Monday, July 24, 2006

Mail Order Brides: Over Here, You're the Piece of Meat, Mister.

Harper's has an article (which I found via Arts & Letters Daily) from about a year ago posted online about mail order brides which begins:
"These are not American women," our guide was telling us. "They do not care about your age, looks, or money. And you are not going to have to talk to them for half an hour and then have your testicles handed back to you! Let me tell you: over here, you're the commodity; you're the piece of meat. I've lived in St. Petersburg for two years, and I wouldn't date an American woman right now if you paid me!"
In a world, nay, being of a species in which the female chooses her male breeding partners, it's titillating to imagine a scenario wherein men are outnumbered five-to-one, where women dress provocatively and flirt unabashedly, all to compete for scarce men. At least for the men accustomed to having their testicles handed back to them.

The article describes one man's journey to Ukraine to follow a group of awkward farmers and doctors looking for love with pliant women. But these men weren't here for mere sex tourism. No, "what they really wanted, and what most imagined they would find in Ukraine, was a fusion of 1950s gender sensibilities with a twenty-first-century hypersexuality." They were looking for wives.

Reading about mail order brides reminds me of a time years ago when, excited to have my own apartment (no, I'm not about to tell you I ordered a woman through the mail) and my own mailing address, I ordered everything free that I could find. A book called High Weirdness by Mail was my guide -- I found it at a used book store. From this book I found out how to become an ordained minister in the same church that later welcomed the reverend John Wayne Bobbit (or so I heard). Religion by mail became a theme. Ten years later, I still get free books from the Reverend Billy Graham's Evangelistic Association. I avoided sending off to the Mormons -- they send back people, not letters. But I did send for Scientology catalogs. I learned a ton from those. Eventually I think they thought I was one of them. The catalogs I got had very detailed information about their E-Meters, Hubbard's little lie detector used by Scientology "auditors" to glean the secrets of unsuspecting "pre-clears." Or something.

But there was another category of junk I ordered through the mail: Bride Catalogs. I got lots of them. I probably got a catalog from A Foreign Affair, the organization profiled in the Harper's article. Lovely Russians, Ukrainians, Filipinas. A few Guatemalans. Assorted El Salvadoran ladies. I felt terribly lecherous just looking at these catalogs. Hundreds of hopeful women. Most would be disappointed -- they would probably never meet anyone through these catalogs. But were they any better off if they did? These women were being "sold" as compliant, old-world-style sexually submissive little cooks and house-cleaners. Worse, they were being auctioned off to men who had been rejected by their own regional dating pools.

Creepier still was the sense of déjà vu I got when I tried my hand at online dating a couple years ago: 'these ads … they look so familiar,' I thought, that lecherous feeling coming back. Was the gateway drug that led to A Foreign Affair? (It wasn't, and although two, soon to be three friends' forays into computer dating have ended in marriage, my experiment was unsuccessful. Further, it proved distressingly lechery-free.)

The description in the Harper's article of the first crop of potential brides to show up at one of A Foreign Affair's mixers -- "Heavy makeup, especially around the eyes and cheekbones, was de rigueur" -- reminded me of a bizarre scene I witnessed during a guided tour of the English Literature department of Moscow State University a couple of years ago. I was chaperoned, along with two other American students, by three young Russian students, all women (incidentally, one of them told us she recently married her boyfriend, not out love alone, but for financial reasons), who walked us around the gargantuan Stalinist-Gothic style tower that anchors the university.

When our tour was almost over, we walked back in to the decrepit building that housed the English Literature department. As we entered, our three guides bolted away, alarming us. I realized that they were running to the giant wall mirror in the building's entry hall to check their hair and make-up. It was such a common and accepted ritual that they did it unselfconsciously. At first I was astonished. Then I stood back, smiling uncomfortably, feeling like I had accidentally strolled into the ladies' restroom. The three Russian students got their looks in order, applying a new layer of remarkably natural-looking cosmetics and nothing was said about it. I'll never forget that. I could speculate about how Communism's scarcity of feminine beauty products created a fetish for them that had a new outlet after the Soviet Union collapsed, but I've never seen any other Russian women so obsessive about their appearances.

At the end of the Harper's article, the author, Kristoffer A. Garin reflects on the end of the tour: "Quite a few of the men would find what they were looking for: by the time I left the group at the end of the first week (the full tour left several days of supported dating after the end of the group events), our tally of engagements would reach three—or six, if one includes the man who was engaged to three different women."


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Site Meter