It’s pretty wild. The gypsies and travelers regard themselves as very strict and traditional. Gender roles are severely defined and haven’t changed much in the face of several waves of feminism and a sexual revolution. Girls marry young and move immediately into their roles as homemakers. They do this in their mid-to-late teens, which is around the time that many girls begin exploring their sexuality. So they’re able to say with some degree of authority that there is no pre-marital sex.
Because of the young marital age, gypsies and travelers seem to be far more tolerant about outward displays of sexuality extremely early in life. I watched, slack-jawed, as a group of 8-year-old girls celebrated their cousin’s First Holy Communion by grinding in high heels and tiny skirts and tops. Their parents and grandparents sat and watched and beamed with joy, the same expressions that they might have if they were watching the kids play Duck, Duck, Goose. They’re not concerned about the early sexualization of the girls because a) they’re only a few years out from being married anyway and b) they’re merely imitating the behavior of presumably chaste adolescents. The boys display a sense of territoriality by participating in “grabbing,” a courtship ritual that sounds a lot like accepted assault to me.
I wish the show would explore these gender roles and sexuality conventions more thoroughly, but they spend a lot of time on the bridal attire, if for no other reason than how absurd it is. I’m really curious about the general attire of the young people, which is, again, sexually provocative but to the ends of securing a husband, and other outfits that almost look like stereotypical/racially offensive gypsy costumes that you might see around Halloween in the US.
Anyway, all that pondering aside, I suddenly found myself feeling a bit of a pang during the Communion scenes. It occurred to me that the baby is around the age, perhaps even a bit older, that he would be making his First Communion if we were raising him Catholic. I remember being extremely excited about mine and in the context of this show I began to wonder how much of that was because of the dress and the veil that I got to wear. We looked like mini-brides and were giddy about that. But the important thing about my Communion outfit was that it was my mom’s. I was the latest in a long of people who had made the same sacrament. It was presumed that I would continue the tradition…until I knew that I wouldn’t.
Parenting and life are so scary sometimes, that maybe traditions, even those surrounded by yucky things like inequity, are comforting because they give us some road map that was laid down by people who lived and took care of their families with what seems to be a degree of certainty. Of course, the old ways were once new and there’s nothing stopping us from forging new traditions that are more appropriate for how we feel about and experience life. But I can’t help but look at even the most ridiculous, competitive dress for a young gypsy girl and think there’s something at least a little nice about it, the sheer celebration of survival of it.