Mail Order Brides
You may have seen the catalogs. Photos of smiling Asian or Russian women, all reasonably attractive, few over the age of thirty five, promising to be a good, quiet, submissive wife to any Western man wealthy enough to pay for her plane ticket and desperate enough to marry her. Interspersed with the requests for "kind, gentle husbands" and the declarations that the quiet life of a homemaker is all they need to be happy, you'll find statements that remind the male readers how selfish and career minded Western women are, and that these impoverished third world girls make much better wives than the arrogant and uppity Western women who have the nerve to have standards and to expect equality in their relationships.
The men who seek out these women seem to belong to a kind of club for emasculated men, since all of them place submission - in and out of the bedroom - above all else and require a woman who doesn't talk too much, or think too much, or do much of anything. While they used to be mostly older men with no social skills, the clientele is now branching out into younger, angrier men who can't handle today's more intellectually self-possessed woman and who want women that were raised to be subservient and docile.
Some of these men may be legitimately looking for love and have found no other way to secure it. Perhaps mail order brides for these men are simply an extension of the classified personal ads or dating clubs. But most of the testimonials from men who use these services reveal an almost seething resentment of modern American women and their baffling unwillingness to drop everything and prostrate themselves before these bastions of masculinity.
The solution, for these men, is not to live up to higher standards, but to search the globe for a place where the standards are still low enough to make these men appear exceptional.
But the women themselves are not merely star struck girls longing for a fancy wedding. Many of them see marriage to a foreigner as the only way out of poverty and despair in their home countries. They are willing to sell themselves in order to find a better life for themselves or to have money to send back home, or to make sure their children are raised in a better country. The catalogs and books written for men who want mail order brides try, vehemently, to deny that women are marrying old, fat, balding American men who haven't any luck in relationships just for a green card. They find these men attractive, the books claim. Really, they do.
Some women, of course, are merely con artists who try every trick imaginable to lure a rich American into visiting or sending money. Some women post pictures of a model instead of themselves, some women claim they have a foreign currency collection and ask each "pen pal" - some girls have three hundred or more - to send her a twenty dollar bill, thereby collecting thousands of dollars without ever having to leave their writing desk. Some women are actually men, so cleverly disguised as a woman that the unsuspecting husband doesn't find out until the wedding night - when the "bride" is safely on American soil.
A recent U.S. Department of Justice report that covered everything from immigration concerns to spousal abuse to the psychological profiles of people who engage in this business, stated that nearly 150 000 women a year seek American husbands through the mail order process, and 4% are successful, resulting in 4000 and 6000 marriages each year. The report was cautious in its appraisal of mail order marriages, but ultimately leaned towards the conclusion that many of these brides face abusive and controlling behavior from their husbands, and are particularly vulnerable because of financial dependence, language barriers, and even physical violence from the men who would keep them subservient. A high number of these marriages end in divorce as soon as the woman has been in the country long enough to apply for permanent residency, and the report cautions that even in the apparently successful relationships, there is no way of knowing whether the couple is truly happy or whether, as is suspected, the husband merely exerts such a controlling influence over his friendless and isolated new wife that she has little choice but to stay with him.
Support and advocacy groups for mail order brides have sprung up on a national level, with the hopes of calling attention to what they call "the slave trade" and to the people who keep it going. Calling attention to it is really all they can do; there is no law preventing an American citizen from marrying a foreign national and bringing her home with him, even if he picked her out of a catalog the way he'd order a new fridge from Sears. New laws were enacted in 1994 that provided legal protection for immigrant wives if they could prove domestic abuse, but as yet there is no law requiring potential husbands to disclose criminal or marital history, including restraining orders, convictions for spousal abuse or previous unsuccessful mail order marriages. The best their new wives can hope for is adequate information about what their rights are when they arrive in the United States, and the courage to exercise them if and when their marriages fall apart.
So if there's nothing illegal about mail order brides, and if there's nothing we can do about people with money being able to buy people without it, why does the idea of mail order marriage leave such a bad taste in people's mouths? Surely there are much more questionable marriages taking place every day in the United States, and far more unequal or abusive relationships in which one person wields the power while the other cowers. Why, then, do we regard mail order marriages with such disdain?
Because they violate human nature.
Selling the use of your body and the abandonment of your mind is the epitome of self-destruction. Ignoring the realistic necessity of character when searching for a mate is the epitome of irrationality and self-delusion. Both go against a human's fundamental desire to find fulfillment in sex and love with a willing and loving partner, and the resulting self-esteem you derive from knowing you deserve such bounty.
Mail order brides violate their own natures by agreeing to these marriages. They ignore a universal truth about human nature; love can never be forced, bought, arranged, sold, manipulated, or willed into being. No matter how easy it may seem to put on some lipstick and flirt with a foreign businessman, trying to secure financial security and happiness for yourself and children by selling your physical charms to a stranger will never, ever, bring you joy. Happiness in marriage is based on love, and love is based on shared values, neither of which can be negotiated or purchased.
People generally regard mail order brides as prostitutes, and certainly they must share this opinion on some level. Many of them eventually realize that they can't live within loveless marriages and end up returning to poverty instead of remaining in a charade of a marriage. Either that or they put in their two years and divorce as soon as their green cards are cleared. No matter how they cope with it, love can never flourish in such a mercenary environment, between a woman desperate to escape poverty and a man so desperate to control a woman that he has to leave his country to find one who'll let him. And when you look at yourself in the mirror and understand that you have traded two of the most precious human experiences - love and sex - as if they were commodities, you can't possibly hold your head up high and celebrate your success.
The men violate human nature by thinking that a wife can be bought, that simply being a man, any kind of man, automatically entitles you to a young, beautiful, loving wife. They completely ignore their own shortcomings, and instead blame American women for not wanting them. They don't seem to understand that love has to be earned, and that anyone with a truly happy marriage has done some very real things to deserve it, none of which include shelling out cash. For people who are so sadly self-deluded, they have healthier egos than even the most charming and successful among us, believing whole-heartedly that it's their right to have dozens of beautiful women compete for them.
They subscribe to the "I want it now" theory, ignoring that in life, almost everything worth having has to be worked for. But these men have no desire to work for anything. They resist the idea of bettering themselves or striving to earn the love of a truly remarkable women. Neither do they understand their own limits and accept that supermodels will never drop hotel room keys in their laps, that perhaps they ought to at least consider dating women their own age, or women whose attractiveness more or less equals their own. These men take moral shortcuts, instead, convincing themselves that they don't have to do anything special or be anyone special to win the love of a gorgeous and talented woman, they simply have to want her, and she'll appear.
Once they're married, their faulty premises become even clearer. They violate their wives' basic humanity by cutting them off from their minds. These women are expected to fulfil "traditional roles" and stay firmly in the kitchen where they belong, and should never think about having a career of their own, unless of course, their husbands give permission for them to work outside the home. Even then, they can't show too much interest in it - their first priority is to be a supportive wife and mother, always. Even if they were doctors and engineers in Siberia before coming to America, they are supposed to scrub floors and bake cookies all day, and to know that a woman's place is decidedly beneath her husband, in more ways than one.
The problem with this is that while some women prefer homemaking and motherhood as their career, it is not right to insist that someone should follow this path. Any man who thinks that a woman should be relegated to menial labor and mindless companionship, simply because she's female, shows a lack of rationality and a primitive kind of sexism that most modern men have long since abandoned. This is not the kind of man who deserves a thoughtful, intelligent, beautiful wife, no matter how much he believes he does.
All human beings must use their minds to survive, and all human minds must be stimulated and encouraged to grow, regardless of sex. A thinking person will whither in an environment in which their rational faculties are not used or not allowed to be used. Useful, purposeful, mental stimulation is crucial to a human being's sanity; wanting to stifle it violates the most fundamental truths of human nature. It's therefore crucial to a good marriage as well, for both partners to have a career that stimulates the mind. A marriage that does not foster this, or actively represses it, is not a real marriage at all.
Mail order marriage appeals to only a small number of frustrated people who have developed the wrong attitude towards human relationships. The rest of us usually snicker at them and dismiss their arguments as the ravings of a sad group of people who want desperately to rationalize their misguided choices. But there are lessons to be learned from the mistakes they make. They unknowingly provide clear examples of how human nature cannot be ignored, how reality cannot be fudged, and how human beings cannot sacrifice their values for an illusion. If they can't see these errors in their thinking and learn from them, at least we can.