I watched TLC’s My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding tonight and wished I hadn’t. I would have preferred to keep what little (see: nothing) I know about the Gypsy culture unspoiled. While I can’t take this one show as the final stamp on all things Gypsy, I do wish I had had an opportunity to learn about this lifestyle in another manner. ‘Why am I so disheartened by this show?’ you ask. Um… can you pipe down and let me tell my story at my own pace, please? Thank you. Now where was I? *Scratching head and tapping finger on bottom lip* Oh, of course. This introduction to the Gypsy culture left me feeling as if they are a people who oppress women by keeping them tied to the traditional, archaic role of servants. Their belief seems to be that a woman’s genetic makeup is that of serving men.
“Gypsy wives are obliged to follow their husbands” so says the show. The women are subservient and do not have an identity independent of their husbands. They exist to be at their men’s beck and call – cooking, cleaning and raising the children. What nearly did me in was hearing one of the women (a young woman) talk about how in their world there is no such thing as ambition for education and career. The only thing young women aspire to is to be a wife.
For those who know me, this pretty much shakes my reality to the core. In my mind, education is inextricably tied to providing children (especially girls) with a healthy sense of self that will help them become productive members of society. I come from a Haitian household where my mother (though modern in certain ways) held very traditional beliefs about what it means to be female. She, like the Gypsies, shared the thought that a woman’s greatest accomplishment is that of wife and mother. Growing up, I was so against everything she stood for that I outright refused to learn how to cook and did not want to do any housework so I wouldn’t turn out like her. A bit extreme now when I think of it, but it seemed perfectly sensible at the time. It was this suffocating notion of what it means to be female that for years conditioned me to steer clear of marriage and motherhood. Although I did manage to work through the marriage aspect, I’m still battling the potential motherhood bit.
Anyway, back to the Gypsies. The one story that struck a chord with me was of the 22-year-old who was giving up her independence (working outside the home, her own car, money, home, etc…) to get married even though she clearly did not seem like she wanted to. As a spinster (yep, that is what you are as a 22-year-old unmarried Gypsy), she seemed motivated more by removing the stigma than an actual desire to be married. She, with good reason, was not looking forward to conforming to her new role as her husband’s property (in his I’m-joking-but-not-really words: “I own you now.”).
It was all I could do not to snatch her from the television screen and lock her in the basement (crap! I don’t own a basement. Note to self: Find a friend with a basement) until she came to her senses. Like my mother, her mother’s sense of pride came from seeing her daughter become a wife.
If it feels like I’m bashing marriage and devaluing housewives, I’m not. This is simply a view of someone who doesn’t “get” the picture on the other side of the lens. It’s the same way that I think my mother felt (and still feels on some level) about me. Based on her emotional and mental makeup, it was simply unfathomable that any female (especially her daughter) would reject marriage and motherhood. I imagine that it would be the same for me if I had a daughter whose sole purpose in life was to get married, be a mother and keep a home. It would go against everything that’s wired in me.
This topic is one that has generated and continue to generate endless debates. Although I stand strongly on one side of the fence, I am always open to conversations that broaden my mind about the other side. Would love to hear your thoughts either way.
P.S. I don’t at all believe that to be a housewife raising children means forfeiting your education, or that you cater to your husband’s desires at his whim. The Gypsy lifestyle is the more extreme case. I understand that.
P.P.S. (ridiculous. Why isn’t it just P.S. 2, or even just P.S.?) I’m tempted to watch this show again to look at those dresses (bride, bridesmaids and guests) and scratch my head at why they would wear such hideous things, and wear them with such pride. No one on that show would escape the makeover mirrors of Clinton and Stacy.