This 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-Order” Brides.
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.
Many 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.
- 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.
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