The film Picture Bride is based on the immigration of Japanese and Korean men into Hawaii to work temporarily on sugar plantations through labor contracts between 1886 and 1924. However, a lot of men never returned to their home countries due to debt to plantation owners. As a means to encourage their permanent stay, plantation owners encouraged laborers to marry, which would also help limit gambling, drinking and prostitution. The Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 which prohibited the immigration of more Japanese laborers, also contributed to immigration of “picture brides.” Japanese men could either go to Japan and get married, or ask family members to find them brides (Glodava & Onizuka).
This film captures the ways in which photography made arranged marriages overseas easier. For example, Niyo used it to her advantage since it allowed for little investigation of family background, given that family lines were a very important aspect of marriage in Japan. The fact that Niyo’s parents had both died of tuberculosis, it had tainted her chances of ever finding a husband in Japan. Although it was not explicitly stated in the film, I assume this was particularly shameful because there was a chance she too would have tuberculosis and no men would want to wed her.
In the film, there isn’t much background about Japanese arranged marriages, other than the use of a matchmaker that pairs the couples and is responsible for delivering the letters and pictures. In the first and only letter that Niyo receives from Matsuji he describes Hawaii as a beautiful paradise where “money is earned with ease” which we later come to realize is very far from the truth. Glodava and Onizuka explain that this type of description was common and strategically used to reinforce the perceived mysticism of the West, which would explain why young women would leave everything behind and enter a foreign country to marry. Glodava and Onizuka describe that another reason why “picture brides” were allowed to leave Japan in large quantities was because it would “relieve the countries population pressure” (p.36). This can be understood by looking at Asian women’s role in their respective countries compared to men. Two of the reasons why they are undervalued is because they lose their family name upon marrying, they don’t make financial contributions to support the family before marriage like men do, and men take care of their parents in old age. Women also carry the pressure to give birth to a male heir. All of these circumstances have lead scientists to believe they are the reason for the rise of female infanticide and wife abuse (Glodava & Onizuka, 40).
All of these institutional factors facilitated the transmission of all of these women from one country to another, and for whose benefit? Men. You might think, ‘No, it also benefits countries like the U.S. and Japan.’ I would argue that the answer is still, men given that in this period males made up the majority of government positions. From a racial power dynamic perspective, it was a way for the White men to control the Japanese and Korean men in the plantations. From a gender power dynamic, it was a way to exercise power over women on a transnational scale. The decision to allow these women to immigrate to the United States was not to improve their life chances like one might assume just by looking at the film at face value.
The focus of the film Bride and Prejudice is on the Indian tradition of arranged marriage in the 21st century. It is framed in a positive light given that the bride and groom now have a choice in the matter. However, the modern arranged marriage seems to place more importance on the economic assets than on the character of the individual. We can assume that the reason why such emphasis is placed on wealth is because Lalita’s mom equates it to high class and culture. However, we can see that Lalita demonstrates more refined manners and etiquette compared to the financially stable, Mr. Kholi, who eats with his mouth open.
Another reason why the Bakshi family is so consumed by the need to marry off their daughters is due to the dowries that are paid to the groom’s family. It is an Indian tradition where the bride’s parents gift the groom for taking their daughter and relieving them of the financial responsibility. In other words, they are marrying their daughters out of need since they don’t make enough to support all four girls. Glodava and Onizuka refer to the dowry as problematic since it places a monetary value on women, thus the woman can be seen as property that can be bought or sold (39). A cultural tradition like the the dowry reinforces the unbalanced power dynamics between men and women. Glodava and Onizuka describe that in India “a baby girl is born with a curse of being neglected; women’s bodies are exploited, abused, sold, aged and burned” (41).
Such violence and hate towards women can be seen in the recent gruesome rape of a young woman in India:
It is absolutely mind blowing to think that after gaining the courage to speak out and try to prosecute your rapist, a police would suggest you to marry him! If I were a woman in India I would feel scared to death to speak out against my rapist. I would lose my voice.
However, hate towards women in this country is not a thing of the past.
As we can see, the hateful remarks and death threats Zerlina Maxwell received after speaking out against gun control being a solution to rape, very much support her argument like she said. It is a perfect example that highlights how sexism, racism, and gender inequality still persist. The fact that she is a woman of color makes this issue much more complex given that women of color are highly sexualized. I think that if Zerlina would have been a White woman the degree of verbal violence would have been dramatically less intense.