Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

From Thailand with Love: Transnational Marriage Migration in the Global Care Economy

Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

From Thailand with Love: Transnational Marriage Migration in the Global Care Economy

Article excerpt


Transnational brides are just one segment of the 60 million female migrants of today. During the 1970s, Western Europe and Australia were common destinations for South-East Asian brides (De Stoop, 1994). In the 1980s and 1990s, migration movements diversified to include women from Latin America, Mexico, China and the Philippines who traveled to the USA, as well as women migrating from Eastern to Western Europe (Kojima, 2001). Historically, women have always migrated. The apparent tendency of feminization in global migration can be explained both by the number of female migrants as well as by gender-specific reasons for migration. Based on ethnographic fieldwork with a group of Thai women and Danish men, this article seeks to contribute new perspectives to the so called mail order bride discourse, as well as to perceptions of transnational marriages between women from Thailand and European men.

The existing discourse has categorized mail-order brides, in a noncritical but problematic manner, as victims. This non-contemporary perception has its roots in the universalist feminist discourse of the 1970s, in which marriage was essentially considered as being suppressive, regardless of the woman's own experience and opinions. The assumption that the woman was a victim, and unaware of her suppression, was particularly applied to women from third world countries (Constable, 2003, p.6).

This discussion is interesting in relation to Thai women, in view of their status as foreigners who come from a third world country in order to enter into marriage. Here, the same mechanisms that are considered suppressive in the universalist feminist discourse are incorporated into one and the same woman, making it hardly surprising that mail order brides are considered to be victims. However, these perceptions represent a distorted picture and are, to put it bluntly, rooted in non-contemporary perceptions of sexual inequality and the intrinsic subservience of the female sex. They can be seen as an expression of a patriarchal view of sexuality that keeps women in the role of the victim and does not differentiate between will and force (ibid.).

Five significant themes have characterized this discourse until now, in both a Danish and international context: First, the woman is considered a victim of illegal trafficking.1 The link between transnational marriages and trafficking arises from perceptions of women from abroad who are specifically bought as marriage partners by western men. This commercial perspective is reminiscent of prostitution, and should be examined critically as it tends to have no relation to reality. Thai brides are not a commodity that men purchase and consume (Schaeffer-Grabiel, 2004, p.33).

Second, Thai women are perceived as victims of violence. The National Association of Women's' Crisis Centers in Denmark (LOKK, 2003) has documented that those Asian women who most frequently visit a Danish crisis center are Thais (p.13). Due to language barriers, lack of knowledge about Danish legislation and, in some cases, a weak social network, women are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of the husband's violence (ibid. p.3). These conditions justify the perception of the women in question as victims. However, the violence aspect is also promoted by media portraying these marriages in a sensationalist manner that exclusively focuses on negative cases of Danish men who make a habit of marrying and divorcing Thai women, or by citing extreme examples of violence and abuse (Julag-Ay, as cited in Constable, 2003, p.86). There is little knowledge about Thai women in Denmark as many spend all their time in the home and are provided for by their husbands. As "self providers," these women are able to avoid almost all contact with public authorities (from an interview with the Nykøbing-Mors employment exchange). This phenomenon gives rise to two problems, the first being that exploitation and violence can remain unnoticed and concealed within the home, while the other is that common knowledge of Thai women and their marriages is primarily based on information from women who have been in contact with a crisis center precisely because they have been subjected to violence. …

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