by Jessica Beugen
“Buying a bride.” “Mail-to-order marriage.”
These words tend to have many preconceived notions, but the author of Buying A Bride: An Engaging History of Mail-Order Matches, Professor Marcia Zug, stated on Tuesday at a UF Law speaker/book event, “I am a supporter of mail-order marriage; we just need to change the incentives.”
Mail-order marriage has historically been good for women, especially when they are legally protected. In early colonial America it allowed women to acclaim property rights, dowery, and inheritance. The colonies of Jamestown and New France encouraged women to voyage to America and in turn they would have legal protections they were not afforded in Europe.
The women who signed up were promised a better life. The women had the right to choose their husbands, reject their husbands, and change their marriage vows. Coincidentally, since the women were scarce, the colonial men were forced marry who chose them as their mate. In Jamestown and New France, women held the power.
The Louisiana colony, in contrast, did not go as well. It knew they needed to bring over women to America. Louisiana had a false allure of luxury, servants, and an abundance of food. Women signed up excitedly but once they saw the dreary reality in the Louisiana colony and realized they had been lied to, they tried to get back on the boat back to France. They were not allowed to go back to Europe and so ended up prisoners to this life in America.
The women in turn rioted in what is known as the “petty coat rebellion.” Some of the women married and some left. After this, the Louisiana colony had a hard time recruiting women and France was only able to recruit in prostitutes to the Louisiana colony. Thus, Zug pointed out that two realities may emerge from this type of culture.
“When mail-order brides are legally protected, voluntary, then the marriages end up being good for women, and the colony and the nation. If it’s not good, women become exploited and abused.”
Modern Mail-Order Marriage
“It is difficult to be in the middle class, and getting married also shows that ‘they made it.’ Its difficult if you aren’t seen as marriage material, and if they can’t do it (get married) they feel that they are left behind.”
With modern mail-order marriage, many colonial factors exist today. Zug described middle class men in today’s America often are not seen as marriage material. By marrying, they enter into a dual-income household and solidify their position in the middle class.
What’s in it for the women.
Why would a woman elect to be a mail-order bride? Some may have no chance at coming to the United States. By immigrating as a spouse, they are at the top of the immigration list. It’s a calculated choice that they will benefited from this exchange.
But what about the love?
The idea of marriage based on love is a relatively new creation. Marriage has always been based on economic factors. In fact, mail-order marriages have lower divorce rates. Why is that?
“It is because they know what they are getting out of the marriage. If you know the roles, and what is expected out of the marriage, often divorce isn’t of question,” Zug explained.
Love on the other hand is more fickle. People enter the marriage having an idea of what love should be, and when it changes as it often does, it can lead to divorce.
Many interviews with Mail-to-Order brides are also being rejected by their societies. Zug pointed out that in documentaries of mail-order brides, the stories are the same. The mail-order brides say, “well when I was starving on the streets of Minsk, I didn’t think about love, but how could I not love someone who has been so kind to me.”
These women aren’t desperate. They are looking for opportunities. If it is not a good deal, they will go back. One student from Russia who sat in on this presentation shared she has friends who have been a mail-order-brides.
“It’s a chance for them to get a better life, run away from their country and they are happy!” said Alina Iseva, 2L.
See below for more information on Professor Zug