Mail-Order Brides? Marriage by Correspondence

An observational documentary and study guide

Play Video

MAIL-ORDER BRIDES? is an historical ethnographic documentary shot in the Philippines and USA during 1993.

Editing and study guide development are ongoing in 2024.

A new documentary about the married couples and other individuals who were in the documentary is in development, to be paired with the current work.

MAIL-ORDER BRIDES? An observational documentary SHORT VERSION (9 minutes)

Play Video

MAIL-ORDER BRIDES? An observational documentary SHORT VERSION (9 minutes)

MAIL-ORDER BRIDES? is an historical documentary shot in the Philippines and USA during 1993.

Editing and study guide development are ongoing in 2024.

A new documentary about the married couples and other individuals who were in the documentary is in development, to be paired with the current work.


Play Video


Play Video


Play Video


Play Video


Play Video

5 PUSH and PULL?

Play Video


Play Video


Play Video


Mail-Order Brides? An Observational Documentary and Study Guide

Mail-Order Brides? is an observational and historical feature documentary and study guide/case study for student learning.

The documentary delves deeply into the complex phenomenon of pen pal courtships and marriages between Filipinas and American men in the early 1990s.

The documentary and its study guide combine grounded theory and phenomenological approaches in qualitative research. The goal is to integrate both approaches, leading to a more comprehensive understanding of the research phenomenon.

"Mail-Order Brides?" uses ethnographic research perspectives to challenge the sensationalized narrative often portrayed by the media, where Filipinas are superficially depicted as mere commodities in the international and nefarious mail-order bride market. Instead, this documentary objectively presents women as individual agents navigating through the challenging socio-eonomic and cultural landscape of their time.

The documentary underscores how Filipinas, figuratively described as a natural resource of the Philippines, are pushed by many local adversities and pulled by the lure of better opportunities in the USA, revealing a multifaceted story of choice, resilience and survival.

The documentary critically examines the myriad factors that drive Filipinas to seek foreign husbands, particularly seeking those from the USA. Central to this exploration are many factors that emerge such as:

  • failure by the RP government to provide basic services, especially in the aftermath of the 1986 IMF debt crisis, which plunged the nation into long-term economic hardship


  • a colonial mentality in the RP
  • the priority of virginity in RP society
  • the absence of divorce in the Philippines (a significant impediment that left many women trapped in untenable marriages)
  • a perceived lack of support from Filipino men.

Through the critical lens of women's studies and feminism, Mail-Order Brides? contextualizes the pheonomenon of these marriages within broader discussions of global economic pressures and local patriarchal structures, offering a comprehensive understanding of the motivations behind these transnational unions.

This documentary features in-depth interviews with many women and men themselves who are engaging in pen pal writing and marriage, with insights/critique from several prominent advocates and scholarly voices for women’s issues.

The documentary sheds light on the psychology of mate selection and the socio-political factors that shape the women's decisions to "marry a foreigner" and leave their homeland.

The documentary connects past issues with present-day realities, laying the groundwork for further study of these topics in the internet age.

Mail-Order Brides? not only provides an historical account but also serves as a poignant commentary on the enduring impact of economic policies and gender dynamics on the lives of Filipinas.  Ultimately, the documentary advocates for full liberation of all women, facilitating a more nuanced and empathetic understanding of their experiences by all.

                                                               MAIL-ORDER BRIDES? An observational documentary

                                                                                      Study Guide Framework


This study guide provides a structured framework for exploring the themes and issues raised in the documentary, offering opportunities for critical analysis, discussion, and reflection. It encourages students to consider reticulated historical contexts, ethical dilemmas, and contemporary implications of gender dynamics within the specific context of Filipino women’s experiences in pen pal marriage with American men.

This study guide explores the complex issues surrounding gender roles, economic autonomy, and cultural perceptions as discussed in the documentary, Mail-Order Brides? This multimedia learning resource examines the challenges faced by Filipino women, particularly in the context of international marriages and the phenomenon of pen pal marriage by correspondence, sometimes called “mail-order brides,” highlighting implications for women’s liberation and societal progress.

Learning Objectives

By the end of the curriculum, students should be able to:

  • Understand the historical and socio-economic context of the Philippines in the 1990s.
  • Analyze personal narratives to gain insights into Filipino culture and international relationships.
  • Critically evaluate the impacts of global economic policies on developing nations.
  • Communicate findings effectively through written and oral presentations.

Key Themes

1. Women's Autonomy and Economic Empowerment

  • Discusses the assertion that true progress for Filipino women hinges on their ability to stay in their homeland, secure meaningful employment, and achieve economic self-sufficiency.
  • Critically examines how economic opportunities contribute to women’s dignity and autonomy within their own communities.

2. Global Feminism and Cultural Representation

  • Analyzes the impact of the mail-order bride industry on the image and agency of Filipino women internationally.
  • Explores how stereotypes and cultural perceptions influence international marriages and societal roles, particularly from a feminist perspective.

3. Historical Context and Psychological Impact

  • Provides historical insights into pre-colonial gender dynamics in the Philippines, contrasting attitudes towards fertility and virginity.
  • Discusses the psychological effects of societal changes on women’s freedoms and perceptions of autonomy over time.

4. Analysis and Discussion Points

  • Intersectionality of Gender and Migration: Examines the intersection of gender, economic migration, and cultural identity, particularly in the context of Filipinas seeking marriages abroad.

  • Ethical Implications of International Marriages: Critiques the ethical considerations surrounding international matchmaking and its impact on gender equality and human rights.

  • Legal and Economic Solutions: Evaluates proposed solutions such as legislative reforms and economic policies aimed at empowering women economically and socially within the Philippines.

5. Contemporary Relevance and Social Justice

  • Media Representation and Stereotyping: Analyzes media portrayals of Filipino women and their influence on societal perceptions and global narratives of gender and race.

  • Advocacy and Activism: Explores the role of advocacy groups and feminist movements in challenging stereotypes and promoting gender equality in international contexts.


This study guide aims to deepen understanding of the multifaceted challenges faced by Filipino women and American men in a global context, emphasizing the interconnectedness of economic empowerment, cultural representation, and personal autonomy. By engaging with these themes critically, students are encouraged to reflect on broader implications for gender equality and social justice, both locally and globally.