Desiring an Exotic June Cleaver: Race in the Commercialized Romance Tour Industry

4 Apr

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.


Further Reading:

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.

4 Responses to “Desiring an Exotic June Cleaver: Race in the Commercialized Romance Tour Industry”

  1. Eyes Frontmen June 19, 2014 at 9:05 pm #

    Elsewhere in this blog, you say that men remain stoically silent on discussions of their “gender”, and that it is women who are doing all of the talking about men and manhood. I will tell you from experience that we know that any participation in the discussion that deviates the least bit from the feminist narrative will result in a litany of shaming tactics, name calling and slander. Notwithstanding, I’ll give it a shot, addressing one aspect of this article.
    The consistent theme is that men have a need to imagine foreign women as white in order to find them acceptable. That we image them as June Cleaver and since she is white, we are re-imagining foreign women as white. This is a slander, in order to perpetuate the base slander that there is something wrong with men for seeking women who seem most likely to provide what they desire in a relationship.
    Rather than see that some men have overcome their cultural/ethnic identification of female desirability and are looking through surface stereotypes to seek value in women as female humans and fit partners.
    Men make a positive step in race blindness, and feminist (primarily white) women use that as an excuse to find negativity and slander them. This constant negation of male existence and experience, this constant refusal to accept that men truly are not driven by a distinctive stereotypical definition of female form in mate selection is typical of feminist perspective. Of course physical attractiveness is always a factor in selection, biology is biology, but the weight of that factor and the dimensions of it appear to be more broad for men than in fact they are for women. For whom physical attraction or wealth and status continue to dominate. There are not many “professional” women seeking mates among blue collared working class men.
    Yes, most men continue to want what June Cleaver was portrayed as providing. That is just a surface representation of the package of emotional, relational and social rewards men seek in a mate, along with the physical rewards of amorous pleasure.
    Feminism suffers from a consistent solipsism. Reference this article, it is displayed in a baseline feminist proposition. Feminist women have redefined themselves without any reference to male perception of womanhood. Our perceptions are declared misogynistic, patriarchal and oppressive. Having achieved this new definition in behavior and outlook, you find the need to redefine manhood in a way that meets with your feminist needs. You seek to do so without reference to the opinions of men as to what manhood is. When we fail to meet those standards we have no say in creating, we are just misogynistic, patriarchal pigs who don’t get it.
    Feminist western women perceive the global market for relationship as an existential threat. If western men can and will dispense with their racial definition of womanhood, and seek mates based on what they want in and from women, and with women who appreciate men who live according to their own definition of manhood, then the power of feminism to compel men to accept feminist definitions of manhood is greatly diminished.
    That is what drives the theme of this article, which is little more than a slander of American men and the foreign women they pursue.

  2. jmesz001 September 19, 2014 at 5:19 pm #

    Hello Sir. I appreciate your comments regarding this article and would like to respond to your very serious accusations. While you may view this as an attack on men who engage in finding a foreign wife, I can assure you that is far from my meaning. I am actually indeed happy that many men are expanding their cultural purview in terms of romantic options and through my research have encountered a number of truly happy couples that have met through this industry. My point in writing this article is to show that certain women are ‘closer’ to whiteness in their association with traditional femininity than women in places like Africa, for example, where a large commercialized romance tour industry does not exist at the same level as other regions of the world. I think another point to make is that I examine the ways in which race impacts these women’s views on what is a desirable husband in another article on this blog, as well as discuss how the stereotype of ‘mail order brides’ discounts real relationships forged through this industry on the Huffington Post. Trust me, I am not the enemy. But to accuse me of slandering men who search for brides is going a bit too far. I am simply pointing out that certain women are considered closer to whiteness through association with being a professional, middle class, educated, etc and are thus considered to be more desirable. The more they are associated with these characteristics, the more desirable they become. In fact, many of the men I met on tour in Ukraine straight up said they were interested in finding a white woman. While we all have our individual tastes and preferences as people in terms of our sexual attractions, they are still influenced by cultural standards and understandings of beauty. Once again, I am not trying to attack the men for the choices they are making. Nor am I trying to attack the women for their choices. I am just pointing out trends that I observed, and linking them to bigger issues of who we think is desirable. If you don’t believe me, check out the new book Dataclysm, written by the co-founder of Ok Cupid, and see what he has to say about the influence of race on our perceptions of desirability.


  1. Masculinities 101: Week in Review | Masculinities 101 - April 6, 2014

    […] In another article, Julia Meszaro analyzed constructions of racialized femininity in the Commercialized Romance Tour Industry: Desiring an Exotic June Cleaver: Race in the Commercialized Romance Tour Industry. […]

  2. Masculinities 101 Week in Review | Masculinities 101 - April 11, 2014

    […] of the “mail order bride” in an analysis of TLC’s show, 90 Day Fiance; Julia also wrote earlier this month on the power of whiteness in the sex tourism and international marriage […]

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