A French reality TV show has been criticized by authorities for treating so-called “handkerchief ceremonies” in which young brides are supposed to prove their virginity. The Minister for Citizenship Marlène Schiappa she wrote to the Conseil supérieur de l’Audiovisuel (CSA), saying she was “outraged” by the program “My Incredible Gipsy Wedding”. In one of the scenes of the broadcast, the bride, before marriage, is checked by female relatives to verify her virginity.
Inspired by Channel 4’s “Big Fat Gypsy Weddings”, the free-to-view French series on the TFX channel follows the courtship and marriage traditions of the Catalan gypsy community living in the southern city of Perpignan. In an edition broadcast in February, viewers saw, in the midst of preparations for a lavish wedding, the bed on which the bride was supposed to undergo control. The offending statement read: “On this bed a woman with special training will test the resistance of Naomi’s hymen. The handkerchief ceremony is ancestral and unavoidable. If Naomi has had sexual intercourse, the marriage will be canceled.” In other scenes, the women of the community explained why it was important. “It’s for the boy’s family,” said one man, “so they know he’s got a beautiful virgin woman.” “From an early age she was educated for this moment of the ceremony, which is fundamental to obtaining her marriage,” explained another. When asked if men were to undergo the same practice, it would have been answered: “No because we start from the principle that if a young man does not have experiences before getting married, he will miss them.
Schiappa said in her letter that she was infuriated by the tone of the program. “The whole institution of marriage has been trampled on, with no restraint,” he said. He also said that the incident was “even more revolting” because the National Assembly had just passed a law “which prohibits virginity tests and ensures the consent of both partners to marriage”. In addition, a clause in the law, currently under consideration by the Senate, makes it illegal for doctors to issue virginity certificates. The article is primarily aimed at the French Muslim community, where some families insist on proof of virginity before marriage. Among other things, the text of the law specifies that doctors who issue certificates risk one year in prison and a fine of 15,000 euros. Furthermore, non-medical personnel who carry out virginity tests, even with the woman’s consent, risk being accused of rape. The World Health Organization states that the practice of inspecting the hymen visually or with the fingers cannot prove whether a woman or girl has had vaginal intercourse or not. According to the organization it is also a violation of human rights.
Schiappa has already complained about sexism on French television. Already last year, as minister for sexual equality, he concluded a report that criticized reality TV for perpetuating stereotypes. “Television programs emphasize the hyper-femininity of women and the ultra-masculinity of men. From this dichotomy derives a view of relationships between men and women that is stereotyped and unequal,” the report states. She has also complained about popular French wedding TV shows like Four Marriages for a Honeymoon, where couples are judged against each other for the quality of their marriages, or Married at First Sight where a couple gets married within hours. after she met and the cameras track their marital progress.