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Gender and Representation in Communist and Postcommunist Romania

Roxana Marinescu

The Bucharest University of Economic Studies


This presentation focuses on various ways in which gender has been represented in communist and postcommunist Romania, with a focus on how women and men were moulded into gender roles suited to the state policies of the respective contexts. We will be looking at the extent to which public agenda has met real women’s and men’s needs crossing various stages, from women’s lib through gender equality to equal opportunities.

If in communism the Marxist interpretation of women’s emancipation (i.e. a forced liberation from patriarchal and capitalist exploitation in the home and simultaneous forced engagement on the labour market) did not assume a reversed “emancipation” of men in the private sphere, the same situation can be encountered in postcommunism, when liberal interpretations of gender representation prevail. According to these liberal theories, emancipation of women in the public sphere and better representation is supposed to happen on its own, as legislation that guarantees equality is in place. However, such theories fail to consider equal opportunities, as women continue to feel the social pressure to fulfill both productive and reproductive roles, while men are still very little involved in equal partnerships in private life.

We can thus notice a change of the power discourse related to women during communism, from that of emancipation and equality to one of state control over private aspects of their lives: “Talking about the excessive regulation of women’s condition and gender roles in public and private spheres, Romanian communism starts with an ideology of emancipation, equality and feminine activism and ends with a maternalistic-conservative ideology, encouraged by nationalistic communism” (Miroiu 2004, my translation).

Moreover, the power discourse regarding gender in postcommunist Romania follows somewhat naturally the communist one: if women were represented in both their productive and reproductive roles (as labourer and mother of the nation) in communism, the same representations seem to prevail in postcommunism, although the images now include a more sexualized role. This is clear from looking at media representations – as a case study we will be discussing covers of weekly Femeia along the years, with its contemporary clones Femeia and Femeia de azi.

We should take into consideration aspects of political representation: women’s vote was included in the Constitution in 1938, but this was made irrelevant by the two dictatorial regimes that followed (Charles II and the subsequent communist regime). In what concerns numerical representation of women in Parliament, for instance (and we could argue that it is not fully relevant), we need to discuss some of the possible causes leading to its steep decrease: from 34% women in Marea Adunare Națională, to just 4% in the Romanian Parliament immediately after the Revolution and to 19% in the current Parliament.

In postcommunist Romania as Eniko Magyari-Vincze observed, the public agenda regarding equal opportunities between men and women is structured on two major mechanisms: “On the one hand, we are noticing the de-legitimation of the idea of equality between men and women due to its reduction to the memories from communist practice, and on the other hand, the acceptance of an equal opportunities policy legislation as part of the desiderata pertaining to accession to the European Union. Both generate superficial reflections and reactions caught in the trap of the two extremes, namely rejection and unconditional acceptance.” (Magyari-Vincze 2002, my translation).

Women’s representation is also made through a number of NGO’s and the extent to which this representation has been following real women’s needs is to be discussed. Laura Grunberg claims that at least in the 1990’s and early 2000’s they focused more on normative needs imposed by the West in the process of “civilizing the East”. Sometimes these needs coincided with real needs of Romanian women (such as domestic violence and violence against women), while others (sustainable development or gender capacity building), although not enough understood initially, when “translated” well into the Romanian agenda, proved to be beneficial (Grunberg 2008).

Thus, if in communism gender representation was mainly used to enhance the state and party power and to legitimate a power discourse which oppressed both genders while claiming their emancipation, in postcommunist Romania we are witnessing a more fragmented type of representation, with rather timid attempts at grass root movements.

Works cited:

Grunberg, Laura. 2008. BiONGrafie. AnA – istoria trăită a unui ONG de femei. Iași: Polirom.

Magyari-Vincze, Eniko. 2002. Diferența care contează: diversitatea social-culturală prin lentila antropologiei feministe. Ed. Fundației Desire.

Miroiu, Mihaela. 2004. Drumul către autonomie. Teorii politice feministe,  Iași: Polirom.


Dr. Roxana Marinescu is an Associate Professor with The Bucharest University of Economic Studies, Romania, where she teaches Intercultural Communication, Cultural Studies and Communication, Gender and Business. Dr. Marinescu has been involved in a number of national and international research projects in the areas of equal opportunities and gender awareness, democratic citizenship, life-long learning or education for the world of work and she has published several articles and books on the same issues. Among the books she authored or co-authored are Crossing Cultures (1999), Rights in Deed (2002), Together/ Împreună (2007). Violated Bodies: A Cross-Cultural Reading by Writers of South-Asian Origin (2009), Self-Constructs of Identity: The Case of Northern Ireland (2012), Northern Ireland. Border Country (2013), Salman Rushdie and Multiple Identities (2013) and Intercultural Communication in Contemporary Society (2013). She is a member of AnA Society for Feminist Analyses, an NGO with a vast experience in community development programmes and applied interdisciplinary research in women’s issues.