Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

How I shed tears over My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding child-brides

Daybreak presenter Christine Bleakley wearing one of the dresses featured in the documentary My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding

Watching My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding the other night I was struck by a horrible realisation: marriage isn't always about hearts and flowers. Sometimes it's just about getting a housekeeper on the cheap.

In the good old days, marriage was merely a contract. The woman needed someone to protect her from other men and put a roof over her head. The man needed someone to cook his meals, wash his clothes and provide him with 'an heir and a spare'.

Love and romance didn't really come into it. Men had to be good providers and women had to have child-bearing hips.

The man considered himself lucky if his wife was quiet and the woman considered herself lucky if her husband was kind.

The chances were that neither the man nor the woman would live past 40, so it wasn't really a big deal if, after the first few years, they couldn't stand the sight of one another.

Then the suffragettes came along and women got the vote. And then two world wars came along and women went out to work.

And, inevitably, the balance of power shifted a little bit, so that men had to up their game to attract a high-quality female. And then, of course, the women had to up their game to attract a high-quality male.

And so we ended up with a complicated set of dating rituals, which meant that people got married much later in life. And this led to falling rates of marriage overall, rising rates of divorce and possibly the end of marriage in the western world as we know it.

Fast forward to My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, or should that be rewind? Gypsy (or should that be Traveller?) brides and grooms look like children in fancy dress.

The girls, in particular, haven't a clue what they're letting themselves in for.

They get a 20-stone dress and a sparkly tiara and a pink and lilac wedding cake. And the boy gets a housekeeper on the cheap for his caravan.

Or at least he thinks that's what he's getting. He'll also be getting a shed-load of hormones and mood swings.

When I think back to my own teenage years and the emotional turmoil I experienced during them, well, I shudder to think what might have happened in a confined space with an insensitive husband and set of kitchen knives to hand. I didn't laugh at this show even though I understood we were all supposed to have a right old giggle at the ridiculous excesses of gypsy weddings.

No, I cried actually, because these lovely little girls are 'grabbed' for stolen kisses and then dressed up like Barbie dolls and then married off to boys who'd rather go round together in their cars and play football.

The whole thing seems utterly pointless. The brides and grooms are barely through puberty. They have no idea what marriage involves; how would they have?

Wouldn't the boys be better off learning how to do a bit of cooking and cleaning for themselves? Wouldn't the girls be better off learning how to read and write and leave off having babies until they're at least 30?

There are many cultures in the world today where it is the norm for children to get married, or at least for girl-children to get married off.

And, really, isn't it a form of modern-day slavery? Well, it makes sense for a girl to be married before she has a chance to gain an education and develop ideas of her own.

It makes sense to train a young girl how to do housework and then marry her off before she gets a chance to relax and put her feet up. It makes perfect sense - but it's also the height of cruelty.

Can it really be the case that some men are so opposed to doing housework that they'd rather marry an innocent little girl and make her do it instead?

I'm old enough to remember a generation of men that wouldn't lift a finger to help in the house even if their wife was in the early stages of labour. No self-respecting man would be caught doing 'women's work'.

Funnily enough, most of these stalwart men are now divorced and living on canned soup. And the men who did lower themselves to wash the dishes occasionally are still happily married.

So don't laugh at My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding; count your blessings instead.

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