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My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding – Behind The Bling Lies An Underbelly Of Sexism Disguised As Gypsy Cultural

When My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding first aired in the UK as one off documentary in the UK it was to “throw an overdue light on a secretive, marginalised and little-understood segment of our society”. What it did reveal apart ostentatious weddings, was the underbelly of a sexism that existed in the gypsy community.

I had been expecting the show to be a bit of fluff and giggle, but all I felt was disturbed about the lives of the young girls I was seeing on screen.

What was shocking was this sexism and control of women was done under the guise of culture when really it is a gender issue.

Each episode showcases a gypsy family who is having a big event, mainly a wedding which normally ends up being a big blinged up affair.

However behind the diamantes, glitz and mega meringue dresses a spotlight is shined on the way women are viewed and how they should behave in that world. It is extremely rigid and controlled with not a lot of choice for the female.

This is reality TV and there is an element of sensationalism which hooks the viewer in week after week, but sadly there appears to be elements of truth in this for some segments of the community.

The snippets of gypsy life we are shown is where women treated as chattels of their husbands whose main role in life is to be a wife, to cook, clean, have children and be submissive to their man.

The girls rarely question this way of life, however most are barely literate as the majority on the show, are taken out of school at 12 or 13 to help at home. Education is not valued by either sex. Many females never work outside the home so they are economically tied to their family and husbands. If they leave they risk being shunned by their community and family.

Girls are not allowed out much, but do obtain more freedom when they are married.

They girls tend to marry early, some as young as 16 years of age. These are no shotgun weddings as the girls must be virgins  otherwise a man won’t marry them. If you do end up divorcing, which is rare in the gypsy community, you can’t get married again as you are considered defiled.

Of course this is not the same for the men.

This purity issue is interesting in relation to the outfits the gypsy women wear. Lots of lycra, short skirts, bling and boobs hanging out even when they are in church. They are  very religious. Now I don’t think women should be defined by what they wear, however I am not sure the gypsy men have signed up to the feminist agenda just yet and in a sense probably reinforces to them what women are good for.

This is seen in the show when they indulge in the controversial practice of grabbing. This is where a male grabs a girl and drags her off to try and kiss her. At times on the show you can hear the girl begging to get away.  However it should be noted this is allegedly a courtship ritual which some gypsy’s deny exists.

The gypsy men also have expectations on them. To be providers, fight (literally) for their family and of course it is looked down upon to be homosexual. They are taught from a young age that helping in the house is a female thing and they are not to do it.

Obviously it is a reality TV show and it is designed to shock both with the over the top affluence of the weddings, and to be appalled at some of the customs. Like The Shire, which the viewer should not see this is a accurate portrayal of the whole community.

However to view this divide in gender roles as cultural is wrong and is something other women have fought against in other cultures for many decades.

The girl on the show might feel like a princess on her wedding day but you suspect no too many obtain the happy ever after.

My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding Season One screens Wednesday on NINE at 8.30pm, and Series two has just concluded on Lifestyle You however there are repeats.

 

18 comments

1 A.P { 10.03.12 at 10:06 pm }

They have a lot of double standards. The girls dress like prostitutes but do not drink, smoke or have sex before marriage, thats why they marry at such a young age.
I don’t understand how they get away with leaving school at the age of 12/13 when its against the law. They never have any ambitions except to marry young and look after their man and kids.
The men are cruel bullies, very selfish people.
Its amazing how they can afford these elaborate weddings when they only seem to work now and again, usually spreading bitchumen on roads or fighting and probably ripping people off in order to make money. I wonder how many of them are on the dole and getting family allowance and at the same time not educating their children?
The law should intervene in their Gypsy culture, they should be treated the same as everyone else.

2 Culinary Boner { 10.03.12 at 10:17 pm }

I haven’t seen this yet, but are they Romani (the sort of gypsies you encounter in central and eastern Europe, who are of Indian descent centuries ago) or Pavees (Irish travellers)?
I would have thought the two, whilst both being ‘nomadic’, have fairly different cultural heritages. Could be entirely wrong though.
While no doubt their culture is an anachronism in terms of gender roles, seems less offensive than modern Saudi law to me.

3 Reality Raver { 10.03.12 at 10:20 pm }

CB – Both are shown on the program.

A.P. – Same thing crossed my mind. Production would be paying for some of the weddings and others do appear to own businesses.

4 Georgie { 10.03.12 at 10:30 pm }

And it’s not just OTT weddings – I laughed till I cried at the little girl Marguerite and her ‘confirmation dress’. She looked like a huge lump of fairy floss and couldn’t even walk properly in it.

Taking the girls out of school early is one way of ensuring they don’t aspire to anything other than married life. Very interesting show indeed.

CB just saw your post. Tonight the folk were referred to as ‘travellers’ so would be the Irish.

5 Suziekue { 10.03.12 at 11:08 pm }

Believe it or not, this was the dominant Aussie culture up until the late 1960s and 1970s when the feminist movement in Australia began to agitate for change. Historically that is pretty recent. The value placed on virginity, the double standard, the bullying by blokes to get their way sexually and the acceptance by girls that this was normative, the lack of value placed on female education, gendered roles re work and housework …yadayada – Australia had it all. You can see the echoes of it in the show Puberty Blues. There are still remnants of it around today often rearing its ugly head in values espoused by conservative politics. Watching My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding was like a trip back in time (but without the big frothy wedding dress). I’m not making this up because I lived through it.

6 Isabel { 10.04.12 at 7:38 am }

When I was a child in the UK, the gypsies were the people who ran the fairgrounds. We’d get them knocking on the door selling bunches of lavender and they’d look at you in a very evil way if you didn’t buy – you’d be petrified they’d put a spell on you!!

7 JK { 10.04.12 at 9:13 am }

Thanks for the detailed description of what the show is about RR. Although I have only seen the ads, they do have very OTT weddings, which of course they wouldn’t afford to fund themselves.

8 brain dead dave { 10.04.12 at 11:18 am }

Interesting review, RR. Watching rednecks do their thing is just a bit too real for me sometimes.

I watched Puberty Blues. It had to be more inspiring watching the two girls break free of the male dominated beach culture at the end.

9 Kelsta { 10.04.12 at 11:42 am }

I was flicking back n forth between Puberty Blues and the Gypsies. Cringed in both.
PB’s – the males trying to force the girl in the back of the van made me shudder.
The Gypsy girl trying to get away from the guy that was “grabbing” her made me cringe and couldn’t believe her friend just left her there with him!
Don’t think I’ll be watching either next week somehow.

10 Culinary 70's legend Boner { 10.04.12 at 11:54 am }

Wot’s wrong with a bit of a grope*?
Carn and sit on me lap luv and we’ll talk about the first thing that comes up – http://sirlespatterson.com/2009/12/18/do-ya-think-im-sexy/

* Fast forward to the MasterChef kitchen 2011….
Hellllo Allie! What’s in the pot? *slobber, grope*

11 brain dead dave { 10.04.12 at 12:08 pm }

Funny you should bring up groping, Boner. George Calombaris, Matt Moran and Manu are coming to Adelaide this weekend. It promises to be a “hands on” experience for the young and unwary.

12 kess { 10.04.12 at 12:12 pm }

Fascinating, absolutely gobsmacked throughout.
These pasty Irish gyspies are a bit anemic. Do we get some exotic Romani’s later, with tambourines and flashing dark eyes?

13 Georgie { 10.04.12 at 2:22 pm }

I thought the girls choice of outfits for the hen’s night was interesting, together with their dance style. Both were very ‘Romani Gypsy’ inspired which in turn comes from their Indian heritage as CB mentioned. So if these Irish travellers are a unique ehtnic group, they’ve picked up some of the Romani culture along the way.

At the risk of sounding crude, the cutaway front of Jodi’s wedding gown looked like ‘the equivalent of crutchless knickers’ in a dress.

14 Bolders { 10.04.12 at 2:48 pm }

I loved it!

Was a bit shocked at the 15 year olds gyrating like experienced hookers on the dance floor but other than that, it was an amazing spectacle.

15 Buzzy { 10.04.12 at 4:48 pm }

RR on the money It is like these poor girls are living in the 13th century. I tink the currency of this group is the trade in women.

16 Marie { 10.05.12 at 1:06 am }

I was disgusted by the ‘grabbing’ tradition in which girls are expected to, nay enjoy even, being assaulted. I was horrified up when that poor young women who had been trapped against a wall against her will said that it was okay compared to some of the more violent grabs while she fought back tears. Awful!

17 lisofby { 06.09.13 at 9:11 pm }

i at first watched with interest, the way they dressed (which i learned would cause bleeding and bruising ) on their “special days”. it seems little girls learn to gyrate and be in pain to be accepted, as well as not be educated in order to perpetuate their ignorance and the cycle. at first i was open, thinking it may be nice to be on the move, and not have big properties to clean and concrete. but they are hardly environmental. i also discovered their children die disproportionately of accidents, and the average gypsy lives to 39. also tha over 50 % of the men beat their wives. who wants that life? one woman mantioned it on one episode, saying “of course i married a gorger!” i can ony conclude that you would have to have a low iq to marry those neanderthals that nealry all of the males depicted have been. marry a gorger nd get out!

18 S { 11.06.13 at 11:54 am }

Sexism is rampant in the gypsy culture. The woman are considered “dirty” if they aren’t a virgin at marriage, while the boys are encouraged to be promiscuous so they can “teach” their future wife everything about sex.