Millions of Britons will now have to find something else to do with their Tuesday evenings. The Travellers at Dale Farm
are heaving a sigh of relief that Big Fat Gypsy Weddings
is finally over, but must face in its aftermath the possibility that it has left a long-term negative impression of them and their culture on the British consciousness. The general consensus at Dale Farm and throughout the wider Gypsy/Traveller community (see the Travellers’ Times Big Fat Gypsy Protest
) is that they have been largely misrepresented by the Channel Four series. Although the programme promised to cover all aspects of Traveller life, it was alarming how much of the 5 hours was taken up with talk of dresses and expensive weddings; far too much screentime was given over to the dressmaker, masquerading as an expert on all things Gypsy/Traveller, rather than hearing from a wider, more representative collection of actual members
Gypsy/Traveller community. The women of Dale Farm don’t think that the series has shown the most important aspects of the wedding for them, which marks the beginning of a woman’s new life with her husband, celebrating the importance they place on family life and the continuation of their culture.
Yes, there are Traveller women who do like to wear big wedding dresses and some young Traveller girls like to wear dancing costumes and fake tan when attending parties. Can we move on from that now? The programme missed the point: Having spent over 2 years getting to know many of the residents, I can say that this is certainly one of the least interesting things about them. The women at Dale Farm are much more than their choice of clothes. Furthermore, the women I know do not consider their life one of drudgery. Yes, they do indeed take their role as mothers and homemakers very seriously, but they also hold their families and communities together. As many of the men are away working most of the time, several generations of women work together to manage every aspect of the community members’ daily lives. They take the lead in the political and religious arenas and are making strides to ensure that the next generation is more educated than they are.
As Reena, one of the Traveller women at Dale Farm, put it, “They have made us look like some sort of aliens.” What has struck me since I have been going to Dale Farm is how much we, in the settled community, have in common with them. Many of the women I know well have young children, as I do, and it is impossible to overlook the commonalities. On an everyday basis, we continuously feed, clean up and try to remain sane amongst chaos caused by our children. But as Kelly said to me, “they are worth it” and so we are pre-occupied with protecting them, providing a better life for them but at the same time instilling in them the traditions that are important to us and go some way to defining us.
It has been difficult to look past the sensational in the programme; there have only been momentary glimpses of the Travellers’ humanity. It focussed largely on sweeping generalisations based on the extremes they found within this complex and varied community. Perhaps even more damaging, the programme has left the impression that travellers can all afford such extravagant, expensive weddings and this has fuelled outrage amongst some in the settled community, leading to unhelpful and ill-informed articles in tabloids speculating incorrectly and inappropriately about their finances. Although some Gypsies and Travellers are well off, as I see first-hand every time I visit Dale Farm, many are not. It would have been more useful if the programme had avoided deceptive generalisations and gone beyond the sensational; this only serves to strengthen the barrier that already exists between many Traveller and settled communities throughout the UK. If members of the settled community had seen more of the reality of the Travellers’ everyday lives, perhaps they would start to find some common ground and attempt to move forward in a more positive and effective way.
I will shortly be posting an audio clip of interviews with several women at Dale Farm about the programme.
Posted By Susan Craig-Greene
Posted Mar 4th, 2011