Book Review: Buying a Bride by Marcia A. Zug



NetGalley Description

There have always been mail-order brides in America—but we haven’t always thought about them in the same ways. In Buying a Bride, Marcia A. Zug starts with the so-called “Tobacco Wives” of the Jamestown colony and moves all the way forward to today’s modern same-sex mail-order grooms to explore the advantages and disadvantages of mail-order marriage. It’s a history of deception, physical abuse, and failed unions. It’s also the story of how mail-order marriage can offer women surprising and empowering opportunities.

Drawing on a forgotten trove of colorful mail-order marriage court cases, Zug explores the many troubling legal issues that frequently arise in mail-order marriage: domestic abuse and murder, breach of contract, fraud (especially relating to immigration), and human trafficking and prostitution. She tells the story of how mail-order marriage lost the benign reputation it enjoyed in the Civil War era to become more and more reviled over time, and she argues compellingly that it does not entirely deserve its current reputation. While it is a common misperception that women turn to mail-order marriage as a desperate last resort, most mail-order brides are enticed rather than coerced. Since the first mail-order brides arrived on American shores in 1619, mail-order marriage has enabled women to increase both their marital prospects and their legal, political, and social freedoms. Buying a Bride uncovers this history and shows us how mail-order marriage empowers women. Mail-order marriage should, Zug concludes, be protected and even encouraged.

Marcia A. Zug is Associate Professor of Law at the University of South Carolina.

Firstly, it took me so long to finish this book.  But it wasn’t because it was boring, wordy, or stuffy.  Quite on the contrary, I was sucked into this book every time I picked up my Kindle.  The tone is simultaneously academic and anecdotal.  Reading it was like listening to a really engaging lecture.  Honestly, I could see it being assigned for some type of women’s studies course.

This book opened my eyes to the realities of mail-order marriage.  Like most Americans, I have always thought of mail-order brides as somewhat desperate.  I would never have stopped to consider the possibility that mail-order marriage is not only highly beneficial for the bride herself, but also for the society and economy into which she assimilates.

While Zug acknowledges that there were and are cases where the woman enters into an abusive or otherwise unsatisfactory union, the majority of mail-order brides and their husbands find a lot of satisfaction, maybe even more than those who found each other traditionally.  Because mail-order brides were solicited and entered into with lots of consideration, the women were valued very highly by the men.  The matches wouldn’t work unless both parties knew the other’s expectations and lived up to them.  This way, women were and are able to choose the most advantageous situation rather than having to settle for an unequal match or a life of single-hood.

Along with this relational satisfaction, mail-order brides were good for the economy.  In the early days of the US, the presence of women allowed more permanent settlements, so the government offered incentives for women who moved west for marriage.  This was a win-win-win for women, men, and the government.  In modern times, Zug makes the point that married couples contribute more to society, and mail-order marriage has allowed men who have otherwise dismal prospects to enjoy marriage.  Marriage makes happier, healthier people, and those people are more productive, so this ultimately benefits the economy as well.

The book was incredibly well-researched and very interesting to read.  I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in relationships, women, and global/international relations.  Because of the strong effect marriage has on society, the book touches on many issues other than just marriage, including gender equality, racism, and economics.  It’s a fascinating and authoritative read.

This book was provided to me for free from NYU Press through NetGalley in exchange for this review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Self Confidence: 30%

Yesterday, I went to the mall.  I went because my whole family has been out of town for a week and I was bored, and because my birthday is coming up and I had a gift card to Victoria’s Secret.  I was pretty excited about the trip, since I’ve been wanting to invest in some quality bralettes.  Recently, I’ve become a bit disenchanted with VS, preferring Aerie’s “The Real You” campaign to VS’s traditionally sexy appeal.  But I put that to the back of my mind, because there are still some products I wanted to check out — and I had a gift card, after all.

Looking around in the store, though, was not a great experience.  Being an introvert, I usually like to shop in big department stores where I can hide between the racks and not have to talk to salespeople.  If I have to go into a specialty shop, I like to bring a friend so I don’t have to stare at merchandise in silence.  Friends provide a sounding board and a social cushion — not to mention their wonderful company (I love you all, if any of you are reading this).  But I decided to go by myself anyway, because I’m a grown woman.

I was expecting the mall to be a little vacant, since it was Monday during the day, but it wasn’t.  VS was especially crowded.  Everywhere I looked there were girls my age and women with their boyfriends and salespeople asking if I needed help.  I felt awkward being there by myself, and even more awkward because I know I look young.  I looked especially young yesterday, since my hair was up and my face is not being kind to me right now.  I’m pretty much broken out everywhere.  To make matters worse, most of the women in the shop were tall and stylish and beautifully made up — they all looked, at least to me, like they were about to maybe run to the back for a quick lingerie photo shoot to be put on the VS website.  I felt small and silly and decidedly not sexy.

I forced myself to wander around and look at everything in the shop.  For starters, there weren’t nearly as many bralettes as I had hoped — I guess most of those are sold online only.  VS is notorious for push-up bras, and that is not what I want at all, so I really didn’t see anything that I liked.  And even if I had, I’m not really a standard size — I would’ve had to ask someone to help me, and then I would’ve felt obligated to spend.  I’ve never tried anything on in VS before, so I didn’t know if I was supposed to grab a hanger or a bra from the drawer below or what — it was completely overwhelming.  I ended up rambling around in the underwear tables even though I have too much underwear as it is — that was the only merchandise I felt comfortable looking at.

I left pretty quickly.  I don’t even think I spent a full 10 minutes in there, though it felt like forever.  After walking out I decided I didn’t want to waste the twenty minute drive, so I decided to go to Aerie.  I didn’t have a gift card, but I had noticed on the way to VS that they had a sale going on.

It was super crowded as well, and seemed more so because the shop is smaller.  But the shoppers in there were younger, and Aerie has tons of bralettes, and I felt much more comfortable.  I grabbed several styles to try on and headed to the back.

The fitting rooms were crowded, as I expected.  I had to wait a few minutes for one to open up.  At Aerie, as I’m sure is the norm, they write your name and number of items on the door of your room, both to prevent theft and to provide a personal feel.  Then they check on you every few minutes to both see if you’re still there and to see if you have any questions or need help.  It’s all a very nice process.

I didn’t really appreciate it, though.  The small fitting area allowed me to hear every little thing that was going on — every customer that came in, every suggestion the employees made to buyers.  I felt rushed.  Again, I prefer department stores because fitting rooms are usually large and deserted, and you can try on clothes in peace.  Maybe I’m weird, but I like to make final decisions in the fitting room.  If something fits, I can look at the price tag and calculate discounts in privacy, and maybe even text my boyfriend or sister a picture to see what they think.  I like clothes, and I like shopping, but I’m on a restricted budget, so it sometimes takes time for me to decide whether or not I actually need to purchase something.  Mostly I just like my shopping experience to be as private and undisturbed as possible, and Aerie was not making that happen for me.

I liked a lot of what I tried on, but I ended up leaving all of it and walking out of the mall in a bit of a bad mood.  I didn’t feel pretty or confident; I felt sub-par and flustered.  I was upset at VS for not making me feel comfortable or welcome, and I was upset at myself for going into Aerie when I knew I didn’t really have the money to buy anything anyway.  And then I was mad that I had wasted the gas to drive there and back.  The only high point of the trip was that it killed a couple hours and I had been really, really bored.

The whole ordeal made me feel like I was back in middle school, hating my skin and hair and body.  I think sometimes I use my introvert tendencies to cover up what I’m really anxious about — that I’m not good enough or pretty enough or worthy enough to do or buy or say X thing.  I say I don’t like people or that I don’t want something to cover up the fact that I’m afraid I’ll be rejected.

Usually, I can overcome those feelings.  I tell myself that everyone feels the same way, and that of course I’m good enough.  I tell myself that everyone deserves the same chances.  Usually, if I stop thinking so much and just do the thing, it turns out fine.  Usually, I do believe that I’m good enough, even when I make a mistake.  Yesterday just wasn’t one of those days.  I guess it just has to happen every once in awhile.  Next time I won’t let myself be intimidated.  But today, I think I’ll shop online.

My Rambling 3 Cents About Body Positivity

So, here’s the deal.  I consider myself a feminist in that I believe women should be treated equally to men, and I strongly believe in body positivity for all people, male and female, and all body types.  I think I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I, like every other woman, have issues with my own body.  There are a few things I don’t like about my body, like my skin, which is prone to acne and dry spots and weird gross fungus sometimes (even though I’m a super clean person.  How does this happen???).  I also feel like my shoulders are too wide, and I wish my hair was less frizzy, and I sometimes wish my boobs were a bit larger (although that not nearly as much as I did when I was in middle school.  Thank goodness).

However, this is not a post about what I don’t like about myself.  What I do like is that I’m pretty muscular, as in if I actually went to the gym on a regular basis I could be ripped.  I’m a pretty small person, and I also really like that for the most part (it does tend to get annoying when people think it’s okay to comment on my size because I am small.  Update: it’s not.  Just don’t comment on people’s size ever.  It’s kind of rude).  Also, the vast majority of the time, I love my small boobs because I can get away without a bra and with wearing low cut tops that would be too revealing if I were bigger.  There are perks to everything.  (Except maybe stupid skin.  I really hate that.)

Anyway.  I really started writing this post to say that I’m super thin, and I get quite a lot of comments on that.  When I worked at a bank as a floating teller, it never failed that at every new branch I went to, one of my coworkers would comment on my size.  It happened every single time.  I even get comments from random strangers, usually women.  It’s to the point that I know now that even though I’m not the prettiest person you will ever meet, my body can be the object of envy just because I am small and thin.

I have two main points here.  One is this.  I take nudes sometimes, just for myself, because I like feeling good about my body.  The last time I did, I got the idea to take a version of these photos below.  (I took these particular ones especially for this post.)  In these photos, I’m sitting like I normally do in class or at my desk.  (Obviously I don’t have great posture.)  And even though I’m thin enough that a lot of people notice, I still have stomach rolls.  See that?  I pretty much live with red lines on my stomach from where it folds over when I sit down.  It’s just a fact of life.

My other main point, that I tried to make rambingly a few paragraphs ago, is that even the people you see whose bodies you envy have things they don’t like about themselves and wish they could change.  I see people every single day that I wish I looked like, both online and in person.  I envy something about every single one of my friends.  So this is just a general reminder, because I know we’ve all heard this before — the Internet is full of body positivity messages for women, which is awesome.  This is just my reiteration.

My final three cents:

  1. First, you are beautiful.
  2. Second, everything you dislike on yourself, someone else has probably envied.  Everything you have envied about someone else, they have probably disliked.
  3. Third, your personality, your brains, your skills, and your passions are what really define you.  Not your body, ever.

A Study in PMS

Every single emotion is heightened.  Anger is actually furiousness.  Envy is actually burning jealousy.  Irritation is blood-pressure-heightening annoyance.  Little things get on your nerves.  Everything sounds good to eat and also nothing does.  You feel fat.  You feel too skinny.

The rational part of your mind whispers to you.  It’s okay that all those people are getting engaged and you’re not; it’s their time.  You and he have talked about this a lot and you know the best time frame for you.  Waiting isn’t the end of the world.  Also, you really like your body.  Yes, it’s incredibly difficult to find a good bra in your size, but think of all the other advantages of being small.  And as for the ridiculousness of the GOP debate only being available to cable-subscribers, you are absolutely right to be angry about that.  Absolutely do research and complain all you can.  Make your voice heard, and then at the end of the night let it go so that you can sleep.

That part infuriates you just because it’s right.  I have the right to feel my feelings! you scream.  I have the right to cry for no reason and crave cheddar cheese!  I even have the right to be snarky to my boyfriend just because I can!  He just doesn’t understand!

And then you actually are snarky to him and he handles it really well and then you feel like a horrible, selfish, and horribly selfish human being.  And even though periods really are a monster all their own, you kind of can’t wait for it to start because this ridiculousness needs to just end.