Comment: Here comes the bride

To have raised the topic of Filipino mail order brides in Australia during the 1970s and early 1980s, chances are, those around you may have become a little incensed.

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The women involved were often dismissed as gold diggers; the men, perverts.

“There is not so much moral panic surrounding the phenomenon today, but there is still a social stigma attached,” says ANU anthropologist Professor Kathryn Robinson, whose research includes Internet mediated social relations and cross-cultural marriages.

She believes Australians are in general, skeptical of any kind of arranged marriage.

Central to concerns surrounding the Filipino mail order bride phenomenon of the late 1970s and early 1980s, was whether a marriage initiated by a magazine advertisement was legitimate.

Robinson, who is based at the School of Culture, History and Language in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, points out that brides were never bought and describes the term mail order bride tag as ‘pejorative’.

“The only thing that was paid for was an advertisement,” she says.

Such advertisements were typically placed in magazines like Australian Singles and The Australasian Post, which featured a bikini-clad cover girl and often ran stories that focused on adultery, hedonism and nudity.

From there, people wrote to prospective spouses; photos and tape recordings were also sent.

Contact was frequently made by phone, but because few women in the Philippines had access to a landline at home, arrangements were sometimes made for them to wait at a particular phone, at a particular time, to receive a call.

At any stage, either party was free to walk away from the relationship, if they felt something wasn’t quite right.

Robinson says Australian immigration policy drove the demand for Filipino brides in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when a lot of single men were recruited from overseas, to work on mining sites.

“A lot of them were in isolated places like mining towns in Queensland,” she says.

“There was no possibility of them meeting a spouse because there were no women.”

It’s been well publicised that some of the arrangements have been a disaster – in worst case scenarios, the same man has consistently abused several wives from the Philippines.

Governments in Australia and in the Philippines have responded by tightening visa restrictions, along with providing prospective brides with information sessions.

While such instances contributed to negative stereotypes, ‘’because they are the stories that get reported’’, Robinson doesn’t believe it is a widespread problem.

An academic study in the 1980s also found many of the marriages were characteristic of the Australian norm – divorce rates were no different to those who married people from backgrounds similar to their own.

“There is no evidence that they create more stable or less stable marriages in general,” says Robinson.

Nowadays, Robinson says there are just as many men in Australia seeking to hook up with Filipino brides as there was in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but the stigma of doing so, while it is still there, is less pronounced.

“And I think that is because there are so many people who have experienced online dating, that it doesn’t seem so weird,” she says.

“So our assumptions about how people meet and form relationships are being stretched as we engage with new communication strategies.

“When people want to have interpersonal communication, they will use every means available.

“And human beings are really creative at finding ways to express themselves, whether it be to find a spouse, or others with similar interests.”

This article was originally published by the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.