Stereotypically ‘American’ Masculinities in the Commercial Romance Tour Industry

3 Mar

Source: Paul Bird Uploaded by MyCanon (Brad Pitt) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The ‘mail order bride’ industry serves American men who are interested in finding foreign wives. International introduction agencies combine internet dating with romantic tours to foreign locales that introduce men to a number of women at a time. Many women in Ukraine, Colombia and the Philippines define desirable masculinities in terms of whiteness, transnational mobility and financial stability. Jessie, a romance tour interpreter in Colombia, explains this desire, “Most of them want a white man. Like I would say all the girls want a Brad Pitt. That’s not going to happen.” Jessie argues that most women in Colombia desire ‘Brad Pitt’, which is essentially code for a tall, white man with blue eyes and blonde hair. Brad Pitt is also relatively young, considered to be good looking and is obviously a member of the transnationally mobile elite (this is not the case for most of the American male tour participants, who tend to be older, etc.).

In order to examine the ways in which racialized notions of masculinity are reproduced and created within the transnational commercialized romance tour industry, I chose to conduct fieldwork in the most popular tour locations (according to A Foreign Affair numbers) in the major tour regions: Colombia, Ukraine and the Philippines. While most people assume that women in Colombia, the Philippines or Ukraine will marry any American to get out of their poor and miserable lives in their home counties, this is far from reality. The women I interviewed in all three countries had very clear racialized notions of which American men made good husbands, and this race based ranking placed white men at the apex of the desirability hierarchy. Even though white American men are imagined as affluent and transnationally mobile, African American and Latino American men are not necessarily imagined in the same way. A number of women pointed to how difficult it would be to overcome ‘cultural’ differences with black men in a marriage but did not make that same argument about white American men (even though they are also imagined as culturally different).

This is an example of the ways in which American men are often racialized transnationally as white. One can definitely argue that this is an example of hegemonic masculinities at work, reifying notions around whiteness and heterosexuality (Beasley 2008; Coles 2009). However, important exceptions exist to the desire for hegemonic white masculinities. A number of women in the Philippines discussed their willingness to date men who belong in the ‘Moreno’ racial category. These ‘brown’ men are distant enough from black masculinity in order to be considered proper husbands. Throughout history, black masculinities have been constructed as hyper-sexual, hyper-aggressive, and as ‘dangerous’, but at the same time as ‘lazy’, ‘stupid’ and ‘primal’ (Abrahams 1997; hooks 2004; Ferber 2007; Kimmel 2003). These neo-colonial constructions of black masculinities continue to inform many women’s opinions of what constitutes an undesirable American husband within the international marriage market. In addition to the mainstreamed constructions of African American masculinites that circulate transnationally, many women in Colombia and the Philippines view ‘blackness’ as undesirable in a potential American husband based upon their own localized understandings of race.

Most often, the rest of the world imagines American men in conjunction with whiteness. Women who sign up with international introduction agencies often imagine that they will find transnationally mobile Brad Pitts, but this is often not the reality. Despite the fact that most of the American men participating in romance tours are in fact white, many of the men are older and not as wealthy or attractive as Brad Pitt (not that many people are). Regardless of their age or appearance, white American men are still constructed in many women’s imaginations as more financially stable, attractive and mobile. Often times, women involved in the ‘mail order bride’ phenomenon are described as desperate, willing to marry any American man that provides them with a ‘way out’ of their home countries. However, the different understandings of American masculinities that Colombian, Ukrainian and Filipina women articulate demonstrate that not all American men are valued the same on the international marriage market.

Further Reading:

Abrahams, Yvette. 1998. “Images of Sara Bartman: Sexuality, Race and Gender in Early Nineteenth Century Britain.” In Nation, Empire and Colony: Historicizing Gender and Race, edited by R. Pierson, N. Chaudhuri and B. McAuley, 220-234. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Beasley, Christine. 2008. “Rethinking Hegemonic Masculinities in a Globalizing World.” Men and Masculinities 11 (1): 86-103.

Coles, Tony. 2009. “Negotiating the Field of Masculinity: The Production and Reproduciton of Multiple Dominant Masculinities.” Men and Masculinities 12 (1): 30-44.

Ferber, Abby. 2007. “The Construction of Black Masculinity: White Supremacy Now and then.” Journal of Sport and Social Issues 31 (1): 11-24.

hooks, bell. 2004. We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity. New York: Routledge.

Kimmel, Michael. 2003. “Globalization and its Mal(e)Contents: The Gendered Moral and Political Economy of Terrorism.” International Sociology 18 (3): 603-620.

Author Bio:

Julia Meszaros is a PhD candidate in the Global Sociocultural Studies Department at Florida International University. Her dissertation research is focused on the commercialized romance tour industry and she has conducted fieldwork in Ukraine, Colombia, and the Philippines. She will be defending her dissertation in June and the manuscript is currently under review at NYU Press. Julia examines the ways in which individual emotions serve as the basis for transnational hierarchies of desirable masculinities and femininities. She currently lives in Oakland and has a blog on the Huffington Post as well. Follow her on Twitter at Jmesz1981.

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