Marriage as a Commodity (Satisfaction Guaranteed) by Michele Stopera Freyhauf


Freyhauf, Feminism, Religion, Durham, Old Testament, Blogger, Bible, Gender, Violence, Ursuline, John CarrollThis Saturday I will be presenting a paper about Cyberbrides at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.  While my focus for that paper is the impact on mothers and families, my research also revealed how some Cyberbrides (or Mail-Order Brides) are selected from internet catalogues with “satisfaction guaranteed” and how “International Marriage Broker” may be a cloak hiding the agencies’ involvement with human trafficking.

Cyberbrides are essentially mail-order brides, but like pen pals, they can chat and exchange pictures on the Internet and interact through video or instant chat.  There are almost 2.9 million website matches that turn up when Google-ing “Mail-Order Brides” within 19 seconds of pressing the “return” button. With the low cost of social media, a new venue to market and display this “commodity” is available.  Presently,  about 30 Facebook sites exist that advertise “Mail-OrderBrides.

With the Internet, the potential for abuse emerges due to freedom to view and post material without adequate oversight.  Even with laws in place that are meant to protect the estimated 5,000 Cyberbrides that enter the United States annually, the issues of violence and oppression surrounding internet brides still escalate today.  In fact violence for Immigrant Brides (not Mail-Ordered) range around 8.8%.  Violence against International Mail-Order brides average around 25% with the perpetrator being the American husband.

Ideal Wife, Good Housekeeping, 1955Many attribute the emergence of Cyberbrides to the feminist movement–with a noticeable escalation in the 1990s, after the break-away republics of the Soviet Union began to form.  It seems that Consumer Grooms, as they are labeled, are looking for a wife steeped in values that are more “traditional.”  These grooms believe that women from third world countries will steer away from feminist values and an embrace a subservient, congenial “June Cleaver” housewife stereotype.  They seek a wife whose desire is to serve her husband obediently and to  embrace old-fashioned family values.  They want a woman who will bear children, mind the house, and not pursue a career.   An ideal wife for these men is a submissive companion, sexually available, loving, faithful, and domesticated.

The age difference between Consumer Grooms and their prospective brides is, on average, about 20-years.  The men are usually white males born in the US, age 40 and older.  Many are divorced or widowed.  Prospective brides are usually in their 20s and, in some rare cases in their 30s.  It was quite disturbing to find that some brides can be as young as 13.

Geographically most come from the Philippines and former Soviet Union.  However, the reach for brides extends all over the world – from Latin America, to Africa, to Thailand.  What these women have in common is that they come from impoverished societies and that they feel marrying an American man will give them “a piece of the American Dream.”

Many International Marriage Brokers post online catalogues of eligible brides.  What I found to be quite disturbing was the way in which the consumer shops for his bride.  Just like on Amazon.com, you place the item in your cart, proceed to check out, and are provided with a “Satisfaction Guarantee.”  In some cases, you are promised a refund if you are not happy.

There is also the issue of the packaging.  Some women are photographed in provocative poses with scanty outfits, while others are photographed with little to no make-up wearing schoolgirl uniforms.  In some cases, measurements of a potential bride are provided.

From a consumer marketing point of view, an illusion of putting forth “our best product” is given.  Some sites will state that they have 60,000 available brides that were chosen out of a pool of 400,000.  Some marriage brokers even have training courses for the potential brides, teaching them “how to be a good wife” and using Good Housekeeping’s “The Good Wife’s Guide,” published in 1955*, as their manual. Some International Marriage Broker sites will actually have photographs of potential brides next to this guide to help prospective consumers visualize a potential wife in a subservient role.

In the cases where abuse occurs, culture and language barriers are used as a means of control.  According to
Mail-Order Brides, Cyber Brides, Consumer Grooms, FreyhaufFuturesWithoutViolence.org, the types of abuse that these women could endure include:

  • Isolation:  Not allowed to learn English, being isolated from friends and family or anyone that might be able to speak her native language.
  • Emotional Abuse:  Lying about immigration status, writing letters full of lies to her family, calling her racist names.
  • Economic Abuse:  Threatening to report her if she works “under the table,” not allowing her to get job training, being controlled financially by her husband.
  • Sexual Abuse:  Calling her a prostitute or a “mail-order bride,” alleging that she has a history of prostitution on legal papers.
  • Intimidation:  Hiding or destroying important papers including passports, identification and insurance cards; destroying all property from her country of origin
  • Citizenship:  Using citizenship or residency privilege, failing to file papers to legalize her immigration status or withdrawing or threatening to withdraw papers filed for her residence.
  • Threats:  Threatening to report her to the INS to get her deported, threatening to withdraw the petition to legalize her immigration status.
  • Using her Children:  Threatening to take her children away from the US or report then to the INS.

Despite safeguards like the International Marriage Brokers Act, the potential for violence (not often reported) and using women as a commodity is there.  Donna Hughes in “The Internet and Sex Industries,” states that the growth and popularity of the internet is largely due to the sex industry.  What else can be done?  How can we be advocates for to ensure the safety and proper treatment of these women?

In a society that has moved to the notion of instant gratification and where divorce rates that exceed 50%, having a guarantee that someone will cater to one’s every need and desire might be an appealing concept (to some).  But we are dealing with human beings and their lives (and by extension – the lives of their children)!!  No matter what – it would do well to remind the public that Life NEVER comes with a Guarantee.

~~~~~

Update:  “The Good Wife’s Guide” may not actually have been published in the Good Housekeeping magazine – nonetheless, this caricature of what a ‘good wife’ is and does remains true in many society’s social imagination and is references as a guiding resource.

Michele Stopera Freyhauf is currently a Doctoral Student in the Department of Theology and Religionat Durham University. She has a Master of Arts Degree from John Carroll University in Theology and Religious Studies, performed post-graduate work in History focusing on Gender, Religion, and Sexuality at the University of Akron, and is an Adjunct Instructor in the Religious Studies Department at Ursuline College. Her full bio is on the main contributor’s page or at http://durham.academia.edu/MSFreyhauf. Michele can be followed on twitter at @msfreyhauf.

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Categories: Abuse of Power, Activism, Children, consumerism, Ethics, Family, Feminism, Gender and Power, General, Human Rights, Sex Work, Sexual Ethics, Violence, Violence Against Women, Women's Agency

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7 replies

  1. Thanks Michele. I wonder if you have statistics on how many men from various countries are taking advantage of these “services.” I don’t think it is only American men who are involved.

    This new practice is sometimes compared to the “picture bride” system in which marriages were arranged for men who had immigrated from their home countries–in cultures where marriages were commonly arranged in any case. I know Greek women of my generation who agreed to arranged marriages with men who had immigrated to Australia and the US. These women too hoped a better life awaited them in a foreign country.

    The arranged marriage system is not at all ideal, but the mail order bride system you describe differs significantly. In the arranged marriage system both the bride and groom come from the same culture and both are immigrants. Both are hoping for a better life. There is more in common. There is still room for abuse as the woman’s wishes are subordinated to those of her parents and then to her husband.

    In the mail order bride system the exchange is more cynical–certainly on the side of the man, and perhaps on both sides, if the bride is not being trafficked, and if as may be the case, she has other, but less financially attractive options, in her home country.

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  2. The Good Housekeeping Guide indicates that there is a relationship between the terms of “freely chosen” patriarchal marriage, arranged patriarchal marriage, and cyberbride patriarchal marriage. In all 3 cases, the wife is exchanging her services and suboridination for the promise of financial protection. Siggghhh.

    This is why it is so important that marriages be egalitarian and that wives be financially independent–a goal that is not always easily achieved. Part of the reason for the divorce rate is that women are becoming free not to accept male domination or male privilege in marriage and some men consciously or unconsciously expect it.

    This brings us back to my recent blogs defining patriarchy and patriarchal marriage as constructed at the intersection of the control of female sexuality, private property, and war.

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  3. Very important to get your paper out there, via United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, but also here on the Net, thanks so much, Michelle!

    I recently happened upon a related historical topic working on a website of self-portraits by women artists, dating back to the Renaissance. Many of these women stopped painting after they married in order to rear a family, and that was true also of some very talented early women composers in classical music. The idea was to put your arts out there to show off what a refined spouse you would be. In terms of self-portraits, though the paintings are exceedingly fine, many of these artists were trying to advertise thenselves, and therefore look prim and proper, and yet somehow alluring, and show off their talented artistic skills as well. One of the greatest Baroque women artists was Judith Leyster (1609-1660), very famous now, a great master of Dutch painting, but she mostly stopped making art when she married and raised five kids. What a loss that was to art history. Maybe the happiness of her marriage was great too, but why couldn’t she do both?

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  4. Holy cow! This is scary. So we have trophy brides, decorative brides, bridezillas, and cyberbrides, and most of the above are younger women married to older, controlling white men who demand June Cleaver-traditional marriages. Having read this, why would anyone want to get married at all?

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    • No clue. And why do gay people want to get married? Seems like time for a new way to organize society – ban marriage!

      ________________________________

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  5. I don’t exactly “like” this, but I definitely appreciate your information and commentary!

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  6. Umm this is a bit wrong. I’m currently corresponding with a woman from Beijing. I am American but I’m not white and I’m only 27 years old she is 20. The biggest issue with saying that women that are coming to America through these mail order bride services are trafficked is just simply not true. At least not the women coming to the United States. Ive even went to Beijing to met the woman that I’ve been speaking with and she lives with her mother and step father shes working as a photographer. I will be going back this summer to go to a mandarin school and look for a job. I seriously cant think that any of these websites have women that were trafficked on them. Mostly because both people have to be willing to sign off on all the paperwork and they actually have to meet each other too. This isn’t some bride market because the women have to be willing to agree to go into these relationships.

    Also most of these websites are scams for the most part I used one for about a month a few years ago. They want you to pay $10 to open and send messages and they instruct the women to not give out their personal contact information and even block it in the messages that you send to them and they send to you. Some of the of the women have very suggestive pictures and some don’t it really just varies. These websites are designed to get money out of the men that use them. They don’t give refunds and I’ve never seen anything remotely saying satisfaction guaranteed. Actually the women don’t even have to have background checks while the men do have to get them.

    I do admit that any one woman or man that moves to the US on a fiance visa and gets married to US citizen is in a vulnerable position to be exploited. They better make sure the person they are marrying isn’t a psycho. But surprisingly these marriages are more successful than non international marriages. I thought it wasn’t true until I found it was a statistic from a credible government agency.

    I decided to try and find my other half like this because American women do not want me. I can’t control what other people want in life and in a relationship. Actually I’m not looking for a wife to stay at home I already told the woman I speak with in Beijing that she will be working (or going to school) when she moves to America with me.

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