My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding was a mini-series that aired first in Britain and subsequently in Canada on TLC. This mini-series was depicting the real lives of U.K. gypsy’s. It was very interesting to watch but the gender roles they showed were startling, especially since they were based in a developed country. The lives of these gypsy women are run by men; they have no real say in their own existence. The show itself focused around the gypsy weddings because they are some of the most elaborate ceremonies to be found and they are the one day in these women’s lives that they have for themselves. When I watched this show I found myself shocked at how the women were being treated and the level of acceptance in the community of this treatment.
The beginning of the gypsy woman’s life is spent planning her wedding, which will happen between ages 14-22 generally. If the women are in their 20’s when they get married they are beginning to be thought of as an old maid. They are generally pulled from school around these ages and taught how to take care of the house and any other children in the family because their role in life is going to be that of a housewife, most of them don’t seem to get any choice in the matter. The weddings that the gypsy community plan are quite extravagant and usually based off a Disney wedding theme. These days are extremely important to these women because it is their one chance for a day that’s about them and the rest of their lives are going to be dedicated to cleaning up after their family.
The outfits that they show the women, throughout the whole show are quite revealing but the sexual restrictions are also quite tough. While these girls are taught that they should reveal their bodies to attract men, they are taught at the same time that they are not supposed to have sexual relations with anyone but your husband and only that on your wedding day. If women are found with men before they are married then they are shunned and basically get called whores. The courting ritual for these gypsy women is quite violent, a violence that often seems to spread to their married lives, their courting ritual is called grabbing. Grabbing is where a man/boy takes a woman/girl outside to claim a kiss dragging her along reluctantly, the girl is supposed to reject the first few kisses and with each rejection the boy gets a little rougher physically. This courting ritual is demeaning and painful to the women and trains them early as to who is boss in their relationship. The men are physically hurtful to prove their dominance over women in this community, this is what keeps the women in line and helps to train them that they are supposed to accept this violence as part of their lives. Overall it was very disturbing to watch these young girls be physically forced to do something they did not want to so.
While this show spent a lot of time showing the gypsy women happily planning their weddings their marriages were a different story. Most of the girls were never away from their family and got homesick quickly. After their marriage none of them seemed to be happy but to have accepted the role of wife who also has little say in their husband’s life while he has complete control over theirs. In the gypsy community woman are not allowed to drink before marriage but men/boys are allowed to drink from the time they are children. After marriage if the woman wants to drink it is only at the approval of her husband that she is allowed. She must ask her husband for permission to do anything and if she wants to go out to the bar she is usually accompanied by him and going in his time frame. These women have no say in their own lives most of them never work and are pulled from schools early. They are trained to think that a male dominated relationship is what is supposed to happen in their lives and that domestic abuse is a normal part of a relationship. In one of the couples depicted the girl has been working for five years, unusual for a gypsy woman, when it came time for her to get married she gave up her job, her freedom, and her own income source to tend to a trailer for her and her husband. When the crew went to interview her after the wedding to see how she was settling into married life, she seemed severally depressed with it and clearly missed having her freedom.
When most of these women spoke they spoke with a voice that was not their own because they have no voice of their own. They made statements that were centered on the men in their lives and how much they are meant to please them. They have little to no identity outside of their relationships. Every young woman interviewed in this mini-series stressed waiting to get married until later because it strips them of the little freedom that they are allowed in their lives. Each woman that was interviewed after her marriage was unhappy; this shows me that these women are craving something more though they may not even know it. They are taught that being a wife and mother is all they are going to be good at in life and given no value outside of that. This community claims it to be a cultural choice but the women prove to me that it is something that needs to change; these women need an existence and voice outside of their husbands. There was only one or two women that seemed content and they were from the older generation. Every young woman in this mini-series seemed unhappy and wishing for something different in life then just getting the chance to be a housewife at an extremely young age.