One aspect of the show that caught my attention was a scene in which a young gypsy woman (I believe she was 16) was discussing her family and how she left school at the age of 11 to help her mother care for her many young siblings.
An article entitled “Why fat gypsy weddings are a feminist issue” by Vicky Allan of The Herald (Scotland) suggests that the practice of taking young travellers out of school may also be due to the gypsies’ strong desire to maintain their culture and limit the influence of outside values.
Either way, this practice surely leaves gypsy women behind and sets them up for a life inside the home. Their lack of education would make employment outside of the home seemingly impossible. But to what extent can “outsiders” criticize this cultural norm?
Possibly the most troubling portion of the episode I watched was a scene in which a young traveller girl (just shy of her 16th birthday) was “grabbed” by a boy at a wedding. “Grabbing” is an apparent courtship ritual that involves a young man physically grabbing a young woman and attempting to “steal” a kiss from her. It sounds like rape, right? Well it looks like rape too.
The clip that follows depicts the incident. The young woman, Cheyenne, discusses how some boys take it too far, but this grab in particular wasn’t one of the more violent she has experienced. She says, “You just have to live with it.” In a shocking twist, Cheyenne calls this grab the best thing that ever happened to her because she later accepted a marriage proposal from the boy who grabbed her. The young man appears to apologize for the grab in the clip, saying that it must have been “love at first sight.”
In another clip, two traveller men discuss "grabbing" and respect for women. They say that grabbing may look like rape, but its not. But, they say that while they respect women, they respect men more.
These comments make me wonder whether gypsy men respect women at all if they are willing to admit that they respect men more. But, once again, the issue of cultural norms rears its head. One man says, “Other religions have weird things where we go, ‘Oh my God, how could you do that?’ But that’s their way. Who are we to question their way? And who are they to question our way?”
Although outsiders should have a certain amount of respect for cultural norms they may find offensive or oppressive, I think many women would agree that a line must be drawn somewhere. “Grabbing” is a cultural norm that I would argue goes a bit too far.
It is clear from the show that the role of the gypsy woman is to look after her husband, her children and the household. In the first clip above, Cheyenne says that she can’t wait to be a good wife and make sure “everything is in place” for her husband. According to the show, traveller women typically get married between the ages of 16 and 20.
A young Traveller named John, who was interviewed by Allan in the piece mentioned above said
That’s bang on, how the women stay at home and the men go out to work. My wife doesn’t work and among everyone that I know or speak to, the women don’t work. If the young man had to make his wife work, it would be a disgrace.This comment is interesting because it almost seems like John thinks that it would be a burden for a woman to work outside of the home, but I think most women I know would agree that it would be a burden to be forever confined to the “private” of the home.
The central issue raised by "My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding" and its portrayal of gypsy culture in the U.K. is the tension between feminist critiques and cultural norms, and which of those norms may cross a line.