|French Gypsies at Lourdes: Catholicism is part of their identity even though they may feel excluded from the mainstream Church (photo: Iglisia Descalza)|
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.Oooh, not a Rajasthani village, the sort of place where people have better things to do than read
“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.
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?