Academic journal article Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

To Have and to Hold: A Postmodern Feminist Response to the Mailorder Bride Industry

Academic journal article Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

To Have and to Hold: A Postmodern Feminist Response to the Mailorder Bride Industry

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

   There are, of course, attractions for men other than the escape from
   feminist values to the traditional, family orientated [sic] females.
   We all know [P]hilippine women make perfect wives. In the
   [P]hilippines wives are very loyal house wives, As [sic] a mail bride
   they make excellent mailorder brides for [A]merican [sic] men ... And
   the Filipina believes that men must have regular sexual activity. It
   is the nature of the beast. It is very unusual for a Filipina wife
   not to make herself available for her husband whenever requested:
   "It's just a natural part of marriage." She is there, among other
   things, to be a provider of quality sex. Headaches are fairly
   rare! (1)

The above enticement is just one example of the hundreds of Internet sites currently facilitating the "mail-order bride" industry. (2) The industry has boomed in recent years, with an estimated 2,700 matchmaking agencies worldwide, 500 of which can be found in the United States. (3) While much of the recent boom can be attributed to the Internet, the industry in its modern form emerged as early as the 1970's when one American-based entrepreneur decided to expand his Asian import business. (4) Although proponents and those who profit from the industry describe the services provided through these agencies as akin to "pen-pal clubs," the industry has faced heavy criticism, described by one author as "rel[ying] on stereotypes and transnational economic inequalities to support a profit-making commercial market[,] ... nurtur[ing] structures of subordination based on race, sex, and class within countries, among nations, and between individuals." (5)

This paper will analyze the industry, including its current legal framework, through the lens of postmodern feminist legal theory. Part II provides a broad overview of the emergence of the mail-order bride industry, including the factors that perpetuate its existence, the interplay between feminism and international law, and the legal responses to the industry, focusing on the United States and the Philippines. Part III will analyze the postmodern feminist response to the industry as a social phenomenon and to the deficiencies in its legal framework. Finally, Part IV concludes that a more comprehensive approach to the industry is required, one that allows for an integrated, multilateral response to both supply and demand and that recognizes both the beneficial and harmful causes and effects of the industry.

II. BACKGROUND INFORMATION

A. The Mail-Order Bride Industry

1. How It Works

While opponents of the industry tend to characterize the process by which women in developing nations end up marrying Western men through the services of an agency as comparable to prostitution, (6) and defenders of the industry characterize the service as facilitating "pen-pal clubs," (7) the reality lies somewhere in between these two poles (at least as far as the superficial processes and operations are concerned). (8)

The bridal agencies initiate the process, primarily utilizing newspaper and magazine advertisements to recruit potential brides. (9) Agencies have focused their recruitment efforts heavily in Asia, and the Philippines in particular, with a shift toward Russia and other Eastern block countries in the years following the fall of the Soviet Union. (10) One report estimates "that between 100,000 and 150,000 women from a variety of countries (including the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia) annually advertise themselves as available for marriage." (11) Throughout the recruitment process, agencies weed out those women not deemed attractive enough to land a potential husband. (12) The agencies, after screening and selecting the women, generally assign them a number and include their full-body photographs or headshots in either printed magazines or online catalogs. (13) Additionally, women are required to provide personal information, ranging from their physical measurements, to personal interests (frequently cooking), breast size, and underwear preference. …

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