I've recently been watching a series of documentaries on Gypsy Weddings (courtesy of the other half), which arguably offers a unique insight into the
largely unseen and relatively misunderstood culture of Irish Gypsies living in the UK.
Source: My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding
With all honesty, it was initially with a heavy heart that I was subjected to these shows. However, they have possibly been some of the most
thought-provoking things I have watched for some time. While I acknowledge that as with any "real life" show, it may not be truly representative of
an entire culture, it has for me prompted questions, resolved queries and opened my eyes to the every day life of at least *some* within this
Before I begin, if you want some background, these are quite informative:
Initial Key Observations:
* All children are removed from school early (i.e. 13/14) - the girls to learn how to "run the home" and the boys to "earn money". It has also been
acknowledged that the removal of girls from school early ensures they do not rebel from what they know and have been taught from their culture.
* The prevalence of illiteracy is high.
* Until married, all girls/women are: not allowed to drink alcohol, be unchaperoned or go anywhere without parental permission.
* The above does not apply to boys/men.
* Females dress and dance exceptionally provocatively.
* No sex before marriage is expected or approved.
* The expectations of teenage boys and girls is markedly different, with the females running the home and providing familial care whilst the males
expend their time freely outside their working commitment.
* Marriage occurs relatively early in a relationship and in life (e.g. 16-18 and often from as little as 3 months "courting").
* Rates of divorce are miniscule - almost nil.
* The incidence of marital violence are high - approximately 50%.
* Key careers for men seems to primarily consist of the collection of scrap metal.
* Monetary spending on weddings is relatively high - extraordinary dresses (purchase of 500 meters of fabric for a "confirmation" dress as an
example), unthinkable cakes (4 feet by 12 as an example) and free bar.
* The grouping of a romantic couple relies on a cultural process named "grabbing", whereby a male literally "grabs" a female and, via hair pulling,
arm twisting etc, he isolates her from the group and tries to kiss her.
* The males are not present in many celebrations (e.g. childrens parties, confirmation celebrations etc).
* All speak with an Irish or near-Irish accent, despite the majority never living in Ireland.
Challenging my perceptions:
Before I get into the rest, I'd like to say that a few of my pre-existing (and possibly prejudiced) perceptions have happily been challenged.
For example, I used to struggle with the fact this group of people used to speak of themselves as travellers and yet lived in a home as settled as I.
For example, in my local site, the individuals tend to stay indefinately - to the point their caravans are linked to static buildings. And yet they
do not have to pay the £100s for Council Tax I do every month for my home of brick. These documentaries have shown me how these people no longer
have the option to travel - where would they go if they did? We can't go a year without some rural community rising up against a caravan influx onto
land they rightfully purchased over a bank holiday. I'm not saying who is right and who is wrong. I'm simply saying that now, I understand.
Similarly, I was impressed by the seemingly "old school" values this culture seems to encapture (e.g. chaperoning, no sexual contact before marriage,
valued marriage vows etc). However, I acknowledge that how the specifics of HOW this is achieved may be due to less positive/encouraging
characteristics (please see below).
I do have questions and issues with what I have learned. That's not to say I'm declaring I (or indeed MY culture) must therefore be right. But
simply, I'm saying what I see:
* The removal of women early from school ensures their role is secured early in life - no education ensures any later movement from home making is
made difficult if not impossible. Similarly, they are removed before they learn exactly what they could accomplish (and indeed expect), given the
opportunity. While the males are also removed early from school, they are introduced immediately into the money making environment, ensuring they
will learn how to "make their living" - and therefore sustain their independence - before they reach adulthood.
* Females are placed in a submissive role early on in life. The hunter/homemaker roles are demonstrated, introduced and embedded before adulthood.
* The freedoms of males and females are established and reinforced early on in life. Whilst the females must seek permission and approval for any
movement, the males move freely - particularly outside their daily "money making" activities, which is paralleled by the all day/night "homemaking"
activities expected of females.
* The finding of a mate surfs (or maybe even crosses) the edge of what other communities would consider assault, thereby reinforcing established roles
and the expectations of behaviour within those roles.
* Similarly, a degree of acceptance regarding some form of physical violence early in a relationship is established.
* Marriage is expected early, ensuring female submission and male dominance is ratified from the mid to late teens.
* Significant amounts of money appear to be available with incongruent explanations of money making activities.
Please don't think me attacking this community. I am simply commenting on my observations from one set of documentaries that may - or may not - be
representative of the community in general. While I have happily challenged some of my existing perceptions for the better, I have also made some
other observations - some which I find intriguing and others that I find concerning.
It would possibly also be worth noting that I am nothing near being a feminist, so please don't think this some opportune platform to air my
I would eagerly invite you to watch this seemingly frivolous programme - if you are able to do so - and find out more about this community that lives
among us and yet - seemingly - operates invisibly and in isolation.
edit on 1/2/11 by lizziejayne because: correct link