Mail Order Brides are More Popular Than Ever: But Are They Really Anti-Feminist?

The idea of a mail order bride has a wild reputation. It brings to mind a woman climbing into a crate that the post office handles. On the other side of the world, the woman leaps out and into the arms of her new husband, thrilled to be starting a new life. Happiness abounds! Until new bride gets sick of her unattractive new husband and takes off with her trainer, Fabio, to hit the club scene in Miami. Sadness flourishes. Or does everyone live happily ever after in domestic bliss? Hope rises!

Despite varying perceptions, the mail order bride trade is flourishing. You would think that with a recession in full swing, Americans would be cutting back on all non-essentials. But throw the idea of true romance and love into the mix, and apparently financial concerns can become as soft and hazy as a sunset walk on the beach. What exactly is going in?

The Tahirih Justice Center is a nonprofit organization in Falls Church, Virginia, that protects immigrant women. As reports, they “estimate that the number of mail order marriages in the U.S. more than doubled between 1999 and 2007, when up to 16,500 such unions were sealed.” Not to mention, it’s quite lucrative. The mail-order bride business, where women and men are matched up with others around the world, made an estimated $2 billion in 2010.

Joseph Weiner is the owners of Hand-In-Hand, an organization that charges men $2000 to be matched with Eastern European women. As Weiner told, “We’re still opening up franchises, and business is booming. Financial problems are the biggest cause of divorce. There are more financial problems now. There are more people available!” Further, Weiner thinks the reason his business is so successful is simple biology. According to Weiner, “Every guy wants a beautiful younger woman. It’s the nature of us.”

Does Weiner have us pegged? Or is he just a sexist entrepreneur exploiting lonely men and opportunistic young women determined to grab an American visa? One thing is certain: the mail-order bride business, which now prefers to be called “international matchmaking,” makes many people uncomfortable. For some, it is because it often involves an exchange of money. In that respect, it’s hard not to compare these sites to “Sugar Daddy” sites, where men and women seek each other out on a financial basis.

If you were to ask any of the smiling couples promoting the international matchmaking business, you would be hard pressed to find a dissatisfied customer. “The Today Show” recently featured Tanya Adams, the internationally match-made Russian wife of John Adams. Mr. Adams is the co-founder of Phoenix-based “A Foreign Affair” which charges $4000 to connect international love matches. As Mrs. Adams posed to Matt Lauer, “It’s like Internet dating. If you live in New York and want a girlfriend in California, how is it different?” For Mrs. Adams, life is good.

For other women, the mail-order bride business can be deadly. Two high-profile deaths of mail-order brides, Susanna Blackwell in 1995 and Anatasia King in 2000, caused Congress to pass the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005 (IMBA). Both women were killed by husbands with a history of violence. Now men or women who wish to marry someone through a matchmaking service must turn over any police records and pass a rigorous background check to qualify for a marriage visa. However, experts point out that agencies often easily avoid this requirement by having participants claim they met elsewhere.

Is there a darker, anti-feminist side to mail order bride operations? As FOX News reports, “Men who seek wives abroad often explicitly state those women here are not worth marrying because they are too independent, ruined by feminism or fill in the pejorative blank.” Feminism is the alleged boogeyman behind these marriages. American women are too empowered, so men must go to countries where women are willing to trade a bit of their power for their own idea of a better life.

Of course, some would argue that men and women who enter into these arrangements are equal opportunity seekers. And as long as no one is harmed, then what’s the problem? If a lonely man who wants a young, pretty wife from another country, and a young, pretty wife wants an American husband, then who are we to judge? They would have a valid point.

But to all the seekers of “international matchmaking” out there criticizing the modern American woman? Ultimately, if you want to enter into a safe, mutually-beneficial romance with a woman from another country – go for it. Just don’t blame feminism. If romantic comedies, Sex and the City and 90 percent of Jennifer Aniston’s movie roles teach us anything, it is that American women apparently want marriage and family in droves.

Images: rbowen, istolethetv

Katherine Butler

Katherine Butler is the Beauty Editor of EcoSalon and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.