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June 21, 2011 — UofT graduate student wins award for paper on Russian 'mail-order brides'

by Jessica Lewis — Friday, Jun 17, 2011

June 21, 2011 — UofT graduate student wins award for paper on Russian 'mail-order brides'

Alex Rowlson

June 21, 2011
Jessica Lewis

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 Nuptials: 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 Match.com 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.