26 Jan 2011

Big Fat Gypsy Abuse

I remember one morning in my first year of primary school. I was 5 and it was 'quiet reading time', so I was probably reading Biff & Chip after a typical "NOOOO MUM DON'T GOOOOO" moment. Cue leg grabbing and sobby breathing. But my sacred reading time was disturbed by my teacher placing her hand on my shoulder and nudging a girl towards me. "Louise, this is Bridget, she's new and needs a lovely friend. Can you be that friend? I chose you especially." WELL. I was the chosen one. I was 'that friend'. I was needed. And I accepted that offer Obama style. "YES I CAN." Oh and I had visions. Me and Bridget were going to be the best of friends and would play with Barbies until they had no hair left, run the colour dry from felt-tip pens and watch every episode of Pingu followed by Oakie Doke or even Newsround (I was an advanced child). 

Bridget was, well, different. She had light brown hair which was fixed into a tight top bun, with some wispy bits left down by the side of her freckle covered face. Her eyes were bright blue, but outlined in black and her lips were postbox red. She was dressed in our uniform, a light blue summer dress which matched her eyes, but she glistened in the light, for the biggest gold dangly earrings I had every seen fell from her lobes, and she jangled with every slight movement by wearing tens of gold bangles on her arms. The sight had me open mouthed. Was Bridget from a different country? Was she a DOLL? I tried to play with her all day. Not literally, play with her like a doll, but play WITH dolls with her, or in the sandbox, or in the travel agent set (best thing ever), but Bridget never spoke. She just followed and watched. And within a week, she was gone.

That was my first encounter of a gypsy.

My next encounter of a gypsy was in the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Esmerelda was nothing like Bridget. She was pretty and nice and helpful, but everybody hated her! Why did they hate her? Because she didn't have a house like everyone else? She must have been doing something bad, therefore I won't like her. And because she's a gypsy, and she's different from me, and nobody likes her, then I can't like Bridget and all gypsies must be bad. So that's what I grew up thinking. All gypsies were bad. But why?

My Big Fat Gypsy wedding started last week, and after I'd seen the adverts there was no doubt that I had to watch it. They all looked awful tarted up in make up with outrages wedding dresses, maybe now I can see what all the fuss is about! I watched the first one, and yes their make up swamped faces and engulfing wedding dresses looked just a tad ridiculous, but they were nice. I heard no swearing, saw no fighting, and figured no reason to dislike their way of life. Sure, I took the mick out of their image on twitter but in amongst the laughter were life lessons and I learned a lot from that first episode.

The second episode last night was relatively the same with 6 year olds wearing high heels, spray tans and caked in foundation, and a bride struggling to kick her pink dress down the aisle. But this time the reaction from twitter was awful... "They're all little sluts!!!" one wrote and another said "Those pikeys should be locked away. Disgusting." What's the difference between those harsh comments, and believe me there were loads more, and harsh comments about Muslims? Nothing. It can easily be classed as racism. They live in a different culture to us, so what?! You think they're all sluts dressing and dancing like that? The difference occurs in the fact that if non gypsies dressed and danced like sluts, they'd act like them too. Gypsy girls can't have sex before marriage and don't drink alcohol. They're never under the influence of anything but themselves and peers, and don't dress for a one night stand. It's just how they dress, you're just branding them a slut on the stereotypical slut look. It was made clear last night that they dance like that because that's how their idols dance on the tele and how they've seen their older sisters dance. A bit inappropriate maybe, but the motive behind it isn't bad in the slightest. And the make up? Yes it's over the top, but what about the little girls in beauty pageants? Do you judge the whole of America based on that? No. 

The gypsy morals may seem bad, for example the way they treat women. Teenage girls go through 'grabbing' where a boy tries desperately to get a girl to kiss him. People found that horrible. Well it might look horrible when the boy won't let the girl go, but it's a teenage kiss. Big whoop. A lot more horrible instances happen in our lives. I got touched up on a packed train last month by a man in his 40s. That wouldn't happen to gypsies and it hasn't scarred me. Girls must leave school at 11 to help around house, then marry at around 16/17/18 to become a housewife. They're not allowed jobs. That might sound stupid, but they're just old fashioned, and gypsy women don't mind. That's their life and their culture. They probably don't agree with our lives, but tough shit that's how we're gonna live it and they're gonna carry on living theirs regardless of what we say. Well, apart from having their homes ripped apart by the council. That's nice.

Don't be so ignorant. Those gypsies are nice people and while you're judging them on their image, the nasty front you're trying to pull off is so not a good look.


  1. I agree.
    Some of hte comments on Twitter we're quite shocking.
    I'll admit, I giggled and had a joke. But by no way do I actually mean it as in they are awful people. (I make jokes about everything though lets be honest).

    You can agree or disagree with the way they are and what they do, but at the same time, none of us know them and the idea of this program is to show who they are. I can't help feel C4 aren't entirely portraying them properly. But thats another argument.

    It's an interesting show and interesting to see what they believe in. Though be nice if it wasn't all about weddings... Which is itself the most stressful time of someones life. Filming a stressed gypsy I'm sure is different than filming a calm gypsy.

  2. I see where you're coming from.
    People blow things way out of proportion. People are like that.

    It's the acts of a few gypsies doing bad things that have labelled them as dangerous, weird, different etc. but they probably think we're ridiculous for not doing what they do.

    P.S. i read the post where you told us about the guy on the train and figured u weren't being serious.
    This might just be me, but if i were in your position, I'd be a little more freaked out than that

  3. I don't mind when people post their opinions about things like this on twitter, but calling them sluts for no proper reason is just going way too far.

  4. One of my colleagues has a friend who works with a local group of irish travellers. The image portrayed in the show is not really the truth, just as the image portrayed in many documentaries/series isn't really the truth (and I know because I have been involved in preliminary talks with several tv producers and newspaper journos about documentaries and articles, and when I won't say or do a certain thing, or act a certain way, or ask for final approval on the edit they stop working with me.) I know, from contact that I have had with these traveller groups that many of the girls don't want to give up school at 11, and want to have jobs, and be financially independent, and be in control of their own lives, but they are stopped from doing so. I know that it's not true that they are all virgins when they get married, and that many traveller wives suffer domestic abuse, both physical and psychological/emotional. This is not a sweet old fashioned way of life, or at least, not the way it's being portrayed on this series, it's a repressive, misogynist archaic society, where "men are men and women do as they're told", to such an extent that the teenage girls have to put up with being roughed up by boys who want to kiss them, which in any other situation would be sexual assault. The fear of being cast out and disowned by their families stops these child brides from ever leaving their husbands, they are as chained to these men, and the domestic slavery it involves, as any pre-vote woman that Emmeline Pankhurst fought to liberate a hundred years ago.

    They may dress like "sluts" and this may leave many viewers stunned and horrified in a Jeremy Kyle fashion, but the truth is these girls are groomed to be sex-objects and chattels from the day they are born. Don't be deceived by the romance of it, it's not pretty, and it's not acceptable, rather than getting voyeuristic kicks from pointing and laughing at them on this series, we should be demanding that the men grow up and allow these girls to be free human beings, and not caravan cleaning baby machines with no choice but to stay with their husbands no matter what.

  5. I agree that comments like "They're all little sluts!!!" are offensive and disgusting and no, slutty dress is not the same thing as slutty behaviour. However, that doesn't make it okay to dress up children as mini strippers. Treating women badly is obviously part of their culture but that doesn't make it okay and doesn't mean we can't criticise it.

    I agree completely with Jehefinner's much more eloquent post above!

  6. I have no problem with their beliefs. Its the brass cheek to not pay their way and expect us to clean up after them that galls me.

    Their traditions and what they do is of no interest to me. I don't like the fact that we pay taxes and the council for them to use the local schools, hospitals and facilities for what is essentially free. That is another argument though.

    As people and a culture, I think the criticism towards them is quite bad.

  7. where do people get the idea from that gypsies do not pay taxes. fair enough if they are on the side of the road being moved around maybe twice a week what would they be paying taxes for as they wouldnt be reciving any service that you need to pay taxes for,but its the goverments fault theres not enough sites provided for gypsies.people seem to think gypsies just happened to come to this country yesterday! most were born&bred here and irish travellers have been in this country for 100s of years, yes gypsies that live on sites and own their own land do pay taxes like everyone else and if people took the time to get to know the ones living in their community they might learn alot more about them.

  8. I agree with Jehefinner. Just wanted to add I have been following the story of the travellers at Hovefields for a while for work - what wasn't mentioned in the C4 doc in too much detail was the fact that BDC had offered the travellers houses to live in as an alternative for staying in buildings that did not have planning permission.

    As for the grabbing I cannot agree that it is just a teenage kiss - it crosses the line between choice and force and that can be a dangerous thing. If a man "grabbed" me like that, I would deck him.

  9. Im Romany and youre wrong. We dont HAVE to leave school, only a minority are forced to. Some of us have jobs. And if girls didnt want to be grabbed theyd keep away from the lads, they like the attention and its how they meet boys who could potentially be their husbands. To NOT be grabbed means youre ugly. We cant have bank accounts as we have no fixed address so put money into gold and crockery, so when we need the money for weddings and funerals we can sell our possessions.

  10. Im half English half Irish gypsy aged 19 and im not married have no intention for a long while working and the way I've been brought is if my husband was bad to me then im welcome back home travelling girl dont have to put up with that i have 2 cousins that's divorced because of being treated bad that show made girls look desperate to get married truth is girls want to have a bit of freedom befor they get married and as for schooling most have no choice because they have to constantly move. We are not used as sex slaves we are not allowed to do that till were married and when we marry its for LOVE nothing else so thank you for TRYING to understand us but unless you live with us you'll never fully understand. Oh and as for the tax payers everyone i know pays tax including my self x

  11. i agree.
    people seem to forget that how these girls are being raised is how EVERY GIRL was raised in every country up until we got to vote, the right to a divorce, ect.
    also, these girls agree to marry who they marry, so each girl is reponsible for her own choice. True i think they should be allowed to go to school more if they want to and get a job but hey if your raised that way then thats the way it is.
    When these girls are asked if they can ask a boy out, their very clear thats not allowed and they wouldnt do that. now compare that to an average "normal" teen girl who has a ton of boyfriends and sex before marriage. So i respect their morals a hell of a lot more then then "normal" people's.
    ALSO america has a TON of programs about "16 and pregnant" ect. and we're ok with that? Hypocrites.
    Stop being ignorant, each culture is different and has traditions for a reason. So stop thinking your so much smarter then these people.
    and on the final note i do love the girls dresses.

  12. so girls have to be virgins but not guys ?

  13. I couldn't care how they dress, I just wish they'd stop coming in where I work and shop lift from the place, by the trolly load.

  14. Can i just say thank you for saying this and i hope it has got a message across :) Anne-Marie ... and yes i am a Gypsy myself.

  15. Let me start off with some clarifications:
    1. I have never knowingly met an Irish or English traveler or any kind of gypsy.
    2. I only know as much about the culture that the internet can tell me (aka very little).
    3. I'm trying hard not to make assumptions.
    4. I understand that this is a television show and that it is meant to shock and entertain to get viewers. This also means that a very brief summary will be presented and that anything deviating from that summary will not be included.
    5. I also understand that this show IN NO WAY represents all Irish Travellers or gypsies

    That being said, I think you are missing the point. I'm not saying the people on Twitter are right (that would be a sad day), and I'm not trying to troll or be an ass here, I'm just stating my opinion the same way you stated yours. I don't have a problem with the fashion, or the crazy weddings, or the dancing style. My problems are with the over sexification of children and the idea of "grabbing."
    For the sake of my argument, I'm going to pretend that every girl on that show really truly in her heart of hearts wants to grow up to be a mother and house wife and that they really are marrying at 16 because its their decision and none of this results from pressures of the community and that none of these girls wanted to stay in school and that that was a decision that they made on their own. And, of course, from the show, that seems to be the case. But as I said, I do not trust that television show.
    Here is where my problem lies: from a young age these girls are being pressured to be the most beautiful of their friends and family. At 8 years old these girls are lying in tanning beds and getting fake nails. As you said, this is no different than Toddlers in Tiaras, but I think that it's a pretty lame excuse to say that just because it's done by some idiots in America that it is acceptable. I detest that show. But that's a whole other argument. All of this speaks to one thing, and that is the underlying message of the overly provocative outfits and fake tans on 8 year olds: girls are told from the moment that they are born that their only job on this Earth is to attract the attention of males. Not just the males that they want to marry or date or have sex with, but ALL males. This is their primary and ONLY goal. If a girl is not the most beautiful, she is nothing. Her looks are the only thing that matters. This, of course, it something that is also ingrained in American women also, but this is a highly exaggerated example. In one episode I saw, one little girl was sobbing because she was not the prettiest at her First Communion, and she was nine. This girl was distraught because she has been taught that if boys don't like her, she is nothing. It doesn't matter what she thinks of herself, it only matters who boys think of her. One the other hand, in that same episode, a nine year old boy struts around in front of the camera talking about how he had 105 girlfriends and turns to the camera and says "this is to all the ladies, if you need someone to talk to, come find me. I always need more. That's all I'm saying to you," then he winks and walks away to flirt with all the 8 year old girls. This shows how the boys are treated, to them, women are simply objects that show status, similar to cars, or houses, or money. The more they have, the better. They are taught that their value comes from how many women they can amass, not how attractive they are. Both of these scenarios are shallow and dangerous and do not render a wholesome person or a wholesome relationship.

  16. (continued)
    Next, the idea of grabbing. These girls dress up and get crazy on the dance floor. I don't have a problem with the enjoyment one can get from looking and feeling good. But, once again, it's all superficial and about looks. The girls are all desperate to be noticed. The idea is if you can't be noticed, and be married by 21, then you are useless. Once again, this says that the only thing you are good for as a woman is the enjoyment and pleasure of men. Then, it doesn't matter which boy the girl wants to dance with or kiss, all that matters is that he wants her and she must obey, lest she be physically harmed. What she wants is not taken into consideration in the least, obviously (I mean, she is screaming for him to stop). Saying "it's just a kiss" doesn't excuse it. What if you were dancing up at a club, hoping maybe to hit it off with some guy that night, and some guy comes out of nowhere, drags you away from your friends, starts to physically harm you and then kisses you. And when you try to call the police all they say is, "Oh, its JUST a kiss." No. It's sexual assault. If a man comes up and touches a girl inappropriately without her permission, it's sexual assault. If a woman came up to a man and touched him inappropriately, it's sexual assault. When a 16 year old grabs a 13 year old, physically hurts her until she kisses him, it's sexual assault. If a 30 year old man grabbed a 30 year old woman and kissed her without her permission, it's sexual assault. If a husband kisses his wife of twenty years against he protest, it's sexual assault. I hope you're catching my drift here. ANY time ANY one does ANY thing even REMOTELY sexual in nature without their permission, it's sexual assault. Now often, consent can be pretty sticky at times, but in this case, it's pretty clear. If she is thrashing, screaming, begging, kicking, crying and shouting "NO!", then I think it's safe to assume that she doesn't want to be kissed. And even if this is some weird cultural thing where she has to say no, because this is some screwed up game about honor or something, that's a horrible way to start a relationship. This absolutely turns the woman into an object, placed on this earth only to satisfy men. If you don't look good to men, you are worthless. If a man doesn't want you, you are worthless. What you want, even when it comes to partners, does not matter. If a man wants you, he will take you, and you can do nothing, because this is what you are for...him. This makes a woman's existence completely based on a men's.

  17. (cont.)
    Like I said, I don't really believe that this is a wide spread tradition. But even if this is one crazy culture of one crazy group, it happened, and it can't be excused. By saying, oh it's just a kiss and this is racism and it's all been done before, you're just grazing the top of the issue without really looking to see what's beneath it. You compared this to people hating Muslims. Well, people hate Muslims because one crazy extremist group has given them a bad rap. I feel like something similar may be going on here. But when you excuse the idea of grabbing to something that's just cultural and not liking the tradition makes you racist, that's almost like saying that not liking suicide bombing makes you a racist because it's part of the Muslim culture. Because suicide bombing is not part of the Muslim culture, and even if it was, you're allowed to look at it critically and evaluate how it oppresses people without being a racist. Not liking Muslims wouldn't make you a racist anyway, because Islam is not a race, it's a religion. And saying that we should excuse something just because it's been done before, doesn't make much sense either. Hitler was not the first to perform mass genocide, but that doesn't make what he did okay. And every murderer is not the first to kill someone, but that doesn't mean they are off the chain for it. Multiple people proliferating a bad thing does not magically make that thing a good thing. Ideas and traditions should be evaluated critically, not just based on if other people are getting away with it somewhere else. Sweeping generalizations never help anyone. And by saying "Big Whoop, happens all the time" to some girl's sexual assault, nothing gets helped. The girls obviously don't like it. One girl, after being grabbed said, "I don't like it, but I have to get used to it." That's awful and it sounds pretty helpless to me. If you had wanted, you could have called the police about the guy who touched you on the subway and something would have been done about it. But for this girl, if she refuses being assaulted, she will be ostracized and viewed as worthless in the eyes of all her peers. And I have a feeling that she has been sheltered to the point that she wouldn't know what to do if that happened. So she's helpless. And that is where the problem lies. Not in the idea that this is old fashioned or whatever, but in the people and how it effects their sense of worth, their identity and their lives.

    I apologize for how long this was, and I'm really not trying to be a troll. I'm just very passionate about issues like this. And as I said, I'm not saying anything about gypsies or travellers because I know nothing about them and I won't assume that this show represents them. I am speaking strictly about the people and the culture presented on this show.

  18. Gypsies are ok in my book...they dont abuse their religion like muslims extremists do. The shit Gypsies leave lying around is nothing to the shit caused by Muslims when they colonize areas & drive the white folk out. I would rather see a group of Gypsies in my street than group of muslims all hidden under masks & speaking a language we English dont understand.

  19. I am half Irish traveller half Romany gypsy and i am 13 and have left school it aint as bad as everyone makes out we are made out to be sluts because 6 year olds have spray tans people will never fully understand us because we are different

  20. Fact: Artifice burglary is a known gypsy crime (frequently targeting the elderly).
    Fact: Anyone living near a gypsy camp knows very well that the crime rate goes through the roof (and you won't be going over to complain).
    Fact: Everywhere they have been is left as an absolute tip when they leave.
    Fact: if you help them they are lovely - other than that you are potential prey. The weak are to be exploited.
    Fact: you will almost never see a disabled/Downs syndrome gypsy...
    Fact: Slaves on some gypsy sites - a few prosecuted but nobody there saw anything (bit like WW2 Germany).

    Not every gypsy is bad, but it seems that a large minority tarnish the good name of the few.

  21. dirty, dirty people. violent, aggressive, abusive. The majority not a minority.