Gender Roles

The Romanian language is split into genders, just like French or Spanish. For example, masă, or table, is feminine while scaun, or chair, is masculine. I introduce myself as a profesoară, not a profesor, because I am a woman. This makes teaching gender roles to my 5th-7th grades this week difficult, as the very words I speak have an assigned gender.

Usually, the masculine and feminine versions of a word have the same meaning. I may be an americancă and you may be an american, but we are both Americans and the ă doesn’t change that. However, one major exception is one of the most all-encompasing gender roles we have here: gospodar v. gospodină.

Both mean, “one who takes care of the house,” but the jobs that come along with one exclude those of the other. A gospodar chops firewood, makes wine, fixes windows and feeds the animals. A gospodină cooks, cleans, washes clothes and takes care of the kids. (An American friend of mine tells Moldovans who ask why she isn’t married, “Well, I need a man to be a gospodar AND a gospodină, and I haven’t found one yet!”)

So as I began the class, asking kids to write either “masculine” or “feminine” under a series of words — president, crying, making wine, baking bread, taxi, patience, children, director, alcoholic, going to church, car — I was amazed at how many assigned gender roles came from the gospodar/dină split. According to my students, the word “sports” is masculine because men have to be strong to be gospodars, but “crying” is feminine because taking care of children makes you emotional. “Making a fire” is the duty of the gospodar, my students said, despite the fact that everyone in my home, including me, is responsible for keeping up the fires that heat our rooms and bathwater in the winter.

Here are three scenes from this week’s classes on gender roles:

Teacher: Who determines gender roles?

Student 1: The man. He is he head of the family.

Teacher: No. Try again.

Student 2: God.

Teacher: Now, you all said “making wine” is masculine. Why?

Student 1: Because they like to drink it.

Teacher: But you said “baking bread” was feminine. Do only women eat bread?

Student 2: No, men eat and drink it all!

Teacher: Why is the word “president” masculine?

Student 1: Because men are stronger.

Student 2: Because men take care of their country.

Student 3: Because it is written that only men can be president.

Teacher: Where is it written? That is not a law here.

Student 3: Oh. Well, men are stronger.

Teacher: Then why is “alcoholic” also masculine?

Student 4: Because they drink more.

Teacher: And why is “crying” feminine?

Student 5: Because they cry more. All of the problems are on their head – taking care of children, keeping up the home.

Teacher: And we still believe that men are stronger?


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