Does My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding Spread Lies?


The unfortunately titled reality series is a bonanza of elaborate dresses and culture clash. But how much of it is editing — and how much is still worryingly real?

The show — inspired by a Channel 4 documentary — is a big hit in the UK, and has caused a lot of debate. Episode 3 follows 2 18-year-old traveller brides, and gives us a glimpse of what happens after the wedding. While we question the veracity of the Daily Mail’s moral outrage (we thought they liked traditional values!), the direct quotes they run from one bride are food for thought.

One bride-to-be Lizzie, who had been taken out of school at 11 to concentrate on doing the housework and looking after her siblings, said: ‘I think I’m ready to get married. Your life completely changes. I reckon I’ll be okay though. ‘We ain’t going to be doctors, lawyers or anything. Housewives, that’s what we’re going to be. I can read if I take my time. If I read quickly I can’t. But I think that’s enough for travelling girls.’

Now that she is marrying, her 12-year-old sister will leave school to take over housework — to her dismay.

We already talked about the controversial practice of “grabbing” — in which boys literally force kisses from girls — and this episode makes it even less ambiguous. The Mail quotes one teen boy who participates in “grabbing.”

‘Girls won’t give you a kiss straight away so you’ve got to beat them for it.’He added: ‘You’ve got to bend its arm, you’ve got to punch it. There’s no friendly way of putting it.’Another added: ‘I don’t think the girls enjoy a grab, unless they liked the boy really.’ Then he mused, whilst insisting he ‘respected’ women when questioned, qualified his answer by saying: ‘I don’t respect them on the same level as a man. Boys and girls are like totally two different people.’

But some gypsy and traveller groups have objected to the documentary, claiming that far from providing the promised accurate portrait of their world, it disseminates lies and contributes to prejudice. And “grabbing,” they claim, is far from a tradition. From the Travellers Times:

Travellers Times reader and Romany woman Emma Doe from Sussex summed up her complaints to OFCOM: “This programme has misrepresented Gypsies and the bizarre ‘grabbing’ ritual is something I have never heard of. I have spoken to several other families this morning (just in case I was missing a massive piece of my heritage) and this is not practised by Gypsies in Sussex and Surrey. I know that much. The only thing we know of is ‘jumping the broomstick’.

We are certainly willing to believe the show does not — as it claims — represent the culture with 100% accuracy, and plays up drama and culture clash through editing. It’s easy to come away with only two impressions: tacky dresses and women as second-class citizens, and no culture is that simplistic. We’re also willing to believe that the group the show chronicles is not representative of a varied and wide-ranging community. But within this one group, “grabbing” and leaving school as a preteen appears to be — if not a tradition — very real. However, even in the context of this microcosm, we meet one young girl who has rebelled, both staying in school and getting a job. At 16, she is the only one who can read and write at an adult level. Then again, she has only strayed so far: her job is in a bakery, helping make wedding cakes for other travellers.

After The Wedding…Cooking, Cleaning And Being ‘Second-Class Citizens’ – What Big Fat Gypsy Brides Can Expect After Tying The knot [Daily Mail]

One Big Fat Gypsy Protest [Travellers Times]

Related: Gypsy Wedding’s “Grabbing” Courtship Ritual

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