I tend not write about potentially offensive or disparaging topics or groups, but TLC’s My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding has gotten me all riled up. I’ll say right off the bat that I’m sure this series does not represent the overall culture of Gypsies or Travelers, the post title was just too good not to use. I’m basing my opinions solely on the show and nothing else.
To be honest, I don’t even particularly understand what Travelers are at this point. I’ve watched the majority of the show’s episodes and all I can tell is that it’s a group of people–some of whom still remain mobile, while others have settled down in brick and mortar homes–with incredibly strict and hypocritical rules when it comes to girls, boys, women, men and, of course, marriage. The entire society (as seen on TV) seems built around the idea of keeping women subservient to men. They grow up, have a mini-wedding for their First Communion, maybe get a job, can not be seen with boys alone for fear of being scandalized, usually get pulled from school to help around the house and eventually marry off to some guy when they’re teenagers (a 22 year-old bride was called “long in the tooth” by her mother in one episode). Once married, the girls move to wherever their new husbands want to live, give up their old lives and basically become a 50s housewife.
I’ve got no problem with marrying young–my wife and I got hitched at 23 which would be old by traveler standards, but somewhat young in our society–nor do I have a problem with women or men staying home and taking care of the house and family. Hell, that’s essentially what I do. What bothers me is that these girls are programmed from the very beginning to work for and want this. There’s no option. I mean, technically, there’s an option, they could run away if they wanted and I’m sure some have (wish they would have gotten one or two of them on camera), but the fear of not being able to see their families keeps them from trying to think outside the box. It seems like psychological terrorism or a form of brainwashing to me.
Now, look, I know there are plenty of people out there who might think that Travelers have their acts together. Their daughters apparently don’t fool around before marriage as that is forbidden by traveler mores, nor do they get knocked up at an early age. I don’t know if I believe all that because it’s also said several times an episode that Travelers are really secretive and if you think one of the 16 year-olds getting interviewed is going to admit to fooling around with some guy, then you’re out of your mind. To be honest, as a father, there’s part of me that even agrees with this aspect of their society. Honestly, if that was it, if the girls were taught to respect themselves and not let just any sweaty mook get into their pants, then I’d be all for it. However, there’s a lot more going on here, including teenagers making huge decisions that absolutely effect their lives.
If you haven’t been able to tell yet, I kind of have a problem with being told what to do and the idea of predestination. I don’t like the idea of peoples’ lives being figured out for them. I’m a big fan of free will. These girls and women seem trained from childhood to put blinders on, focus solely on marrying and becoming a housewife. In the opening of the show, one young girl talks about how she’s not dreaming of becoming a doctor, but a wife. Again, I have no problem with people staying at home, but when that’s the only option you have, my righteous outrage starts bubbling up.
I have a theory as to why these girls get so excited about getting married aside from the idea that it’s the only thing they’ve ever been told to think about and that’s sex. Maybe not full-on intercourse, but at least the mystery of sex. There’s no doubt about the fact that teenagers have raging hormones driving them to be around those they’re attracted to. (Quick aside, I imagine discovering you’re gay as a Traveler is incredibly difficult.) Instead of actually being able to be around members of the opposite sex like normal kids and discovering they’re real people like yourself, everyone’s kept at arm’s reach and therefore fetishized. Don’t believe me? Watch any clip or episode from the show and see how these girls dress. Strippers on stage wear more. Since they’re supposed to be so virginal, why is this okay? While, not directly stated, I’m guessing it’s a form of advertising for their mates. When your entire society is actually based around sex, yet no one’s allowed to talk about it or experience it freely, I think you’ve got a problem. Making matters worse is the practice of “grabbing” by which a boy gets a girl alone and kind of forces her to kiss him. Everyone knows this happens and no one seems to care. But, wait, shouldn’t the boys be respectful enough of their future wives to not try to force them into things? Funny that.
So, in order to really explore their sexuality, these kids make decisions they can’t really get out of (divorce is more than frowned upon). Can you imagine? At 16? Sorry to break this to any relatives who might still be reading by this point, but I was kind of an asshole at 16 (actually, my folks might agree :). I didn’t know what I really wanted on nearly every level aside from some vague idea of wanting to be a writer. I had had plenty of crushes, but no girlfriends. Dating was a mystery, I can’t imagine taking on the responsibilities of a marriage and household just after getting my license. Essentially forcing girls to make those kinds of decisions so young in order to please their parents, fit into their society and discover their sexuality seems awful.
I know there’s a lot of societies all over earth like this one that keep women oppressed or at the very least limit their options. I’m sure I feel the same way about all of them, too, but the Travelers just raised my ire thanks to the television series.