So, I’m behind on the Women’s Day challenge I’ve set forth for myself. (What else is new? I’m behind on everything in my life.) I’m going to try to catch up on posts over the next few days. I need five posts to catch up! Tough work.

In the early 1600s, the colonies were struggling. Men came over the ocean in droves, determined to make a windfall on the overly available land in America. Women, however, did not tend to make the trip. Boats from England to America were deplorable – rampant in disease because of enclosed conditions, in danger of being lost at sea due to weather, and if blown off course, there was the worry of starving to death. Women being the more level-headed sex, we chose to stay home.

This caused a problem, of course. The new world posed just as much danger as the boat trip over – overrun with “savages” and no promise of food or shelter, plus with a climate different and more severe than home. But the biggest issue was a lack of marriageable women! And how could a man build his family, work his land, spread his seed without a woman to bear him ten children??

Thus, in 1619, men in London began a campaign to recruit young women to come to America for the specific purpose of marrying. Passage was to be free and a dowry was provided for any woman willing to make the trip. Upon marriage, the husband of the affair was to reimburse the recruiting company with 120 pounds of tobacco. In this way, these original women of the new world were known as “tobacco brides.”

90 brides arrived in Jamestown, Spring 1620. Jane Dier was the youngest at sixteen, and the oldest, Alice Burges, was twenty-eight and skilled in the trade of brewing. All the women in between tended to be of good families, “respectable”, mostly having the misfortune of being left without a male influence through death. No daddy, no money…the opportunity for a husband and the promise of “wealth” in the new world had to have seemed like paradise.

Not all women were as lucky as to choose the path to America. Some entrepreneurial men decided they could snatch women from wherever they could, plant them on a boat, and send them over. This type of kidnapping was so prevalent, it became a common theme in literature during the seventeenth century! Just another example of Woman as Property in patriarchal England, 400 years ago.

All of this gets me to thinking about instances of women selling themselves to better lives in today’s age. If one were to run a Google search for “mail order brides”, there would be returned 2,320,000 results. The stereotype, or at least in my experience, is that mail order brides tend to come from Russia. A couple weeks ago I read Mortar and Murder by Jennie Bentley, a fantastic mystery series I’ve followed since the beginning. This book is the fourth in the series, and its basic theme is of Russian women being sold to American men under deplorable conditions. Great book, and it definitely opened my eyes to the fact that exploitation of women is still a big problem.

My search has shown that Russian women are not the only ones out there. Some sites advertise ladies from Vietnam, Latin America, the Ukraine, Asia, the Phillipines, and even Sweden. While men from around the world take advantage of these websites to find a bride (usually unattractive, lonely, desperate men), the big spenders seem to be South Koreans. According to one article, South Korean men fly by the hundreds every month to meet and judge groups of women in Vietnam, Mongolia, Nepal, and Uzbekistan, and after the interviews, pick their bride. The practice is so prevalent it has been outlawed in the Phillipines. In 2004, 25,594 South Korean men married mail order brides. It’s such a terrible exploitation that if the man gets her home and is unsatisfied, he has been know to ask the agency for the chance to send her back and pick another. (Sang Hun)

One ex-mail order bride from Russia has written an incredibly enlightening article found here, She says being a housewife in Russia is an “unaffordable luxury” because most women must work to support their families. Thus, when a woman is a housewife there, it is a sign of wealth, which explains the need of women to get out and be wives. In Russia, it’s almost impossible for women to find work – she says that 90% of job ads appeal to men: discrimination by gender is not illegal there.

However, Tomas in his article states that most mail order brides end up taking flight after the wedding – they get that passport and an opportunity for a better life than they would have had back home, and disappear into the night. “Few instances…have proved to be a loving and dutiful spouse” (Tomas).

Instances of fraud are all over the web. In recent news, singer Cheryl Cole’s image has been used on a mail order bride site to bring traffic. The business owner says the images appeared “by mistake” – hmm. Sure.

In other recent news, one website, “A Foreign Affair”, has stated the recession in America has brought a burst in business for them. When times get bad, love moves to the top of a man’s priority list, says the owner of the business. “I think a lot of it has to do with their traditional values these women bring, they’re family oriented,” he says. The happily married couple understands why more men are flocking to international matchmakers.

I believe that statement goes against every feminist value I have. The word “traditional” makes me itch.

I understand that many of these women make the decision to join these websites because they want better opportunities than what are available at home. But in my opinion, this is just a moderate form of human trafficking. Mail order bride websites are benefiting financially by exploiting women who are desperately seeking something else at all costs – even to the cost of their body.

It began four hundred years ago and it continues today.

Articles used:

Choe Sang Hun: