Media Releases

U of T graduate student wins award for paper on Russian ‘mail-order brides’

June 21, 2011

TORONTO, ON – Tack­ling the stereo­typed con­cept of ‘mail-order brides’ and inter­na­tion­al mar­riage bro­ker agen­cies (IMB), Alex Rowl­son has been award­ed the 2011 Cana­di­an Women’s Stud­ies Grad­u­ate Stu­dent Paper Award for his paper “Nego­ti­at­ed Nupi­tals: A Transna­tion­al Analy­sis of the Inter­na­tion­al Mar­riage Bro­ker Indus­try and the Russ­ian ‘Mail-Order Bride.’ ”

“I want­ed to show the many shades of grey of the IMB indus­try instead of paint­ing it in the stark colours of black and white that pre­dom­i­nate depic­tions and explo­rations of the indus­try, both in the pop­u­lar media and aca­d­e­m­ic set­tings,” says Rowl­son.

In the paper, Rowl­son explains that the stereo­types asso­ci­at­ed with ‘mail-order brides’ obscure the actu­al moti­va­tions peo­ple have for using IMBs. One is that they are often viewed as vic­tims of abu­sive males, both in their birth coun­tries and adopt­ed coun­tries.

“The sta­tis­tics do not show that women in IMB mar­riages face a high­er chance of domes­tic vio­lence than in any oth­er type of mar­riage,” says Rowl­son. “Fur­ther, women are often seen as being ‘saved’ from abu­sive males in their home coun­tries by sen­si­tive, tra­di­tion­al, North Amer­i­can men.”

Rowl­son exam­ined how stereo­types of both women and men are inter­de­pen­dent and how they con­formed to or resist­ed var­i­ous social, cul­tur­al and gen­der roles.

“Women who use IMBs are often seen as con­niv­ing, schem­ing women search­ing for a green card,” he says. “I believe this stems from the mon­e­tary nature of the rela­tion­ship. Peo­ple draw par­al­lels between the fact that women are sell­ing their con­tact infor­ma­tion online to the belief that these women are actu­al­ly sell­ing them­selves. This dimin­ish­es the agency of the women who choose to use these ser­vices. It sets up an unfair dou­ble stan­dard along cul­tur­al lines; nobody is attack­ing peo­ple who use e‑Harmony or for pay­ing to have their infor­ma­tion dis­played on the inter­net.”

Rowl­son con­duct­ed his research over about two months, draw­ing from news­pa­per reports, IMB web­sites, aca­d­e­m­ic arti­cles, law reviews and Eri­ka Johnson’s book Dream­ing of a Mail-Order Hus­band: Russ­ian Amer­i­can Inter­net Romance. He worked close­ly with Pro­fes­sor Ash­wi­ni Tambe in the class Transna­tion­al Gen­der His­to­ries. He’s now fin­ished his master’s degree in Euro­pean, Russ­ian and Eurasian stud­ies and will be return­ing to the His­to­ry depart­ment for a PhD in Sep­tem­ber. He is work­ing on pub­lish­ing the win­ning paper.


Media Con­tacts:

Alex Rowl­son
Grad­u­ate stu­dent

Jes­si­ca Lewis
Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Assis­tant
Fac­ul­ty of Arts & Sci­ence
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to