My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding lets us into the lives of a little-seen community...and it's complicated.
Contrary to what the title suggests,
My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding
— now in its second season on Channel 4 — actually deals with a mixture of Roma and Traveller families, who are largely of Irish extraction. It also covers First Communions. And it's less exploitative and creepy than the hacky name might lead you to believe.
It's actually an interesting (albeit superficial) look at a culture deeply rooted in tradition. And, yes, the weddings are epic. But while the show's description would suggest that the producers hope to bring new understanding to misunderstood populations, apparently it's led to some culture shock, too. We often look askance at the Daily Mail's moral outrage, but it's true that, "traditional" or not, one thing showcased in a recent episode about a Traveller wedding is pretty upsetting.
Although — or perhaps because — they do not date or mingle with the opposite sex ("The young women must be very careful that they don't dishonor themselves and their families," as one guy explains it) in the words of the tab,
Until they are engaged, teenage traveller girls are subjected to the 'grabbing' courtship ritual, which sees boys angling for a kiss. Strict rules stipulate girls aren't allowed to approach boys, so it's up to the males, aka the 'grabbers', to tempt the girl away from her group of friends and try to get a kiss off her, even sometimes going as far as twisting her arm. Explaining the ritual, 15-year-old traveller Cheyenne explains: 'It means they like a girl and want to get their number.'
Cheyenne later says, "It's not nice at all, but you just got to live with it."
It's very hard to duck into a culture — a TV program's version thereof, no less — and understand anything about it. But the "grabbing" doesn't look like something the girls themselves enjoy — rather, they just feel there's no alternative. And when you consider that traveller girls are often engaged as young as 14 — those are some very young girls being "grabbed." Young women on the program talk about the security of their community and traditions — but clearly, like so many issues, it's complex.