Marcia Yablon-Zug’s Mail Order Feminism

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What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you read the phrase Mail Order Bride? A misogynistic man purchasing a docile foreign woman whom he can dominate? A marriage that likely will end in domestic violence? The Nicole Kidman movie, Birthday Girl? The word ANTI-FEMINIST painted in red letters covered in hissing, poisonous snakes?

My colleague, Marcia Yablon-Zug, has been conducting in depth research on these issues for a forthcoming book entitled, Buying a Bride: From Mail Order Brides To Cyber Matches (forthcoming 2014, NYU Press). In the meantime, she has posted the article, Mai Order Feminism, on SSRN. In the article, she challenges the conventional wisdom and discusses what I will label the “paradoxical feminism” of mail order marriages:

Male mail order marriage participants typically say they are seeking women who are not feminists, and the women commonly deny feminist intentions. However, both parties use mail order marriage for the very feminist goal of increasing choice and combating disempowerment. In countries where women have little power to affect change at either a personal or national level, interviews with potential mail order brides reveal that the women view such marriages as a means of reasserting power over their lives. Similarly, interviews with the potential husbands demonstrate that they also turn to mail order marriage as a way of combating their own sense of disempowerment, most frequently in relation to American women.100 Thus, as researcher Lisa Simons, who conducted numerous interviews with mail order marriage participants noted, both groups use mail order marriages to combat the “sense of disempowerment and rejection from the state of gender relations in their own country and community” and she suggests that “their coming together across unequally stratified national boundaries [is] one possible way of bridging those differences” and reasserting control.

I would definitely recommend the article to anyone interested in the subject. The abstract is below the fold.

Increasingly, working class and lower class men are unable to marry. As their financial prospects have declined, so has their marriageability. American women, whose financial and educational prospects have improved during this same period, are now rejecting relationships with men they no longer view as their equals and this trend is creating a large class of unwilling bachelors. Mail order marriage provides a solution. Mail order marriages provide men with a pathway to marriage and, contrary to popular stereotypes, these marriages are also beneficial for the women.

This article will show that assumptions about spousal abuse in mail order marriages are unsupported and that U.S. law provides effective protections for mail order brides. Moreover, this article will show how, rather than attracting vulnerable and desperate women, mail order marriages empower women. In fact, this article will argue that these foreign brides should be recognized as feminists and not victims. In addition, this article will examine American’s widespread aversion to mail order marriages and consider what this reaction says about modern perceptions of love and marriage.

-Colin Miller

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