault and proposing a solution of giving women curfews, thus further limiting women's freedom and doing little to address the problem, is a very different approach with different implications than one that addresses a widespread social attitude of and legal system based on victim-blaming. If the article had faulted women for responding to such ads and becoming egg donors and presented them as blameworthy without giving consideration to unjust systems that guide our lives, that would've been sexist. Instead, it seeks to expose and critique a patriarchal system that exploits and commodifies women. How is speaking up about insidious forms of sexism a sexist act?

MIT Alum \'12 over 11 years ago

In response to 13:

You are assuming that the women who are advertised for here are "victims".

The authors seek to limit the freedom of women to assume a risk to themselves in exchange for the opportunity to graduate from college debt free, or close to it. Arguing that the system is unfair is ridiculous- it is certainly true, but also irrelevant to the point at hand. All of us, men and women are under different pressures every day, from coercive systems that are born of a history of oppression, and other pressures of our own choosing. We make different choices in response to those pressures. Arguing that the system is unfair does not logically lead to "we must ban women from donating their eggs in exchange for money". There must be something inherently oppressive and choice-less about the act of donating eggs for cash that utterly overwhelms the fact that in this advertisement- a woman is free to say no and walk away. There is no such thing- there is no coercion here. Consequently, by seeking to limit such ads in the Tech, the authors of this article seek to restrict women's choices with no mitigating reason.

And in terms of "peer-reviewed research", the fact is the risks are unknown- NOT CONCEALED, but unknown. Women must be free to accept that unknown risk. Radiation in space has a still somewhat-"unknown" risk to humans, a risk that may be accentuated among females who are young enough to have kids. Would you have us ban women from becoming astronauts, and accepting that unknown risk?

True freedom from oppression is the freedom to make fully informed bad choices as well as good ones- and by seeking to limit that freedom, the authors of this editorial are being sexist, despite their best intentions.

MIT '12

roseanne over 11 years ago

there is a system in place that seeks to exploit and victimize the target audience of the ad. the article is calling the system out. you're conflating those two things. when there's a problem and you refuse the call it a problem because you see that as somehow offensive, you don't actually solve any problems.

i'm baffled at your assertion that an ad that misleads the audience regarding the risks of what it asks for somehow constitutes full disclosure. the article even gave concrete suggestions for how the ad (or an mit disclaimer) could have actually informed the readers. so your last statement doesn't make sense.

again, the article is not criticizing women who would respond to the ad for making "bad choices" but the fact that women who might respond to the ad are not being fully informed (a burden that is placed on the ad, or at least mit and the tech, not the women) and as a result, might end up being mislead into a dangerous medical situation or even a hoax. by insisting that these are simply fully informed bad choices and placing all the blame for the potentially bad consequences on the exploited demographic, you are being pretty sexist.

MIT Alum \'12 over 11 years ago

You are conflating your opinion for the editorial's authors, and you're attacking a straw man (or woman). The editorial clearly states, "The best solution would be to simply not run ads that ask our students to subject themselves to danger for financial compensation." In other words, it isn't looking to inform women of the dangers- it's looking to take choices away.

Informing women of their choices is fine by me. I think it's pretty useless, considering that the targeted demographic of the ad is smart enough to do their own research thank-you-very-much, but if it makes you feel better, why not?

As to the original ad misleading people- I don't see where it minimizes the risks at all (though I'm looking at the linked-to-text). As to leading them into a hoax- I couldn't agree more. Look at my initial comment: I put forth the disclaimer that in this situation, the Tech should have investigated further, and protected the MIT community. My argument is against the principle of forbidding these ads from appearing in the Tech altogether- which is the stated goal of the editorial.

Finally, who said anything about blaming women for making the choice to donate? I said that women must be free to make their choices, good or bad- in response to your assertion about setting a curfew for women to prevent them from getting raped. Blame is different than agency. All I am saying is don't take away women's agency to make the choice- continue on as if this ad had never existed, or donate.

MIT Alum \'12 over 11 years ago

To be perfectly clear- I have no real problems with the editorial: up to the last sentence where Mitali and Linda suggest banning these types of ads entirely from the newspaper. This extreme position is the only thing I seriously disagree with. And I'm not personally offended by the editorial- I just believe their proposal itself is ultimately contrary to one of the principles of the feminist movement- giving maximum agency to women. The word "sexist" is rather loaded, and I probably shouldn't have used it in describing the editorial.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

There is something so inherently creepy about people advertising to buy human eggs from students at MIT, in the school newspaper, legitimate or stalker, it matters not. Wrong wrong wrong.

Jennifer Lahl over 11 years ago

Mitali and Linda,

Thank you for your post on this ad. This ad ran in the Stanford Daily the week I was on campus screening my documentary film "Eggsploitation with my colleague Judy Norsigian, author of Our Bodies, Ourselves. Judy told the audience the same thing I tell women who are thinking about selling their eggs - Don't do it. You are rolling the dice with your health. There have been no peer-reviewed long-term studies on the health risks to healthy women selling their eggs. Informed consent is meaningless when the studies have never been done. AND any medical student will tell you that monetary incentives corrupt informed consent. When people need money, they will take risks. And the more they need the money, the more risks they are willing to take. Cigarette ads must place warning labels. Egg donation ads do not. Under federal law it is prohibited for credit card companies to advertise on university campuses out of concern students graduate with massive credit card debt. This isn't about choice, or informed choice, it's about people who needs eggs and can afford to buy them appealing to the sense of altruism of otherwise healthy young women.

Mitali over 11 years ago

Dear Jennifer,

Thank you warmly for your comment.

It's alarming that the same advertisement ran in Stanford's paper. Stanford is my alma mater, and I remember many ads like this posted around the student center and even at the women's community center (we would take them down) when I was there a few years ago.

We have discussed the Eggsploitation documentary, and would LOVE to screen it at MIT in the near future. Would you be interested in coming to our school?



Jennifer Lahl over 11 years ago

Absolutely! Message me infoeggsploitation.com