So according to Bloomberg News, the newest brides on the block (I use that metaphor intentionally) are Eastern European. Really. As we read in the story that appeared all over the interwebs this week:
Fourteen years ago, Weiner, 73, founded Hand-In-Hand, a London-based matchmaking agency that charges male customers up to $2,000 for a “supervised courtship”—a process that matches them with younger Eastern European women. Hand-In-Hand has since grown into a multinational operation with 30 satellite offices from the U.S. to Abu Dhabi. “We’re still opening up franchises, and business is booming,” says Weiner in his thick New York accent. “Financial problems are the biggest cause of divorce. There are more financial problems now. There are more people available!”
In the age of globalization, the international matchmaking industry—still known in many circles as the mail-order bride trade—is thriving like never before. The Tahirih Justice Center, a nonprofit organization in Falls Church, Va., that protects immigrant women, estimates 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.
The story goes on, and actually, you should read it simply for its trainwreck potential. And don’t neglect the comments. But here’s the most interesting tidbit: one reason that’s given for the desirability of the Eastern European bride is feminism. Or, more precisely, lack of same. Back to Bloomberg:
“The mail-order bride industry is a softer version of human trafficking,” says Sonia Ossorio, executive director of the New York City chapter of the National Organization for Women. Ossorio also acknowledges that some relationships work out—but perhaps not in a way that would please Betty Friedan. “A lot of people who are attracted to it are just looking for a woman who’s docile and obedient,” she says.
Ugh, right? Right? It gets worse.
For some companies, such submissiveness is a selling point. Hand-In-Hand’s website trumpets the fact that its females are “unspoiled by feminism.” Company founder Weiner argues this form of chauvinism—like the mail-order bride business itself—is economically motivated. “You take a beautiful woman from the Czech Republic and you bring her into your home, she does all your cooking and cleaning and ironing,” he says. “At the end of the day, the service is free.” Hand-In-Hand estimates the potential savings of a homemaking wife at $150 per week.
Now. I grow as weary of knee-jerk feminist rants as the next feminist, but really. Don’t we have to call this garbage out? As in: Where on earth do these Neanderthals come from? These men who pay for a marriage that would have made their great-grandpas drool? And why, for that matter, are Olga and Oksana so desperate for a slice of the American pie that they’d be willing to cook and clean for a stranger in exchange for a ring? Is it because their lives at home are so un-opportunized that a ticket to anywhere-but-here is worth the trade? Is it because, as one woman who had attended some of these mail-order mixers in her native Russia commented on the Bloomberg piece:
I left [the party] thinking that the men that want Russian women want lower status women and Russian women want American men for feminism! Russian women are not stupid and especially us young women want western feminism!
And so, what happens when, brandishing her Swiffer duster on fine spring day, the formerly blushing bride suddenly catches that most American of maladies: independence?
See? All the makings for the next hit reality show.
But back to that first question: I myself can’t help wondering where, in 2011, you would find these guys who think that wives are made to look pretty and serve and who shouldn’t speak up — at least, not to their man.
And so of course I thought of The Bachelor, where marriage is idealized, where relationships come with roses and limos, and where women compete for the top prize — ahem, a husband — and where the winner almost always has a brazilian blow-out, a perky nose, and is impossibly thin. (Yes, yes, I know. There’s a Bachelorette, as well. But that would take me off point, um, or would it? Who’s the ideal bachelorette? She may have a serious brain, but she’s usually got a serious rack, too, either real or enhanced.)
With that kind of cultural messaging, with a version of marriage and courtship that seemed to go out with Cinderella, is it no wonder there are still men out there who lust for the most uncomplicated of brides — a young, pretty girl who will cook and clean, and won’t talk back, at least in English.
Which brings us to the next new reality show. I think it’s a great idea, don’t you? And, of course, with great drinking game potential. We start with our hapless schlub sitting at the computer, negotiating Paypal (DRINK) We follow him to a mail-order mixer in Belarus, where he engages a number of young pretty girls in awkward conversation. We could bet on which unsuspecting woman will win the rose and if we’re right: (DRINK) Once he picks his intended, we could follow the courtship through the awkward emails — according to Bloomberg, many of these services charge eight to ten bucks to translate — and phone calls, where he and she are clearly lost in translation. We’d include the wedding, maybe some chicanery at the immigration office.
And then we might end with happily-ever-after, where our hapless husband comes home for dinner and finds that his wife has traded the vacuum cleaner for the front door. And that is when we really (DRINK)