This post was originally titled “Mail Order Brides and Hypergyny.” I was prompted to revisit the post because it received a a rather astonishing comment that I chose not to allow, but I did post it on my Facebook page where any attention it would receive would be from the thoughtful people that make up my Facebook community rather than just anybody out there on the Internet. Also, I recently received a complaint from a reader that Scienceblogs.com has been showing a lot of ads for “mail order brides,” and this post was originally partly a response to that.
I should also mention that in the years between 2009 and 2014 it is possible that the term “mail order brides” has been legitimately problematized. I don’t know that it has, it just seems like it must have been. For example, Wikipedia says “The term “mail-order bride” is both criticized by owners (and customers) of international marriage agencies and used by them as an easily recognizable term. It has been pointed out that there is a discrepancy between how international adoptions are regarded (“saving a child”) and how international marriages are regarded (“buying a wife”).” citing Lilith, Ryiah (2000–2001), Buying a Wife but Saving a Child: A Deconstruction of Popular Rhetoric and Legal Analysis of Mail-Order Brides and Intercountry Adoptions 9, Buff. Women’s L.J., p. 225F Schaeffer-Grabiel (2005), When the mail-order bride industry shifted from using a magazine. If you have any comments on that please leave them below.
Original Post, Mail Order Brides and Hypergyny:
Seymour had a mail order bride and he was very proud. Seymour was a night watchman that I got to know because I was forever lurking around at night, passing through alarmed doors and making a nuisance of myself and, usually, keeping just one step ahead of Seymour, who’s main objective in life was to find a reason to throw me out of the building. The one time he actually had the drop on me, found me without ID, with no instructions that people would be working late in the lab, on a weekend that people were not supposed to be in the building because of work being done on the fire alarm system, he made his move and told me to get out or I’d be arrested.
I had no choice.
I engaged in a conversation with Seymour, which no one had ever done before, and after a half hour he went way forgetting that his main goal in life was to throw me out of the building. But in the mean time, I learned about his mail order bride. From Korea.
I’ve noticed that Scienceblogs.com has been running ads for hot Russian mail order brides. These ads are rather funny on the surface; They seem to be parodies of such things that they represent. But if you click on one (and I certainly did … expecting to end up at The Onion) one learns that this is the real thing. These are real ads for real Russian women who really want to marry you. If you are Seymour.
I’ve told you before that I mostly avoid commenting on the advertisers for Scienceblogs.com. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. One of the most evil corporations on the planet is one of our sponsors, and no one ever seems to notice or complain. My blog is editorially independent (as are all the other scienceblogs.com blogs) and I am free, if I choose, to blog against the big evil corporation, and in fact, have done so to a limited extent.
At first, I found it rather shocking that none of my fellow Sblings seem to be blogging about the mail order bride ads. Then I realized that they must all be using ad blockers.
For my part, as you may have noticed, almost everything I encounter lately seems to remind me of a story from the Congo. (I wonder why that is?) So I can tell you a little about hypergyny in the Congo.
Let’s get two things straight:
1) Mail order brides are participating in hypergyny. Hypergyny is where females (gynos) marry “up” (hyper).
2) You will see the term “hypergamy” used and that is simply incorrect. There can be no such thing as hypergamy as a practice because that means everybody marries up. How would that work? The term is “hypergyny.”1
Hypergyny can occur in a lot of different cultural systems, and in fact wherever there is a) differential wealth and b) males tend to control big hunks of that wealth and the associated power (and no, it is NOT all about power … wealth and power are historically interchangeable enough that we should be cautious about making such distinctions) there will be hypergyny because there will be women who either choose it or are forced into it. In this form, and exploiting the ongoing conversations about rape, hypergyny can be understood by reference to the sexual interactions between allied forces liberating Europe from the Nazis and the local women. In Italy, Allied men tended to rape the women. In France, the women seemed happy to sleep with the men. For food. The difference? Well, lots of things were different, but to oversimplify somewhat, there was a big difference in how much people were starving at that particular moment between Italy and France.
Hypergyny is sleeping with the man over a longer term. For food and everything.
The most benign form of hypergyny of which I am aware (not counting mail order brides …. I’m not sure where I want to put that phenomenon on any scale of severity) is that found among the Efe Pygmies (and other Pygmies) in Central Africa.
Here, there are two integrated but distinct cultural entities: Villagers and Foragers. The Villagers are not Efe. They may be Bantu or Central Sudanic speakers (where I worked, they were Central Sudanic Lese). Villagers are farmers who often hunt, Efe are both foragers and farm laborers. The fact that there are material overlaps between the cultures does not make these cultures overlapping in all ways, or hard to distinguish, or flexible in membership. They are as solidly different as any caste might be.
The rules: Any Villager man and woman can marry. Any Forager man and woman can marry. Any man may have more than one wife.
A Villager woman can never marry a Forager man, but a Forager woman may marry a Villager man.
Often, but by no means always, the Forager woman who marries a Villager man is a second (or maybe even third) wife of that man, in a polygynous marriage.
If a Forager woman marries a Villager man, they live in the village as villagers. The woman takes on the cultural trappings of the village much more than other Forager women do. The children are Villagers. If the woman leaves her husband and goes back to the forest, she can not take the children with her. They remain as villagers.
The women can decide to do this or not. Their decision is usually a matter of personal lifestyle preference. The forest means freedoms not available in the village and you get to go camping all the time, and there are rich cultural traditions that live mainly in the forest, and that is where your family is. In the villages, you get a roof that will hardly ever leak.
One of the effects of this system is that men among the Foragers marry on average quite late owing to the a shortage of women.
In this way, there is a slow and steady gene flow from Forager groups to Villager groups, which led me to propose some years ago the Gene Stealing hypothesis. The relationship I describe here occurs in many different places and times. It seems to occur more often in tropical regions, and it seems to occur virtually all the time where the indigenous group (in this case the Forager) is hypergynous to the invading group (in this case the Villagers, who moved into the area hundreds of years ago).
The invading group is not adapted to local disease to the extent that the indigenous group is. But they can ensure that among their children there will be an elevated rate of such adaptation, by coming up with this pattern. This works much better than just killing off the locals or driving them out. You take their genes but keep them distinct as a locally adapted specialist group.
Indeed, there is evidence that something like this may have happened in the middle east with the Natufian culture, and I’ve wondered about the relationship between Modern Humans and Neanderthals in this regard.
I know, I know, that is a long way from pictures of Hot Russian Babes that may or may not be in the right sidebar.
Or maybe not….
1There is a way in which hypergamy, which is widely used much to my annoyance, makes sense: If you have hypergyny and hyperandry, then the two together could be hypergamy, much like polyandry and polygyny are polygamy. But that is not what is going on with these terms.