Sunday 16 October 2011

The only thing worse than a gypsy is a Catholic gypsy...

French Gypsies at Lourdes: Catholicism is part of their identity even though they may feel excluded from the mainstream Church (photo: Iglisia Descalza) least that appears to be the gist of a rather bizarre article by Germaine Greer in Saturday's Telegraph. It's an oddly written opinion piece that veers from extreme nimbyism at having travellers living in her village to evoking warm fuzzy images of "nomadic peoples". One of the worst things about the travellers that we have here in the UK, the article suggests, is that they're Catholic. My comments are in bold.
How diverse are British nomads? They include English Romanichal and New Age Travellers and Roma refugees from eastern Europe, but the largest group is the Irish Travellers. These are not only Irish; they are also Roman Catholic. This is not the same as being simply Irish Catholic (we can, apparently, tolerate "cultural Catholics" as they're no different from the rest of us) : the travellers are more Catholic than other Irishmen and women (Ack! More Catholic! Than the Irish! As in they might actually BE Catholic). Traveller women have no sex before marriage (Oh the horror! And how bad for the contraceptive/abortion industry: think of the economy!) , marry young within the community (This is a problem? Why?), and bear more children than any other women in Europe (I say hooray for them! Germaine clearly sees this as A Bad Thing).
The highest value in traveller society is the family (what's wrong with that?), and the honour of the family resides in its women (wasn't it Archbishop Fulton Sheen that said that the value of a society can be measured by its womenfolk? So the travellers are in good company)....
Prolonged contact with the more relaxed mores of the host community carries a high risk for traveller families, who dread their children becoming involved in under-age drinking, experimentation with drugs and casual sex. (That would be true of many of us who don't want our children to adopt the normative behavior of the sewer; I'm with the travellers here as are most parents I know). When travellers are housed by local authorities it is invariably in the kinds of housing estates where all these are rife (well a caravan in a field looks like a good option then, doesn't it?)

Greer gives some anecdotal evidence which largely amounts to Why She Does Not Like Travellers But Is Too Liberal to Say So. She relates feeling "uneasy" when visiting a traveller site:

One day an official letter for a Mr King was delivered at my house, and I took the opportunity to visit the encampment. I drove past the piles of rubbish which were all we neighbours got to see and found myself in a compound swept clear of every speck of mud, surrounded by caravans that sparkled in the afternoon sun. The only people I saw were children, who formed a solid phalanx between me and the caravans.
“Does Mr King live here?’ I asked.
The children did not respond. Their faces were closed and blank. I showed them the letter and asked if I should leave it with them. They neither moved nor spoke.
There was something familiar about the whole situation, the size and shape of the compound overlooked by the invisible mothers in their caravans and the implacable mien of the guardian children. For a while I couldn’t place it and then I realised that I could have been in a Rajasthani village.
Oooh, not a Rajasthani village, the sort of place where people have better things to do than read tripe books by Germaine Greer. And what's with the "invisible mothers in their caravans" - how unbelievably patronising! How denigrating of motherhood.  How does she know that they aren't all at the supermarket, or enjoying a cup of tea and a laugh while looking after their babies, or happily making their family's lunch. Should they have dropped everything and rushed out to greet the important feminist academic? Or perhaps they should all be at work, their babies in second rate substitute childcare. As for the "implacable guardian children", well, I reckon that Germaine doesn't have a lot of contact with children. Round our way she'd likely find herself escorted by a phalanx of stony-faced warriors, and would count herself lucky if she wasn't tied to a tree "Just-William" style if she let herself onto our land without invitation. Face it, Germaine, an elderly scary lady brandishing an envelope and speaking in clipped antipodean tones is hardly going to put a group of children at their ease. Why, who knows, maybe they'd read your books and were too scared to speak.

Germaine Greer argued in Sex and Destiny (1985) that the nuclear family was a bad environment in which to raise children. Her criticism of British/Irish Travellers appears to be rooted in a morbid distrust of the natural family augmented by  a profound anti-Catholicism. In this article she gives a series of unsubstantiated "facts" (e.g. "traveller women have twice the rate of miscarriage as the UK average" - this without being able to specify how many travellers  are in the UK) pointing the the "obvious" conclusion that it would be in the travellers' own best interests to be brought into the mainstream. Then the children could be sexualised at a young age, the babies born out of wedlock, the mothers could all go out to work full-time, families could break down and they'd be just like the dysfunctional moral sewer of mainstream British society . You'd like that, wouldn't you, Germaine? That the Travellers value family, chastity and children irritates you no end. I'm sorry to tell you that that's exactly what some of us admire in them; that and the fact that they -- and we -- will out breed your sterile feminist intelligentsia with joy and alacrity. And that's the real reason that you're worried, isn't it?



  1. Really excellent post Annie. it sums up my feelings precisely.

  2. It should make me angry but this sort of Anglo anti-Catholicism always makes me laugh. The hilarious commentary helps as well.

  3. Lindsay, it is comic but not really funny. The pictures in the news today of our para-military police dragging old ladies and children out of their (brick-built, permanent) homes at Dale Farm are horrifying.

    As Catholics who are now having to submit to a concerted and effective cleansing from public life through both legislation and its anti-Catholic interpretation by the authorities, the media and large sections of the public, we should be very aware that what happens to the minorities (Gypsies/ Jews/ blacks/ less able-bodied/ poor/ unborn) eventually happens to us. Nothing occurs in isolation.

    Things are about to change; don't fool yourself that all will go back to indifferent peace. As the Catholic population either drops-off of submits to the culture of death, embracing the fruits of globalised consumer-capitalism, the few of us who actually believe in Jesus and His promise of eternal life through His Church, are going to become more and more isolated, victimised and persecuted. Capitalism may be a busted flush, liberalism may be dying from its own poison, secularism may be a auto-redacting philosophy, but they sure as hell will not go quietly.

    So comic yes, but not really laughable.