Coordinated by Aurelian GIUGĂL


The construction of the Roma female identity and the negotiation of tradition[i]




Ph.D. student at Doctoral School of Political Science, University of Bucharest


Abstract: This article constitutes itself as an insight into the construction of the Roma female identity, and the negotiation of tradition, using three fundamental concepts that most of the academic Romanian literature does not define suitably: tradition, community, and identity. The theme of this article will be analyzed from a gender perspective, in the sense that women could have a special role in the process of reconsidering tradition. The first chapter provides a theoretical perspective of Roma female identity, defining the concepts related to this issue. In the second chapter, I will apply these concepts in a case study about a group of gypsies in Pitești, Romania, analyzing the construction of identity in the case of Roma women and the negotiation of the Roma female model in education, using a qualitative approach. In conclusion, I would like to show in what sense this analysis may be useful in the development of effective public policies on the gipsy issue.


Keywords: tradition, community, identity, education, gender perspective.





The terms of identity, culture and tradition have generated, over time, a great deal of controversy. Deterministic outlook advocated the strong influence of the system on the individual actor, while the followers of “radical choice”[ii] made a quasi-apology for motivation and personal responsibility. The authors who inspire us in the development of this article observe tradition as a “social construction being in a continual process of change and adaptation to the social context or specific interests”[iii], because “culture is not an innate element of identity, it is a social construct, a behavioural response to specific realities”[iv]. The problem of identity - in our case of a Roma female identity - is always complex, because it is built by mutual social interaction, where the individual character has a considerably significant weight, according to several authors including Charles Tilly, for whom identity is “the experience of an actor on a category link, role, network, group or organization, combined with a public performance of that experience.”[v] Moreover, “the public representation often takes the form of a shared history, a narrative”[vi].

The process of transmission and of giving up of tradition, change or fitness for a new tradition plays a fundamental role in the definition of individual identity. According to the sociologist Alexandru Balasescu, “At microscopic level an identity arises from trading perspectives and for different purposes. [...] The problems with identity in general require an approach that takes into account the individual action level.”[vii]. It is necessary here to develop a definition around the term “tradition”. In a constructivist sense, one could not speak in terms of the reality of the tradition, but the invention of tradition and as a social construction community. Furthermore, the group itself is an achievement of the collective consciousness, it is not to be an implicit entity, such as a particular instance, but it is built, too, according to consciously adopted values ​​and (re-)calculated by each individual. In this spirit we will quote reflection Rogers Brubaker on the construction of the groups: “The “groupality” is a variable, not a constant; it cannot be assumed. It varies not only among the groups, but their interior; it can change and change again over time, culminating in the extraordinary - but short-lived - of collective effervescence moments[viii].

We will develop this direction in the case study of a Roma ethnic community in the second chapter, by following in the line of thinking adopted by the English anthropologist Benedict Anderson and starting from the definition he gives to communities: “All of the larger communities from primordial villages of face-to-face (and perhaps themselves these) are imagined. Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity / truthfulness, but by the style in which they are imagined.”[ix] The author continues his argument by referring to the political communities and defining them as “cultural artefacts of a particular kind”[x], by providing a starting point for understanding the process of imagination of the political communities: “To understand properly [the imagined communities] we need to consider carefully how they originated, from the historical point of view, in what sense their meanings have changed over time and why, today, it manages a profound emotional heritage”[xi].

Our approach will be qualitative, using several search tools, including participant observation and guided interviews. The research will have several targets: the Roma community in the city of Pitesti - Romania chosen for the case study of Roma families of different ages and in the male-female division, the schools and kindergartens attended by the Roma children, and finally the non-governmental organizations working with Roma ethnic groups.

Our main concern was the human experience of the women of different ages living in the community, as well as the experience of the group members in school and outside the community. It is also important to focus on the personal representation of Roma ethnicity and female identity, and in parallel, to analyze the status of female trading strategies. With the evolution of a generation transmitting parameters to another, what potential reconsideration has the community, as to the customary norms in relation to Roma female model? Education, urbanization, wellbeing, relations of authority and the representation of religion are anthropological dimensions that have a powerful weight on the continuity of tradition.

The elements of the collective imagination associated with the identity of the Roma females are important in defining the attitude towards tradition. Marital experiences analyzed in relation to the financial situation may account for the validity of the assumption that the more affluent families are less willing to allow a break of Roma youth compared to the original group. The intention to change social class can be one of the reasons that instigate the review of the feminine and traditional family model.

As qualitative sources, the article will include interviews with: representatives of different generations of Roma, considerate members of the community who followed a unique path, leaders of the Roma community, both men and women, and representatives of educational institutions attended by Roma. We made seven interviews within the indigenous Roma community studied, including two interviews with students of the Middle School no.2 – Pitești[xii]. We conducted field reports following a two–day observation of a common Roma family living in Pitesti in October 2014. The qualitative data collected included personal history and views of their cultural practices, the forms of dialogue and decision-making within the community. To the data obtained through participant observation and interviews, we then added statistical quantitative data, that is to say, school records, school statistics and other statistical information found in the records of Pitesti City Hall.

The group membership, tradition and identity are not strictly related to the group's history or personal history. They are more like a sum of every-day attitudes, tailored to each context. Taking inspiration from evoked authors, we would say that it is not legitimate to judge individuals as belonging to indisputable typologies, fully and irrevocably crystallized on structures drawn in illo tempore hermetically protected deal that influences the various agents of renewal. Social factors determine the change of the context where the transmission of traditional identity takes place. Thus, it should produce reflections on birth, the transmission and the role of customary norms, not on the basis of statistics or general data, but down to the personal stories and individual perceptions on belonging.




In terms of scientific production on Roma identity and the articulation of the “feminine”, a fairly high contrast can be identified between some prospects that use frozen social models trying to explain the reality of lifestyles, into the frame of the Roma ethnic communities, risking to convey stigma that is related to the indigenity of this ethnic group. Conversely, other approaches tackle ethnicity as a cultural construction, as a sum of attitudes assumed differently in various contexts and repeated not as such based on personal motivations. This first proposal suggests to take into account for an open sphere, public or scientific, multiple typologies that are considered to be insurmountable, the second, on the contrary, perceives ethnicity and femininity as categories of negotiable belonging, calculable from the perspective of self perception, avoiding as much as possible a fixed definition, irrevocable, of what can be “genuine” Roma and feminine.

We start our research from the question of Vintilă Mihăilescu in order to try to explain the rationale of the anthropological approach: “How can we be different from the others and still be humans like them?”[xiii]. By adapting his approach to our subject, we will reformulate the question as follows: how is it that a Roma woman is a Roma woman? How does gender theory approach the construction of identity? As has already been explained in the introduction, this article seeks to avoid the deductive assumptions and propose a perspective that assumes a constant conjugation between gender and ethnicity membership while it sees identity as a sum of variable and negotiable elements at the individual level in specific contexts. A good point in this direction was made by Donna Przybilowicz, indicating that a properly composed reasoning remains likely inconclusive if the premises that served as the starting point were not the subject to a process of deconstruction: “we must be vigilant in order to unravel the non-intentioned assumptions that too often accompany relevant theories”[xiv].

The explanation of the individual behaviour, the reasons that influence the choices of attitudes and direct them to the act of assuming an identity, are a fairly large and complex field, involving a wide range of variable data and updates in context. Therefore, it is not appropriate to draw in that preliminary decision to addiction. Consider the following stipulation: “Human beings are committed to what is given. It becomes for them the natural way of doing things. Being natural means almost the same as being normative and binding, once a typology is accepted as natural. Other variations can be rationally recommended or imposed coercively, but attachment to traditional behavioral typologies and existence is not easily dissolved”[xv]. This is based on several assumptions that are not in question and that are at risk of feeding deterministic and reductionist perceptions of social actors. First, it is assumed here that individual actors define their identity by belonging to the whole human race - it is not talking about individuals, but we use the plural phrase “human beings”. It is therefore understandable that the text claims to account for the conduct of a whole human race, and seems to forget to take distance from the object of analysis and problematize the subject in terms of otherness, differentiation and multiple networks and a variety of communities. Moreover, this approach suggests - in the presence or in the absence of awareness on the part of the author - that individuals choose their attitudes focusing collectively, instinctively and inevitably on a behavioral typology inspired by an abstract and impersonal instance in which this attachment is naturally “given.”. This is an example of a reductionist tendency of the constructivist tradition authors, like Jacques Derrida, specifically criticized because one uses an almost instinctive process of naturalization and determinism, as “one of the gestures of deconstruction is especially not naturalized, not to pretend that what is not natural was natural.”[xvi] It is not proper to say that adherence to a traditional identity comes from itself, because before that, it is more appropriate to ask whether the tradition that inspires this identity exists as such, if it occurs by visible elements at group level or company, or whether it is an artifact, an anthropogenic element created at the level of individual consciousness in terms of symbols, meanings and perceptions. The field survey has demonstrated that defining one’s own ethnicity is not a constant, but it can be structured as a perception built in a strictly personal manner: “I am too an ethnic Roma, but for me, everything is a mess...”[xvii].

Other texts go against this rule, including that of W. Weiraugh, which quotes the following passage: “If a gypsy man marries a gaji (non-Gypsy woman), his community will finally agree provided it adopts the gypsy lifestyle. But it is a serious violation of marital code, encodes a gypsy woman to marry a gajo (non-gypsy man), because the gypsy women are the guarantee of the survival of the population.”[xviii]This interpretation of reality that the author expects to find within the Roma community studied raises the problem of the construction and differentiated perception of gender laws. It is important here to note that such a distinction does not implicitly assume a hierarchy, even if sometimes, some perspectives - like the one we have just mentioned - tend to suggest it somehow. Sherry B. Ortner theorized the systematization of belonging to the genre in terms of different “prestige”[xix]. According to her, “gender is itself centrally a prestige system - a speech and practices system that build the masculinity and femininity not only in terms of roles and differentiated meanings, but also in terms of differentiated value of the prestige”[xx].

Donna Przybilowicz interprets Sherry B. Ortner’s perspective alleging that it calls into question the definition of gender as a strict system of power, unidirectional and inevitably hierarchical. Przybilowicz states that “Neither male nor prestige dominance can negate a woman's ability to determine some aspects of their own and of others.”[xxi]. This interpretation may suggest that the relationship between “male” and “female” does not result in a solidified subordination of some kind to the other, for a definition formulated in these terms is not compatible with nature’s dynamic or the unstable balance and context of how the roles of individuals are constructed by gender. The choice of the assumed behaviour, actions and selected roles are the result of a constant dialogue reconsideration of positions. “Femininity” is not built as a hierarchical positioning on a scale of values ​​because the values ​​attached to symbols and speech were not universal and unchangeable but vary according to the strength of individual players and the situation where manifests itself.

The female identity - a Roma female identity in our analysis - can be theorized as a non-uniform expression of symbols that women choose and intertwine to create their behaviour. However, there remains the remark Rogers Brubaker made about an identity that, if it negotiates and is divided into multiple affiliations, interlaced and variable elements, it may cease to exist. What he calls “low identity”, an image continually fluctuating and unequal to itself, he suggests, is rather an accumulation of terms, an analytic category scientifically usable, “a snapshot”[xxii] which we almost automatically use in a constructivist approach. He observes, therefore, that weak or strong ideas about identity are routinely associated with standard qualifiers indicating that identity is multiple, unstable, fluctuating, contingent, fragmented, constructed, negotiated and so on. These qualifiers have become so familiar in recent years. They could be real stakeholders, gestures signaling a statement rather than words alleging meaning. To get to this observation, the author states, learn from the criticism drawn up by Henk Driessen[xxiii], who notes that academic space undergoes an accumulation of qualifiers such as “renegotiation”, “reinvention”, “reconstruction” that forms around the term “identity” until it is likely to deprive it of all meaning. He blames the often misuse of terms specific to constructivism and denounces a tendency towards the establishment of a new rhetoric that is established as a ritual of the use of deconstructive terms and perhaps is sometimes close to making an authentic constructivist approach in itself. The simple repetitive evocation, even quasi-abusive, concepts related to the renegotiation of identity rather than a type of discourse favoring analytic approach,  is not sufficient to epistemologically found relevant arguments. “Identity has become a shibboleth, is too often part of a sermon that has the academic as relational, changing, nested, built, reinvented, negotiated, procedural and contextual. The repetition of these skills has become part of an academic identification ritual”[xxiv].





The presence of Roma on the territory of present Romania cannot be accurately determined, but historical research has concluded that ethnic Roma have been living in Wallachia and Moldavia since the end of the fourteenth and early fifteenth century. Their status, implying reduced social, politic or economic rights, comparable to slavery, varied according to the scheme set up by the big landowners and the majority of the population.[xxv] Therefore, little concrete data related to the perpetuation of their tradition in this period can be interpreted. Still, the documentation attesting to the time data on Roma offers little information on women of this ethnic group, often noting the names of the men and adding the words “with their wives and children”[xxvi]. Later, in the twentieth century, during the implementation of a pro-fascist regime, the Roma have not been the specific target of a profoundly racist mechanism, but they fall victims of forced labor and deportations[xxvii]. Then, during the communist era, disciplinary actions of assimilation have been initiated, resulting from this process of change in their traditional social structure. After 1989-1990, the Roma seem to find access, mostly in social areas with less chance of socio-economic integration. This happens in the context where the Romanian Government has adopted two very important directions in this sense, the strategy for improving the situation of Roma in Romania[xxviii] (a final report[xxix]  available to the public), developed in 2001, administered by the National Agency for the Roma (NRA). At local level, the NRA is represented by the Departmental Office for Roma. In the Argeş county, we can identify seven types of Roma communities by the criterion of their traditional occupations - which we define in the page footnotes: kostorari, ursari, rudari, lăutari and florari, fulgari and cămătari. An eighth type of community would be formed by the Roma fully integrated into the Romanian population of the city; in the official discourse they are named Roma “Romanized”. In Argeş, the largest Roma community is the Kostoraris’, named according to the profession kostorar[xxx] practiced by the older generation, while the current population resorted to other means of earning existence. This community has its core in the north-eastern part of the old county, which is the location chosen for the venue of the investigation. In 2002, local statistics show a population of 436,025 inhabitants[xxxi] in Argeş, of which 13 898 of Roma ethnicity. For Pitesti, the most recent statistics are from 1992 and count a number of 5268 Roma inhabitants[xxxii], 3.22% of the total population of the city, counted by self declaration. The data for 2002 for the city of Pitesti were not available at the time of the research, as statistics designed according to gender qualifiers did not exist. This distinction between males and females however appears in the statistical register of the School No.2 Pitești, which indicates that the number of boys attending school, and then get an eight-class degree, is higher than the number of girls in this direction. The distinction between declared Roma and undeclared ROM is that the former are considered Rom as and when declared, while the second category is created on criteria of family ties to declared Roma, zonal affiliation, spoken language (Romani) and the statements of the Roma community. Having as inspiration qualitative data collected following several interviews in connection with the investigation with members of the kaldarari community in the city of Pitesti, we will attempt to demonstrate that it is rather difficult to mount a sustained argument by using only constant elements and typological marks. From the perspective of analytic relevance, it is unreliable to judge the tradition of relying on an invariable model in relating statutes. To the question “how is it that a Roma woman is a Roma woman?”a definitive and unequivocal answer cannot represent but an epistemological trap. It is therefore recommended to make reformulations based on the empirical context that offer perspectives on the various ways of overlap between the various categories overlapped at an individual identity.

This chapter aims to address the transmission of tradition in the light of the dynamic process that characterizes the passage of symbolic capital from one generation to another. Social inertia is one of the forces that lead sometimes to the spread of what could be a Roma female model, but it is not a constant. As part of a Roma female ideal, there are markers that change, can be identified as constant elements, but the report layout is done so modified, having as an impulse to follow the social movements that are also held outside ethnicity. The mental representation of tradition is often related to the representation of ethnicity, variously reconstructed from one individual to another. The highest point a theorist can  reach is not to infer ideal types - this is not the case in the context of the subject matter - but to bypass certain trends, identifying gestures, attitudes, ways of expression that seem to be repeated in one form or another, from one case to another. A theoretical formulation that surprises the central idea of ​​the following study is that of Cosima Rughinis, which states that “the tradition is as a social construction being in a continual process of change and adaptation to the social context or specific interests”[xxxiii].

We will start the analysis of interviews conducted by placing our method of interpretation under the indication given by Stéphane Beaud and Florence Weber: “An interview is always held in a place and at a given moment. The meaning of words collected is strictly dependent on their conditions of enunciation. Maintenance only makes sense that in this truly “context” immediate. But you also need to reproduce a larger universe of reference, made by allusions [...] to all experiences and singular cases to which the respondent compares its own course. “[xxxiv] In order to use the body of information collected in the field, we have considered useful to identify categories of reference that could frame the various denominations of respondents vis-a-vis their personal stories or about other cases cited to illustrate the differences, similarities and complementarities with respect to personal experiences. The empirical perspective on the perpetuation and negotiation of tradition will be built around a series of main conceptual directions. First, the analysis will focus on the ways in which the Roma articulate tradition in the sense of a feminine ideal that personal stories seem to place somewhere between the sometimes rigorous conservation and adaptation to contemporary social context. Second, it will address the concept of female Roma tradition as a sum of customary norms, from questions about its dealers and its guarantors, as well as any transgressions of these standards, the potential consequences and opportunities of trading in this. Third, the study will try to discuss some aspects of the relationship between the tendency to naturalize breast fate of the Roma woman and preference of the Roma woman to adopt a sustained schooling. Fourth, the discussion will focus on the mode of perpetuating the tradition of Roma women in connection with the marital institution and implicitly of the family institution. Last but not least, starting with a discussion about the dynamics of representative symbols of femininity and Roma ethnicity, we will present the findings of qualitative research. For potential interpretation of the available data, one could say that there is one side of traditional practices with a higher degree of “marketability” and the other across standards and similarly stringent timeless visions. We will try to detect a number of perspectives on how that can facilitate the reconciliation between custom dedicated over time and social renewal.





For women of the Roma community of kostorari from Pitesti, the ideal model of education cannot be conceived as a uniform and definitive achievement. Several variables such as the generation of source, socioeconomic background or migration influence the exercise of the imagination of a model that feeds the highest aspirations. The mental representation of a feminine ideal is built on a personal level, depending on individual motivations, priorities, sources of inspiration accessed by each social actor. The fact is that the behaviors rarely assume strong isolated or repeated acts, a female identity being a sum of repeated options, at least for a period of time sufficient to their consecration. By analyzing the personal confessions, we seek to distinguish certain identifiable tendencies in the rhetoric of the respondents. A priori, one would say that it was a question of several picture elements which are reflected in educational practice and the transmission of tradition. The mother to daughter information transfer can be done either by the resumption of behavioural patterns displayed and inflicted by the mother or a relative break with the types of events that previous generations saw as “traditional”. The first direction of education to Roma feminine ideal requires the repetition of a sum of specific elements of behaviour which we mention: the type of verbal interaction, socialization mode[xxxv], the assumption of a daily role, rigorously established, the limitation of spatial mobility[xxxvi] and finally the indisputable maternal destiny, as suggested by the following passage, in which Doina, 52 years old, shared with the investigator her personal representation on the feminine ideal model: “What should a girl do to make it well? To cook, wash, clean the house, do the dishes, do not let the filth in the house, be clean, put all things in packets, put everything in its place. And children yes, we must make, otherwise ... make two, three, four! I have five!”[xxxvii] Her speech continues in the same direction: “You must take care of yourself, be honest, do not go with the boys, and have honor, because that's what's best on earth. To cook, wash, speak well with people, respect people, do not swear, do not speak ill.”[xxxviii]

A similar type of rhetoric, evoking largely the same reference category is found in the speech of Floarea Mitu: “With my mother I got along very well. What did she taught me to do? To cook, wash, clean ...”[xxxix] The example continues: “To prepare me for life, my mother taught me how to raise children, to do domestic work, not to be lazy, to tidy the room, to wash, clean. My father was in town to look for work, my mother stayed at home, she was eating, she cleaned, she washed before, women fetched dirty bottles, they washed them, and they took care of the children, we were 8 children.”[xl] We can see that the perpetuation of the educational model from one generation to another is done by the express conservation of powers regarded as specifically feminine at the maternal line. The articulation of femininity has been done here in a functional and imperative-restrictive way: the woman has imagined what she must do, what she should not do, and her duties concerning the responsibility of domestic work, reproduction and perpetuation of tradition. This approach of idealization, identified in the cited representations, is accompanied by a clearly positive feeling towards the conservation actions of these modes of expressing femininity, suggesting certain inertia in the transmission of behaviors and types of markers. Proponents of this view seem to believe in a kind of universality of this “feminine” built around the nesting of certain duties and limitations. This could be interpreted rather as an act of induction-receipt of educational model, than a fully knocked role. There is no question here of an impersonal natural directing collective choice, but a self perception made at conscious level shallower than industrial action and identity reconsideration.

A remark is necessary at this point, in the sense that the traditional feminine identity negotiation space is not an arena of polarized claims between a strictly conservative discourse and radical protest vision. Certainly, more or less radicalized positions can enter the scene, but the passage of an educational model to another does not always imply a deeply committed critical process, a powerful break with the oldest way of looking at the construction of female educational model. The adoption of a different position compared to that of previous generations can be performed in the absence of explicit tensions manifested by a latent reconfiguration model of education, as one can understand the declarations submitted: “I spent most of the time with my mother. She taught me not to talk to everyone, to foreign persons, not to talk to the boys, because I would compromise myself. It was only later that I understood what she meant.”[xli]. The confessions do not betray a revolt attitude, although the model of education is not retained as such from one generation to the other: “I encourage my children[xlii] to go to school; I tell them that they must listen to their parents, grandparents and teachers, I give them rewards when they have good results. When they do not listen, I punish them by giving them less money and I bring their father and grandparents too. And the girl, and boy, they must both be wise and get good grades.”[xliii]

Still, a separate record feeds imaginary representations in which the behavioural model of rigor encourages negative feelings, attitudes and reproach concerning rejection. This direction is illustrated by the confession of Ioana Luta “In our tribe, it is the old mother that transmits information, the role of women in the Roma society. Until the age of 10, a girl needs to know what to do as a mother in house; Raising children, ensuring their education. The woman must be silent, another aspect that impressed me, and I do not know if you have observed, the woman must walk behind the man.”[xliv] Here, the range of meanings changes. The same gestures and practices are no longer evocative symbols of feminine perfection, but they seem to reflect a gender system configured as a reducing hierarchical order. Being a member of the Kaldarari community, Ioana Luta is a character who has followed and sustained school career, graduating from the Faculty of Letters[xlv], Romani language section. The social and economic status that one can take position in a context where women's identity can be reconfigured explicitly breaks with the model used by previous generations. “If for these people to be traditional means to be a servant woman, I'm not like that.”[xlvi]. New items appear in the construction of the ideal course that a Roma girl can follow: education, social independence, the ability to make decisions at the individual level. “Being a teacher of Romani language, what I propose is to break some strings in this community, encourage girls to go to school. I have a daughter[xlvii] Marisca, she was a participant in the Romani language Olympiad, and she will take the baccalaureate this year. I call all of them my children, not my students, so I am very close to them, it comes from the soul, but also from education, I have struggled to achieve all this with them, who marry in fourth grade, so I'm very, very proud of Marisca, and I give her as an example. I'm still in the middle of mothers, explaining to them all, I'm like a guide”[xlviii]. Although the appellation used to evoke and to speak to students is a descriptive term of the importance given to the family institution, “my girls”, the Roma female ideal is not imagined from the status of mother or sister, but from that of a student enjoying academic success. For some representatives of the Roma ethnic group, female success is no longer embodied in motherhood, but in intellectuality.

The model of defining responsibility for domestic femininity becomes a negative reference, an amount of charged symbols, rejected. Belonging to a younger generation and the existence of an intellectual model of inspiration can therefore influence the reconsideration of perceived values ​​as definitional by representatives of previous generations. This kind of ideal can in itself constitute a new kind of landmark that nourishes critical rigorous traditional model and imagine a new tradition built differently, which no longer requires the proper application of imperative alternative visions of what femininity is or should be. This idea of ​​rethinking identity values ​​and calculation of symbols is illustrated by the testimony of Luminiţa Ştefan: “An ethnic Roma woman must first be committed, she must take care of work in the house, she is never part of high society. Now things have changed, but before the woman was a kind of servant, I can say. This was the time of my grandmother, she married very early, at 14, at my age she had children.”[xlix] This is a case where aspirations are not formulated around a conjugation between the limitations and constraints, but directly related to professional motivations, economic and statutory. Lica Mergean says: “My life is not pink, I chose to go to college to become a teacher teaching in order to help my family, I do not have such a good financial situation and would like to move a lot.”[l] Reconsideration of the female model among Roma can go even to the point where maternal reference and the penchant universalist rhetoric disappear almost completely, while schooling is largely naturalized “A girl my age needs to be wise, listen to her parents, and do her homework.”[li]

A clear discontinuity in connection with female educational model advocated by the strict views on the tradition can be read in this testimony: “I have no daughter, but my niece, and what I advise is to continue her studies, first of all she is on her own, she has her own money, she is not coordinated, I do not accept coordination, I do not accept it. That's right, she marries whom she wants, but before she leaves, she must remember, that she reflects, she accepts the non-Roma mentality if it is the case that one knows someone for 3, 4, 5 years and that then get married. I think I am the first to accept that.”[lii] There is therefore a strong revaluation of female identity and educational construction elements that symbolize success. Although marriage is still an imperative, some speeches - including the one just mentioned - invite commitment towards awareness of individual destiny. Terms and antitheses as “honour” vs. “shame,” “wisdom,” “discipline” and “labour” disappear entirely in the approaches to the feminine ideal, being replaced by notions about enhancing economic independence, education, self-reflection and awareness.

Considering the speech provided by the interviewees, we can see that the subject of customary rules most frequently mentioned during the act of transmission of the traditional model is that of marriage. The standards and the most visible punishments are those related to the adoption of marital status. As has been observed in the previous subchapter, radical voices advocate a traditional definition of the individual journey not by a personal decision, but a pact established within the community, specifically the families of the two intending spouses. Reportedly, the customary standard for marriage reads: “To get married, it did not matter if we were rich or poor, what mattered was to have an agreement that the families get along together. The parents of the boys gave money, they bought us, but it was always for our good boys that we bought what we wanted”[liii]. The same voices demanding that the customary sense of marriage is based on parental authority without questioning the consensus of the bride and groom, it is passed from mother to daughter and that the divorce does not intervene, as was the case in the following example: “When I got married, it was my mother who decided. She said: My daughter, you take this boy and you will be happy because we know it, we know his parents. And I did not say anything, what could I say, if my mother had decided that, as already I had no father, what could I say more. I had to obey my mother, not to make faces, and I did as I was told. And it was very good, I have five children. My daughters, I have taught them the same thing: they are wise, they obey their stepmother and stepfather if they have, and their brother, because if you obey, you go forward, God sees you and helps you. My children have been good; my daughters have not changed a husband, because they do not need a better one.”[liv] Attitudes like the previous imply a strong internalization of this customary norm. However, this kind of behaviour is not necessarily dominant in the community studied. Particular situations may occur where a derogation of the standard succeeds in parameters allowed by parental authority: „For the wedding, the family of my husband flew to mine. My father was angry a little, but then it passed.”[lv] It is, however, advisable to read the meanings carefully. If the method of application is of a type of less frequently encountered gestures, this does not mean that social actors have renegotiated the content of the standard: “If my parents had a plan, and I did not do as they said they would have chased me, they would not have received me at home.”[lvi] The negotiation of the rule, perhaps more than the reconsideration of meanings, can therefore generate rather high voltages. The act of stealing the girl was not read in the sense of outrage, it spawned a highly ephemeral conflict, but a refusal on the part of the daughter vis-à-vis potential parents' decision regarding marriage would have attracted punishment. In the same sense, transgressions concerning marital destiny under the custom frame is punished by assigning a disparaging status, a stigma because of social failure, “I, in the case of marriage, I had problems in the beginning I did not want to get married, they forced me. I arrived at the age of twenty and I was not married. I was called a “lost case.”[lvii] Furthermore, the customary rule related behaviours is often guarded by the threat - or application – of acts of physical violence: “I continued to be a lost cause up to 14 years because I went out with non-Roma, not in the Gypsy community, but parents designs remain the same if I did not return to the time specified by them, my mother was waiting for me at the door with her staff in hand.”[lviii] In this formula of maternal authority, gerontocracy is seen frequently assigned the role of custodian and protector of tradition and role models that it can be assumed according to visions fundamentally attached to old practices. At the end of any negotiations, marital fate of women and the conditions for accomplishing this is guaranteed by monitoring the older generation: “Finally, I got married, like parents wanted, having lost physical purity, as is the traditional design. These designs exist, because our parents are still alive. If them, they were not here, then nothing would exist, because we, we borrow some aspects, but it's the age that is important.”[lix]

Another remarkable aspect of the traditional norm is the following: if the mother is responsible for the education of the girl, so she can be found guilty for disobedience of the young woman. If the girl does not respect the custom, then the punishment is common for her and the mother. In this logic, so that the community erected as judge can attend the punitive act, it takes place in public: “When I was very young, an event that inspired me a lot of fear was that of a punishment for the mother and daughter, because of the fact that, as it seemed, the girl had not kept her purity before marriage. So we had the outlets in the room and beat them with stones, they were throwing stones against them and if someone walked beside them, they spit them.”[lx] The story, however, highlighting that this kind of application of the customary norm is not valid because the social context has changed and new factors, such as migration, resulted in a change in this direction: “But for young people, now, things are no longer like that. Departures, migration, opened their eyes, horizons.”[lxi]

At the guarantors of the standard, we can identify differentiated positions. Two generations before, maternal authority represented, in most cases, the custodian and protector instance of the custom: “I had to do what my mother said. Maybe she beat me if I did not obey. “If you do not listen to me,” she told me, “Your children do not listen to you”.[lxii] The perpetuation of some submissive attitude seemed to be, as in the example on the maternal line. Yet confessions suggest otherwise; paternal authority and male presence, this time, are the ultimate guarantee regarding the conservation of a certain view on the application of the customary norm: “I am very proud of what I am, and I am very proud of my son, because he exceeded the mentality, maybe if we were with his father, we would still have closed conceptions”.[lxiii]

A conclusive interpretation of what was said by the respondents is that the evidence and transmission of the custom is not done only in the context of the mother-daughter relationship. This standard is legitimized by the gerontocracy authority and guaranteed by the male presence, making man a guarantor, thus rather powerful. Although the type of relationships between mothers and daughters is the principal in the perpetuation of women's education model, other factors - such as alternative guarantee of the customary norm and change in the social context of application of this standard - play a significant role.





The observation of everyday discourse among non-Roma on the topic of female education of generations of this ethnic group allows us to note that the perceptions on the Roma are conceived around common places like the one mentioned by the following statement: “The Gypsy do not go to school because they get married and have children”[lxiv]. At the level of the majority population, the representation of the Roma woman as a mother and wife made domestic destiny quite common. Therefore, one could say that it makes legitimate in some measure a questioning of the dynamics of this aspect as perceived within the studied community. Depending on personal stories, perspectives are multiple and non-constant, in strict links to other affiliations than gender and ethnicity. Certainly, there is a strong commitment to perceptions that imagine women as predestined to be a mother; the reverse is a social failure. Here is an illustrative example in this sense: “Children, you have to make, because otherwise ... (kind of threat issue) Children, we must make two, three, four, I (!) have five! I'm twenty-five grandson, eh ay! What is good! I made five and my children, five each, and we are happy. That's your family, the children. If you have children, you're family. If you have no children, you are driven by all, no one talks to you. With children, if one says no, the other says “let's go to mom, because it is well with mom because she raised us, she made us what we are” and the other he learns that too and it also comes to you, that's fine, that's what we need. Yes, that's our lives. And me and my children, we are good”[lxv].

Still, there are people considering another course if they have different individual motivations. As will be demonstrated by the analysis of the following qualitative data, several factors - such as economic status, individual motivation in terms of schooling, the presence of alternative female models or contact with social environments less attached to traditional rigorous views - might influence the construction of educational models. Let us start with the following confession: “When I was 12, the parents went to Bucharest to look for work. I stayed with my brothers to look after them, I was cooking, and I made bread. At school I have not been at all, almost ... I went two or three days because there was no one to babysit. Teachers came for us to take us to school mandatorily. But I was the biggest I had to feed them, wash them ...”[lxvi] Here, the big sister becomes responsible for the future of her brothers by engaging in conduct that can be framed in a breast model. Obviously, one of the factors likely to have encouraged the assumption of this role is the fact that the family model proliferates[lxvii] enjoys an important consideration for capital within the community. In addition, physiological explanations can lend it support[lxviii]. However, the socioeconomic factor emanates a significant influence on the allocation of responsibilities in the case of Roma women: “I remember that I was staying at home with three brothers, parents went to work. I had to take care of them; I went to school only occasionally. I woke up in the morning. The parents went to work, they worked at Spații Verzi[lxix], and I was preparing my brothers for school. In the afternoon I went to school at night I was cleaning and I was playing. The most important responsibility was to look after my brothers.”[lxx] or another example: “At 12, my parents went to Bucharest to look for work. I stayed with my brothers to look after them, to cook, to bake bread ... At school I was only two or three days. There was no one to carry about the younger”[lxxi]. In these situations, the maternal role was adopted well before the time of marriage. So the unmarried Roma woman, built their behaviour according to a maternal model in the context where, for financial reasons, both parents are absent from home for a rather significant period of time.

In other cases, although many determinants are similar, an alternative to this attitude can sometimes be considered. To be considered, in this sense, the following quotation: “They wanted that I did not go to school, but I did not agree and I managed to finish eight classes and went to school, then I got married.”[lxxii] A school career, then professional, was followed, although the family environment was hostile to some extent. Another example can be considered from the perspective of a highly constructive presence up in conflict with a powerful individual motivation and ability of the individual actor to do a brief analysis on the behaviour of parental authority hinged on such criteria “But I, continuing my studies, I did not have the same mentality. At home, the boys continue studies continue school, but girls do not continue, because they open their eyes, they see life differently. It is like closing in an incubator, they are told only yes or no.”[lxxiii] Here we also note a clear challenge to female educational model, a critique of the hierarchical logic on gender membership bases. The level of personal motivation is under the mode of articulation of the relationship between the choice of a school career and the pressures of parental authority to the adoption of a female model in line with a tradition enshrined in constant use by previous generations. In addition, as the book suggested several times, this model is not transmitted exclusively by maternal lineage, other presences can contribute to the creation of individual pathways, influencing the decisions of other social actors. Thus, a linkage of conservative forces on one side and the protesters on the other can lead to a deviation from the traditional educational model normatively: “When I was 12, my brother had finished high school or faculty, I do not know, he was older than me. Parents wanted me to get married at all costs. But there was my brother who was educated and instructed us all. He, like me, lived among the non-Roma, and we saw another mentality, another education, and I did not want to get married, I continued to go to school, my parents didn’t agree.”[lxxiv]

However, the transfer of educational elements to the new generation of women is not always realized in the logic of conflict and tension, as we can see a growing awareness in the sense that, since the change in the social context has started a process of adaptation to the contemporary situation, specifically the migration phenomenon and some growth in living standards as social agents perceive “for school, now we agree for their children, we agree to take them to school, they go to school where they are in Spain. Parents go to work, and children go to school, there's no one left with them. We, the old, we stayed here, but now there is no one who cares for them. This is fine. We, in our time, it was very poor at that time, it was not like today.”[lxxv] This shows that the standard has been renegotiated and that the socio-economic changes have prompted reconsideration of the relationship between education and breast model. Proof of indigenous faiths are a new generation, whose rhetoric has lost almost completely the reference to personal conflicts with the constraints imposed by the rigor of some traditional models of education than older generations take to be transmitted as such. The logic of female education may touch the point where it turns to rhetoric evoking a “disappearance” of tradition, a tradition that holds the past, which is no longer a mark, because the construction of female identities is now determined by the aspiration to economic independence, professional and intellectual, “My life is not pink, I chose to go to college to become a teacher in order to help my family, I do not have such a good material situation and I want progress much. I love children, I love spending time with them, help them, give them what I did not have at least encouragement. Those around me, they influenced me positively, as children, including Roma, have not all an easy material situation. I want to make myself heard, and it is difficult to get to do what we want. Yes (little conviction)... tradition can agree with the school, but it no longer complies with so much tradition.”[lxxvi] Another statement gets to the point where schooling is justified on moral foundations and obedience is not made in relation to a customary norm, but the articulation of a highly favorable female model to schooling: “I was and I will go to school. My parents encourage me to do it because, they say, this will be useful in life “[lxxvii].

All in all, the traditional female model knows no uniform articulation, different factors influence on its mode of transmission and negotiation. Schooling and marriage maternity pairs can sometimes generate tensions in the transmission of female model from one generation to another, and yet we can encounter situations where the two concepts are combined according to the presence of economic and social factors in a renegotiated female model.










The traditional female model of education among Roma is based not only on the basis of a sum of constant symbols, universally regarded as typical gender or ethnicity discussion. The Roma feminine ideal can slide around a strictly traditional model until the total renegotiation of behaviour, arriving at the point where tensions between maternal destiny and education or marital status between customary and individual motivation manage to come to end. The traditional model of education can be re-imagined in terms of academic and professional success, economic independence and personal freedom. The social actor has reinvented himself. “It is not just a body, but in some key sense, it makes the body differently than our contemporaries and those incorporated by our predecessors and successors as well.”[lxxviii]. It is always he who invents his membership in the community. This last idea is mentioned in a relevant way by the assertion of Mr. Gaudelier “There has never been a society based on blood ties, except in anthropology and sociology textbooks.”

The traditional female model, strictly related to the articulation of the Roma identity, is also subject to continual negotiation, which takes into account the overlap between multiple affiliations, it is appropriate to take into account or even to enhance positive social gains: “She [the woman] is concerned about the need to negotiate a connection link which contradictory positions based on gender [...] and ethnicity can meet and create positive social change. “The Roma female identity is a sum of gestures, attitudes, goals, positions and action capabilities that support the choice of behaviour based motivations and event contexts”[lxxix]. Thus, to understand it is advisable to make and remake the kind which involves the exercise of these games as a game, with inclusions and exclusions, multiple positions, complex rules, forms body activity, structures of feeling or pleasure, and the stakes of winning, losing or just playing. This also involves the question of how gender games themselves contrast, encircle or are flexibilised by the services of another game, because the genre is not, as they say, the only game to play[lxxx]. This process of deconstruction of the combination of gender and ethnicity forms the theoretical basis for the analysis of the traditional negotiation process.






ANDERSON, Benedict, Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and the Spread of Nationalism, Verso, London, 1991.

BĂLĂŞESCU, Alexandru, “Romii, construcție identitară”, Revista de cercetări sociale, Bucharest, 1997.

BEAUD, Stéphane and WEBER, Florence, Guide de l’enquęte de terrain, La Découverte, Paris, 2003.

BRUBAKER, Rogers, Ethnicity without Groups, Harvard University Press, London, 2006.

BUTLER, Judith, “Performative acts and Gender Construction: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory”, Theatre Journal, Vol. 40, No. 4, 1988.

DRIESSEN, Henk, “Debating Self, Identity and Culture in Anthropology”, Current Anthropology, Vol. 40, No. 4, 1999.

FLECK, Gabor and RUGHINIȘ Cosima (editors), Vino mai aproape. Incluziunea și excluziunea romilor in societatea românească de azi, Human Dynamics, Bucharest, 2008.

GELLNER, Ernst, “Thought and Change”, in ANDERSON, Benedict, Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and the Spread of Nationalism, Verso, London, 1991.

GIDDENS, Anthony, Sociologie, Bic All, Bucharest, 2000.

KRAUß, Joachim, “The Roma People in Romania” Thematic Series-Social Sciences in Eastern Europe, Vol. 2, 2009.

MIHĂILESCU, Vintilă, Antropologie: Cinci introduceri, Polirom, Bucharest, 2007.

ORTNER, Sherry B., Making Gender: The Politics and Erotics of Culture, Beacon Press, Boston, 1996.

PRZYBILOWICZ, Donna, HARTSOCK, Nancy and MCCALLUM, Pamela, “Introduction: The Construction of Gender and Modes of Social Division” Cultural Critique, No. 13, 1989.

PORTA, George, Contribuțiuni la istoricul țiganilor din România, Curtea Veche, Bucharest, 2001.

SHILS, Edouard, Tradition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2006.

TILLY, Charles, Citizenship, Identity and Social History, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996.

WEIRAUGH, Walter O., Gypsy Law: Romani Legal Traditions and Culture, University of California Press, Berkley, 2001.


Online Resources

Strategia guvernului României de îmbunătățire a situației romilor,, accessed 24th January 2015.

The Final Report on the Strategy for improving the situation of Roma in Romania,, accessed 24th January 2015.


Primary sources


Interviews with seven members of the kostorari roma community of Pitești.



[i]This paper is a result of a research made possible by the financial support of the Sectoral Operational Programme for Human Resources Development 2007-2013, co-financed by the European Social Fund, under the project POSDRU/159/1.5/S/132400 - “Young successful researchers – professional development in an international and interdisciplinary environment”.

[ii]Anthony GIDDENS, Sociologie, Bic All, Bucharest, 2000, p. 15.

[iii] Gabor FLECK and Cosima RUGHINIȘ (editors), Vino mai aproape. Incluziunea și excluziunea romilor in societatea românească de azi, Human Dynamics, Bucharest, 2008, p. 8.

[iv] Gabor FLECK and Cosima RUGHINIȘ (editors), Vino mai…cit., p. 9.

[v] Charles TILLY, Citizenship, Identity and Social History, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996, pp. 1-17.

[vi] Ibidem.

[vii]Alexandru BĂLĂȘESCU, Romii, construcție identitară, Revista de cercetări sociale, Bucharest, 1997, pp. 95-96.

[viii]Rogers BRUBAKER, Ethnicity without Groups, Harvard University Press, London, 2006, p. 37.

[ix] Ernst GELLNER, Thought and Change, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1978, p. 169.

[x] Benedict ANDERSON, Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and the Spread of Nationalism, Verso, London, 1991, p. 4.

[xi] Ibidem, p. 4.

[xii]The school has the highest percentage of Roma children in the city, 25% of all students.

[xiii] Vintilă MIHĂILESCU, Antropologie: Cinci introduceri, Polirom, Bucharest, 2007, p. 16.

[xiv]Donna PRZYBILOWICZ, Nancy HARTSOCK and Pamela MCCALLUM, “Introduction: The Construction of Gender and Modes of Social Division”, in Cultural Critique, No. 13, The Construction of Gender and Modes of Social Division, University of Minnesota Press, 1989, pp. 5-14.

[xv] Edouard SHILS, Tradition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2006, p. 200.

[xvi] Jacques DERRIDA, in an interview published in the context of the documentary “Derrida”, Kirby DICK and Amy ZIERING, 2000.

[xvii] Statement of Ioana Luta, from the Roma community chosen as respondent to the field work took place in April 2014 in Pitesti.

[xviii]Walter O. WEIRAUGH, Gypsy Law: Romani Legal Traditions and Culture, University of California Press, Berkley, 2001, p. 263.

[xix] Sherry B. ORTNER, “Gender Hegemonies. Framing Theory Empire”, Cultural Critique, 1989, p. 11.

[xx]Ibidem, p. 11.

[xxi]Donna PRZYBILOWICZ, Nancy HARTSOCK and Pamela MCCALLUM, “Introductioncit., p. 7.

[xxii] By this point, the author draws attention that if there is no congruence in the terms in which we try to crystallize a definition of identity, then we fall into the ridiculous, we enter that he considers “constructivism cliché”: Rogers Brubaker, Ethnicity without.cit., p. 42.

[xxiii]Henk DRIESSEN, “Debating Self, Identity and Culture in Anthropology”, Current Anthropology, Vol. 40, No. 4, 1999, pp. 431-432.

[xxiv] Ibidem, p. 215.

[xxv]Joachim KRAUß, “The Roma People in Romania”,  Thematic Series-Social Sciences in Eastern Europe, Vol. 2, 2009, p. 20.

[xxvi]George PORTA, Contribuțiuni la istoricul țiganilor din România, Curtea Veche, Bucharest, 2001, p. 85.

[xxvii]Brigitte MIHOC, Ethnostratifikation im Sozialismus, aufgezeigt an den Beispielländern Ungarn und Rumänien, Frankfurt/M, 1990 apud. Joachim KRAUß, “The Roma...cit., p. 23.

[xxviii], accessed 24 January 2015.

[xxix] The Final Report on the Strategy for improving the situation of Roma in Romania is available online at the following link, accessed January 24, 2015:

[xxx]The job of kostorar is to tin aluminium containers by physical and chemical processes.

[xxxi]Statistics Registry Argeş County.


[xxxiii]Gabor FLECK and Cosima RUGHINIȘ (editors), Vino mai…cit., p. 29.

[xxxiv]Stéphane BEAUD and Florence WEBER, Guide de l’enquête de terrain, La Découverte, Paris, 2003, p. 254.

[xxxv]More specifically the prohibition of socializing with the opposite gender.

[xxxvi]Roma female model assumes, often limitation of the access to the public space, women can access them in the company of their husbands.

[xxxvii]Interview conducted October 18, 2014, Pitesti, with Doina Pană, 52, provenante of Kaldarari Roma community. Locus of the investigation: the residence of the respondent, Dunării Street.

[xxxviii]Interview conducted October 19, 2014, Pitesti, with Floarea Mitu, 35, provenante of Kaldarari Roma community. Locus of the investigation: the residence of the respondent, Meşteşugari Street.



[xli]Interview conducted October 20, 2014, Pitesti, Ioana Soare, 32, provenante of kaldarari roma community. Locus of the investigation: the residence of the respondent, Dunării Street.

[xlii]A girl and a boy

[xliii]Interview with Ioana Soare, cited earlier.

[xliv]Interview conducted October 21, 2014, Pitesti, Ioana Luta, 43, provenante of kaldarari roma community.

[xlv]University of Bucharest

[xlvi]Interview with Ioana Luta, cited earlier.

[xlvii]In the sense of students.

[xlviii]Interview with Ioana Luta, cited earlier.

[xlix]Interview with Ioana Luta, cited earlier.

[l]Interview conducted October 22, 2014, Pitesti, with Mergean Lica, 15, from the Roma community of kaldarari. Place of the investigation: the headquarters of the Middle School no. 2 of Pitesti, where the respondent graduated.

[li]Interview conducted October 22, 2014, Pitesti, Daniela Tosun, 14, from the roma community of kaldarari. Place of the investigation: the headquarters of the Middle School no. 2 of Pitesti, where the respondent is was undertaking the 7th grade.

[lii]Interview with Ioana Luta, cited earlier.

[liii]Interview with Ioana Soare, cited earlier.

[liv]Interview with Doina Pana, cited earlier.

[lv]Interview with Ioana Luta, cited earlier.

[lvi]Interview with Ioana Luta, cited earlier.

[lvii]Interview with Ioana Luta, cited earlier.





[lxii]Interview with Floarea Mitu, cited earlier.

[lxiii]Interview with Ioana Luta, cited earlier.

[lxiv]Field note, 22 October 2014.

[lxv]Interview with Doina Pana, cited earlier.

[lxvi]Interview with Floarea Mitu, cited earlier.

[lxvii]The book evokes herein are cases where families had 8 children.

[lxviii]Statistical survey of NRA.

[lxix]Administrația Domeniului Public – Pitești, Serviciul Public de Amenajare și Întreținere a Spațiilor Verzi.

[lxx]Interview with Ioana Soare, cited earlier.

[lxxi]Interview with Floarea Mitu, cited earlier.


[lxxiii]Interview with Ioana Luta, cited earlier.


[lxxv]Interview with Doina Pană, cited earlier.

[lxxvi]Interview with Ioana Luta, cited earlier.

[lxxvii]Interview with Daniela, cited earlier.

[lxxviii]Judith BUTLER, “Performative acts and Gender Construction: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory”, Theatre Journal, Vol. 40, No. 4, 1988, p. 521.

[lxxix]Sherry B. ORTNER, “Gender Hegemonies.cit., p. 18.

[lxxx]Ibidem, p. 19.