The commercialized romance tour industry provides American men interested in meeting a foreign bride with the network and connections to make this ‘dream’ a reality. American men involved in this industry desire a foreign woman who possesses traits associated with white femininity from the 1950’s. The image of this femininity is captured in the television character of June Cleaver, as she exemplifies the stereotype of 1950’s suburban, middle-class femininity. Her work is the work of the home, and she is always dressed in a feminine manner, cooking dinner in her pearls and high heels. White, middle class women are no longer at the top of the desire hierarchy for a certain section of American men, since they are no longer feminine enough and have become too ‘masculinized’ by feminist ideas of gender equality. These men are seeking women that still possess the stereotypical 1950’s idealized ‘traditional’ white, middle class femininity, and the emotional labor ‘good’ wives provided men back then (beyond just housework). These American men construct foreign women from certain geographic regions (Eastern Europe, Latin America and Southeast Asia) as ‘exotic’ women that still possess this nostalgic vision of 1950’s femininity that they desire. Latin American, as well Eastern European and Southeast Asian women, are naturalized in the romance tour market as having the proper cultural grooming that has made them more traditional, feminine, docile and better mothers (Schaeffer-Grabiel 2006).
Russian and Ukrainian women approximate this 1950’s ideal the most, as their ‘whiteness’ makes them resemble June Cleaver more than Filipina or Colombian women. In addition to prioritizing family life, Russian and Ukrainian women are considered to resemble June Cleaver in terms of her feminine appearance: thin, fashionable, sexy and made up. All of my male interviewees, no matter which tour they attended, thought Slavic women were so beautiful that they could easily pass for models. For some American men, however, rumors of Russian and Ukrainian women’s coldness and ‘scamming’ nature made more ‘exotic’ women appear as a better potential marriage partner. Many of the American men seeking brides in more exotic locales engage in a process of ‘whitening’ these women by highlighting attributes these women share with the idealized vision of 1950’s femininity they seek. Men also described Colombian women in terms of sexy, feminine appearances that resembled the ‘traditional’ femininity that many were seeking. However, since Colombian women are often not ‘white’, and in fact belong to a large racial continuum, many men would ‘whiten’ Colombian women through linking their femininity and traditional views on family to the men’s fantasy of an exotic June Cleaver. Many American interviewees I met in Colombia who attended tours in other Latin countries told me that Colombian women were the most professional and beautiful in the region (compared to Peruvian and Costa Rican women). My interviewees consistently mentioned notions of professionalism, traditional family values, and a feminine appearance in an effort to ‘whiten’ Colombian women. Since Colombian women possess the traditional family values and feminine appearance that has been largely abandoned by Northern women, they are constructed as superior marriage partners.
While many American men used words like professional to describe women in Colombia, they utilized other characteristics from their idealized version of American femininity to construct Asian women. Most men considered Asian women to be more traditional, demure, virginal, and family oriented. Men who considered Asian women to be physically attractive often sought very petite women. Even though these women are ‘exotic’, men would justify their choice in finding an Asian wife by focusing on their conservative appearance, modesty, and traditional family values. While sensuality and a sexy appearance drove men to search for women in Colombia, the men searching for wives in the Philippines were more interested in finding modest and demure women. What these men all share in common, however, is making an attempt to ‘whiten’ these women into appropriate marriage partners (even superior marriage partners) by highlighting the qualities Colombian and Filipina women share with their ideal vision of femininity. Foreign women’s superior femininity is constructed in terms of their more beautiful and feminine appearance, their youth, and their ‘traditional’ views on family life and proper gender roles in the family.
Constable, Nicole. 2003. Romance on a Global Stage: Pen Pals, Virtual Ethnography and “Mail Order Marriages”. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Johnson, Ericka. 2007. Dreaming of a Mail Order Husband: Russian-American internet romance. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Schaeffer-Grabiel, Felicity. 2006. “Flexible Technologies of Subjectivity and Mobility across the Americas,” Special Issue of American Quarterly: Rewiring the ‘Nation’: The Place of Technology in American Studies, Fall 2006.”
Schaeffer, Felicity. 2013. Love and Empire: Cybermarriage and citizenship across the Americas. New York: New York University Press.