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Rewriting Academia

The Development of the Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies of Continental Europe

Edited By Renate Haas

From a historical perspective, the full academic establishment of Women’s and Gender Studies is a radical and far-reaching innovation. Decisive impulses have come from the United States, the European unification and globalization. European Women’s and Gender Studies are therefore intimately linked to the English language and Anglophone cultures, as the near untranslatability of «gender» shows. In this volume 25 experts present surveys for their countries with a historical and European contextualization and offer fundamental insights not only for English Studies but also various other disciplines.
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Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies in Romania: Between Persistence and Resistance

Ana-Karina Schneider with Corina Selejan

Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies in Romania: Between Persistence and Resistance

1.  Introduction

They say we now live in a post-feminist world (Hawkesworth: online). Many women throughout the world, however, wonder when it was ever feminist, to begin with (see Miroiu in 2010a: 163). Though it may be tempting to think of gender as one of those categories whose theorisation has achieved its purpose, or has played itself out, and has now entered a ‘post-’ age, in fact it emerges with every new investigation that it remains contested on several levels. Much progress has been made in the western world in the direction of equality of chances and the abolition of gender discrimination, and much of it has to be retraced with every new generation. It has become customary to speak of feminist waves and backlashes, and by now we are said to be traversing a fourth wave (Cochrane: online), whereas in the 1980s Audre Lorde saw an early backlash in the fact that young women would choose to wear short skirts and high heels, only to rediscover how much they resented being objectified and snubbed for it, rather than accept the previous generation’s acquired wisdom (2003: 632). Conversely, in the mid-2000s, Susan Faludi noted with regret that there were no more backlashes (2006: ix). As with all fields of cultural criticism, the discourse of crisis is inherent in women’s and gender studies, and the reason is perhaps not quite as radical as a backlash. Rather, it resides in the constant and necessary redefinition and renegotiation of the aspects and markers of gender that are challenged at any given time, in any given place.

In Romania, the general opinion is that there is not a strong feminist movement,1 nor any need for one. The reasons are complex and they range ← 327 | 328 → from the deeply engrained patriarchal organisation of society and a sense that competition on the job market only adds to the many occupations and responsibilities in a woman’s life, to the language which allows for both gender-neutral and gendered expression at all the right points, and the legislation which provides for but does not enforce equality of opportunity for men and women. There is moreover an unshakeable sense that feminism is an alien importation, largely of Anglo-American extraction, one of the many empty foreign forms for which Romanian society has neither a solid cultural foundation nor any real socio-economic need. A women’s movement, however, has existed in the Romanian territories since the nineteenth century, and while much of the impetus came from women who had travelled or indeed were born abroad, it also blazed trails in directions that were virtually unknown in more advanced countries. The promoters of these movements were generally regarded with suspicion, their character questioned, their achievements diminished and ridiculed as mere caprice. Their work, nonetheless, continues unimpaired. Thus, in Romania it is not in terms of waves and backlashes that feminism and gender studies can be described, but rather of persistence and resistance.

2.  The National Context

The Romanian historical context of women’s movements has been widely studied after 1990 and a wealth of information and documentary evidence has been made available through the efforts of historians such as Ştefania Mihăilescu and Maria Bucur, the philosopher Mihaela Miroiu, sociologist Laura Grünberg, anthropologist Enikö Magyari-Vincze, Anglicists Mădălina Nicolaescu, Reghina Dascăl, Mihaela Mudure and many others. My survey in what follows is heavily reliant on their insights. In turn, theirs have been shaped by the discovery, after the fall of communism, of western – particularly American – feminist theories. Current scholarship on women’s movements in Romania therefore grapples with a number of difficulties resulting from this disjunction between an imported theoretical scaffolding and national historical circumstances that diverge very sharply from western evolutions. Miroiu foregrounds two such historical circumstances: Romania did not have an industrial revolution in the 19th century, and it did not have a second-wave feminist movement in the 1960s (2010b: ← 328 | 329 → 576–77). These two events – or rather, the lack thereof – determine the present state of things to such an extent as to render certain types of enquiry problematical. A further historical source of difficulty has to do with the fact that before 1918 Transylvania was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and therefore had a very different historical trajectory. Accounts of Romanian feminism tend to tiptoe around this aspect, including that province into the discussion only after the Unification of 1918, while studies of Transylvania are seldom comparative.

2.1  Glimpses from History

Modern historians tend to follow Nicolae Iorga in tracing the origins of women’s movements in Romania all the way back to the Middle Ages, when princesses repeatedly found themselves in a position to ensure their sons’ accession to the throne. This is of course a rhetorical device, a ploy for claiming legitimacy for the modern militants of women’s cause. Medieval women’s role in politics was at best ancillary, whether they were supporting their husbands and sons or being traded off to ensure alliances. Moreover, the political participation of women, such as it was, was limited strictly to the daughters and wives of princes, whereas the vast majority of Romanian women, regardless of social class, remained secluded in their gynaecea, ignorant, illiterate and superstitious, well into the 19th century. Transylvania was in this respect ahead of the other Romanian provinces: the first school for girls was established by the humanist Johannes Honterus in Braşov in 1544, and by the late 18th century co-ed schooling was promoted (Balica et al. 2004: 6). The earliest printed laws in Moldavia (1646) and Wallachia (1640, 1652) evince the legislators’ preoccupation with what constitutes the appropriate education for boys and girls and recommend that girls be educated at home by female teachers, chiefly in the foreign languages, grammar, rhetoric, literature and the domestic arts (Păun 2012: 58–60). Schools remained largely segregated throughout Romania’s early modernity: although Sunday schools and primary schools organised by the church often admitted boys and girls together, grammar schools, secondary and higher education were reserved for boys until the late 19th century. Two aspects of the early education systems in the three provinces are noteworthy for their longevity: the constant exchanges of teachers and pupils across the borders ← 329 | 330 → separating the Principalities, whether it was for the purpose of studying or teaching in Latin, Romanian or German; and the fact that, despite women’s generally limited access to education, noblewomen regularly contributed to funding schools (Păun 2012: 57–88).

As Romanian society remained largely untouched by industrialisation and urbanisation, women continued without legal rights well into the twentieth century. Although after the Russian occupation of Wallachia and Moldavia (1806–12) upper-class women became socially visible after the French fashion, their sphere remained the domestic, their rights and responsibilities strictly associated with that sphere. Nonetheless, as they were becoming educated, they were in a better position to plead for the education of middle- and lower-class girls as well. The first Romanian women’s association, established in Buda in 1815, was formed specifically in order to raise money for Christian Orthodox schools in Transylvania. By the mid-19th century, primary education was available for girls as well as boys even in rural areas throughout the Romanian territories, although it was much resisted by the parents.

Parental prejudice against education for girls persisted in rural communities well into the last century, long after primary education had become compulsory and free by law (1864 in the newly united Romania). The aristocracy, on the other hand, started sending their daughters to finishing schools abroad, particularly in France, whence they returned with reformative notions that contributed to modernising Romania at a time when national identity was gaining ground in the public consciousness. Their involvement usually took the form of charity work, which included providing education and employment for women of the lower classes – and in this Queen Elisabeth set a highly influential example towards the end of the 19th century – but also raising funds for field hospitals and caring for the wounded and the orphaned during the Balkan War of 1877–78. Particularly during the revolutionary period around 1848 and in its aftermath, women also participated by organising salons, writing correspondence, and generally becoming involved with – and opinionated on – Romania’s foreign relations and national policies. Nevertheless, even at its most liberal, the dominant discourse concerning women’s condition in Romanian society remained one that relegated them to the hearth and to maternity, though couched in a rhetoric that foregrounded the nobility of their role ← 330 | 331 → as moral educators (Miroiu 2010b: 577), as illustrated by public speeches given by King Carol I and Queen Elisabeth (qtd. in ‘Feminismul românesc’ n.d.: online), but also by many influential thinkers and politicians (qtd. in Miroiu 2010b: 577).

By the turn of the century women’s cause was gaining momentum and several publications were devoted to it. Although contributors to these publications belonged to the upper classes and were not exclusively women, the positions they voiced and the policies they recommended addressed the situation of women belonging to all social strata. As these titles suggest, women were quickly becoming aware of the distinctiveness of their experiences and of their rights, so that metaphorical titles such as Rândunica (The Swallow, a symbol of femininity) or Dochia (the name of the mythical sister or daughter of the Dacian king Decebalus, symbol of independence and virgin mother of the nation) were swiftly discarded in favour of the uncompromising Uniunea Femeilor Române (The Romanian Women’s Union), Viitorul Româncelor (The Romanian Women’s Future), Drepturile Femeii (Women’s Rights). Mihaela Miroiu follows historian Maria Bucur in ascribing this shift in feminist discourse, from the ‘paternalistic view, stressing responsibility’ to more ‘radical demands that were frequently shaped in the language of rights’, to the more widely spread atrophy of nationalist discourse after 1890 (2010b: 578–79). In Transylvania, on the contrary, around the turn of the century Romanian feminist discourse sidelined social and political emancipation in favour of nationalist ideals (Stiger qtd. in Macavei 2011–12: 118–19).

The rise of women’s movements in the Romanian Provinces thus coincides with the emergence of national identity. The significance of that early association of the Romanian women in Buda resides not merely in their proposed charity work, but in their declared purpose of supporting education for Romanian Orthodox children at a time when both the Romanian language and the Orthodox religion were actively discouraged by the Habsburg Empire under whose administration the Transylvanian Principality was. This preoccupation with education remained a constant of women’s organisations throughout the 19th century, as indicated by the stipulation of equal rights to education in the 1848 revolutionary manifesto of Wallachia. Although women’s associations remained local, their programmes transcended state borders: women throughout the provinces inhabited by ← 331 | 332 → Romanians pleaded for the unification of Moldavia and Wallachia in 1859, raised funds for the war effort in 1877–78, and voted for the unification of Transylvania with Romania in 1918. By the 1890s they were militating openly for universal suffrage and equal pay for equal work. In 1894 the first efforts were made to unify women’s organisations: the Liga Femeilor Române was established in Iaşi, and two years later it joined the International Women’s Union based in London. Miroiu explains that this new international dimension to women’s movements contributed to sidelining the nationalist agenda and foregrounding women’s rights (2010b: 579).

After the turn of the century, as well-to-do women discarded their corsets, they were abandoning more than the symbols of their leisurely lives: a measure of autonomy was becoming available to them through employment, and they used it to promote their rights. Serious public debate concerning enfranchisement of women in Romania began in 1918, as the Constituent Assemblies of the Romanians in Transylvania, the Banate, Bukovina and Bessarabia stipulated, in their Union resolutions, the equal right to universal, direct and secret vote for men and women. However, these provisions were opposed by Parliament. The ensuing public debates were often organised and supported by the Asociația pentru Emanciparea Civilă și Politică a Femeilor Române set up in Iaşi in the summer of 1918 (Mihăilescu 2002b: 6, Dimitriu 2013: online). The Asociația made a point of including refugee women from Transylvania, Bukovina and Bessarabia among its members, and after the Unification of 1 December 1918, it also established branches in several Transylvanian cities (Dimitriu 2013: online). This integrative tendency, also evinced by other women’s associations, gradually translated from the organisational to the discursive level. Thus, the Uniunea Femeilor Române, originally established in Transylvania but acquiring a national character after 1918, gradually subsumed its moderate discourse and charity work to a more clearly political programme; after 1929 it supplied the first female members of the Liberal and the National Peasant Parties, and proposed the introduction of the quota system of representation at party level in the 1930s (Petrescu 2007: 25). More radical in its discourse, the Consiliul Național al Femeilor Române, founded in Bucharest in 1921, became a party in its own right in 1929, thus aiming to represent the national female citizenry in Parliament (Petrescu 2007: 25). ← 332 | 333 →

The 1920s are widely regarded as the pinnacle of Romanian feminism, a decade when not only did feminism reach new heights in visibility and efficiency, but when women began to refer to themselves openly as feminists (Cărtărescu-Ilinca 2000: 44, Dimitriu 2013: online, Popescu n.d.: online). A number of reforms ensued, which permitted women to participate more actively in society and pursue occupations in public institutions, even at decision-making level. In 1929 women were allowed to vote in local elections, and the voting act of 1939 granted women over thirty the right to vote in Parliamentary elections. However, under the ensuing fascist dictatorship (1939–44), this right was not exercised. It was not until 1946 that the Romanian Constitution stipulated the equal right to vote for all individuals over eighteen, but under the communist dictatorship (1948–89) this was strictly a nominal right. Thus, Romanian women were not to vote in free elections until 1990 (Miroiu 2010b: 580).

Although still disenfranchised and dependent on male political support, interwar women became increasingly vocal and visible internationally, what with Queen Marie contributing to the negotiations of the Trianon Treaty (1919); Elena Văcărescu acting as substitute delegate and permanent delegate to the League of Nations (between 1922 and 1938) and later as a member of the Romanian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference at the end of World War II; and Alexandrina Cantacuzino playing a central role in organising the Mica Antantă a Femeilor (Little Entente of Women from East-Central Europe; 1923) and becoming vice-chairwoman of the International Council of Women (1925). The latter in particular, having contributed to setting up the Consiliul Național al Femeilor Române, later a division of the ICW, organised a conference of women’s associations belonging to the various minorities in 1925 (Mihăilescu 2002b: 9–10). She then presented its conclusions at the 1925 ICW congress in Washington, where she was hailed as ‘the first woman in Europe to be concerned with the minority’s [sic] question’ (qtd. in Mihăilescu 2002b: 12). Additionally, a number of literary and professional women, capitalising on their recently acquired social prestige, pleaded for full political participation (Miroiu 2010b: 579–80).

Just as their voices were beginning to be heard, however, Romania was effectively entering the darkest period in its history with the advent of the Second World War. The communist regime that subsequently seized power ← 333 | 334 → claimed to ensure equality of rights and opportunities for everyone but in effect it drastically limited political and civil rights. Women’s organisations were subsumed to the party’s Organizaţia Naţională de Femei, which neither represented nor served women’s interests, but enforced party policies top-down instead (Pasca-Harsanyi 1994: 46). Even a cursory investigation of Romanian communism will reveal that this is part of a pattern, whereby in theory the party promoted measures intended to improve women’s condition, whereas in practice it reinforced paternalist notions of women’s productive and reproductive function in society and increased state control over their bodies and minds. Thus, while the 1948 Constitution explicitly forbade gender discrimination, it did not criminalise it; while it also promised equal pay for equal work, it did nothing to encourage women to pursue careers in the fields traditionally associated with male labour and thus also with prestige and higher wages (Miroiu 2010b: 581–82). Moreover, although by the end of the regime 50% of primary and secondary school students and 47% of university students were female, as were over 47% of the workforce, they could seldom accede to the upper echelons of the professions (Miroiu 2010b: 582–83); to exemplify, the percentage of women preschool and primary school teachers was 100%, whereas at university level it was only 36% (Pasca-Harsanyi 1994: 43). Miroiu and others assign this discrepancy to the deep incompatibility between feminism and the ‘state patriarchy’ of communism (2010b: 580–81). It is for this reason that, although the party enforced a quota system that enabled women’s participation in party leadership to increase to almost 40%, neither did they accede to the top levels of decision-making – with only a few and subsequently demonised exceptions, such as Ana Pauker and Elena Ceauşescu – nor were they perceived as models of desirable professional or political success (Miroiu 2010b: 582, Pasca-Harsanyi 1994: 38, 45–46).

2.2  Women’s and Gender Studies in Romania

The history of institutionalised Women’s and Gender Studies in Romania is a very short one, beginning in the 1990s, after the downfall of communism. Before that time, not only did the regime seek to contain any demand for civil rights by subsuming it to its own allegedly egalitarian programme, but it also instilled suspicion of ‘bourgeois’ notions such as women’s rights as ← 334 | 335 → distinct from the proletariat’s rights. The achievements of the early feminists were effectively obliterated and current western influences were obstructed. Moreover, the disciplines that might have incorporated women’s studies, such as sociology and psychology, disappeared from the curriculum after 1977 and philosophy was reduced to logic, epistemology and the history of philosophy; needless to add, political science did not exist as an independent discipline, being studied only selectively at the special party schools (Miroiu 2009: 233). All this was consistent with the party’s educational ideal, according to which the ‘new human’ was genderless (Miroiu 2010b: 583).

Political science specialist Mihaela Miroiu, the founder of the first gender studies programme in Romania, recalls the sense of revelation she had upon discovering feminism during her research stints at universities in the United States of America and Great Britain in the early 1990s (2009: 234). Indeed, as scholars proceeded to embark on a thorough recuperative project, it was particularly Anglo-American feminism that they drew on. Miroiu notes that almost all the historians writing on women’s rights and gender issues had either studied abroad, chiefly in the U.S., or had become part of the Romanian diaspora – with the notable exception of Ştefania Mihăilescu (2010b: 586). She further acknowledges the ‘major support of our British and American colleagues’ in introducing the first classes on feminism in Romanian academia (1994–98) (2010b: 587). This affinity for Anglo-American feminism is culturally determined in ways that are no doubt more complex than the Romanian philosophy students’ preference for the analytical rather than the speculative traditions that Miroiu mentions (2009: 234); to a large extent, it confirms a compensatory tendency in the wake of the communist suspicion of all things capitalist (read, American). Additionally, Miroiu does not discount the importance of the very practical circumstance of the Soros Foundation’s generosity with its funds in the region, which enabled scholars to do research in the U.S. (2009: 234).

On the other hand, Miroiu confesses that, had her first contact been with gender studies rather than feminism, she would not have been equally enthusiastic about this field (2009: 236). Her explanation is again inflected by her professional training, foregrounding the lessons in critical thinking and in creatively embracing one’s womanhood, ‘constructed as it is’, that she derived from the ‘“grand maestras” of feminist theories’ (2009: 236–37). She also confesses elsewhere to the suspicion that gender studies ← 335 | 336 → has made women’s plight appear less serious, their demands less justified and even more tame by comparison with those of other sexual minorities (2010a: 158). Miroiu’s name remains associated with feminist philosophy, a discipline in which she was the first Romanian to pursue a doctoral degree (1994) and which she taught at the University of Bucharest between 1994 and 1998.

Nonetheless, the first study programme dedicated to gender studies in Romania was an MA at the Şcoala Naţională de Studii Politice şi Administrative (SNSPA) in Bucharest, set up by Miroiu in 1998. It was swiftly followed by one in Cluj-Napoca, coordinated by Enikö Magyari-Vincze at the Institute for Cultural Anthropology of Babeş-Bolyai University, in 2000, and another at the West University of Timişoara, set up by Reghina Dascăl in 2004. Miroiu notes with regret, however, that there was ‘too little collaboration between the universities’ (2010a: 160). Additionally, the Centre for Curricular Development and Gender Studies FILIA was set up by SNSPA graduates in Bucharest in 2000 ‘as an offspring of our Gender Studies programme’, as Miroiu puts it (2010a: 162). Its main activity was the production of curricula, syllabi and textbooks targeting ‘the advancement of gender studies, supporting the use of gender analyses in the study of society and culture, the integration of a gender dimension in public policies, militating for women’s rights and the enhancement of women’s participation in public life, for the elimination of women’s discrimination in the family, community or workplace’ (Dascăl 2012: 198).

Although feminist NGOs had been founded by academics in the 1990s – AnA in 1993, Gender in 1995 (both in Bucharest), and the Centre for Feminist Studies (Timişoara) in 1999, etc. – and although AnA had started publishing its bilingual journal of feminist studies, AnALize, in 1997, these study programmes had to contend with the lack of a culture of gender equality. For one thing, in the aftermath of communism there were no feminist texts translated into Romanian, and most of the local theoreticians and historians of feminism did not start publishing their research until after 2001 (Miroiu 2010b: 586). The study of feminism in Romania has thus been significantly inflected by this inherently asymmetric cultural transfer of ideas mostly from the Anglo-American thinking in the field to a very limited segment of the Romanian public. Furthermore, whatever discourse of the woman as fellow citizen had existed during the communist ← 336 | 337 → regime and in its immediate aftermath had in the meanwhile disappeared as Romania was rediscovering and embracing its pre-communist traditions and values. An unexamined mixture of nostalgia and conservatism, coupled with a revisionist fury to expunge and cleanse the smallest trace of communism from scholarship, public discourse and the very fabric of society, lead to reversing the little progress that had been made during the previous regime – such as for instance discontinuing state-subsidised day care for children – and reinstating interwar mentalities and attitudes that relegated women once again to the hearth, discouraging their participation in politics and their ambitions for independence.

Pioneer militants for the feminist cause such as Grünberg and Miroiu began to question their own work as early as 2000. Sociologist Laura Grünberg is keenly aware of the social context in which the feminism of the 1990s was received with much anti-feminist bias and suspicion, rather as an elitist fad or the result of the pre-adherence pressure of the E.U. than the answer to a deeply felt domestic need (Grünberg 2000b: 18). Miroiu, on the other hand, tends to conceptualise the reception of feminism in terms of cultural paradigms. By 2010 she was ready to admit that her generation of feminists, who had been so keen to immerse themselves in the postmodernism and philosophy of second-wave western feminism, had failed to grasp the obstacles raised by the divergent circumstances of a country which was still far from being a liberal democracy (2010b: 587). Like many other feminists, Grünberg and Miroiu have come to regret their early choice of an academic and civic agenda rather than a political one, in view of pre- and post-EU accession, recognising the widening gap between passing good laws and failing to enforce them. Their apprehensions are compounded by the fact that of the three interdisciplinary MA programmes in gender studies, only one has survived: the one coordinated by Miroiu, whose focus is chiefly on the relationship between gender studies and politics. They are further dispirited by the massive brain drain that has sent a large proportion of their graduates in search of brighter prospects, predictably, in the United States, Great Britain and other western countries (Miroiu 2009: 236).

Conversely, new classes in women’s and gender studies have been offered in BA and MA programmes in fields as diverse as history, art, political science, sociology, journalism, English and French (Văcărescu in Grünberg 2011: 170), in Bucharest and elsewhere. The research centres and institutes ← 337 | 338 → are still very much in place and continuing their invaluable work, often putting European funding to good use, as are the women’s organisations. Doctoral degrees are pursued in the field, particularly under Miroiu’s supervision, but by no means exclusively so. Their topics range from the history of Romanian feminism to feminist and gender theory, and from gender politics to empirical studies of the condition of women and minorities in Romania. Furthermore, new publications, both periodical and monographic, interrogate similar issues. It is worth mentioning, in this respect, that Gender Studies, the journal of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Gender Studies in Timişoara, has been published without interruption since 2002, and AnALize resumed publication last year. Moreover, two publishing houses, Desire in Cluj and Polirom in Iaşi, have devoted book series to women’s and gender studies (Miroiu 2010a: 161). Miroiu notes that ‘other publishing houses do publish translations, but few Romanian original works, perpetuating the idea that feminism and gender topics are imports without internal grounding’ (2010a: 167, n20). Nevertheless, such original works are written and they are becoming increasingly visible, both nationally and internationally; they are, moreover, developing a much-needed comparative dimension (Grünberg 2010: 7). Significant institutional progress has thus been made, albeit without much institutional support (Văcărescu in Grünberg 2011: 169).

3.  Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies in Romania

While the evolution of feminism in Romania is by now well documented, that of Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies is not. That is not to say that the field does not exist: research projects, monographs, studies and doctoral dissertations testify to the contrary. Moreover, some of the most active feminists already mentioned, particularly Mădălina Nicolaescu and Reghina Dascăl, are Anglicists. However, there do not seem to be many study programmes or lecture courses offered by English Studies departments which focus specifically on this field. In order to get a sense of the extent to which women’s and gender studies are taught and internalised in BA- and MA-level ES programmes, we have devised a brief questionnaire, in which we have encouraged MA students from four Romanian Universities (Bucharest, Constanţa, Sibiu, Timişoara) to share their knowledge ← 338 | 339 → of the field. 36 students responded (34 women, 2 men), some of whom had obtained their BA degrees at other universities than the ones where they were pursuing their MAs. The responses thus cover a broader range of universities than is suggested by the current affiliation of the respondents. Although 41.7% of them answered ‘Yes’ to the question whether they had taken women’s or gender studies classes at BA level, there does not seem to be a perfect correspondence between the university where they obtained their degree and their answer. This may suggest either that those classes were electives, or that not all students thought of them as such at the time they were taking them (e.g., a lecture course may have been offered as a survey of the English novel, and although the approach was feminist, the students may not have thought of it in such terms). At MA level the situation seems to be rather more straightforward, with students from Sibiu, Constanţa and Timişoara almost invariably checking ‘Yes’ and totalling 63.9% of responses, and with students from Bucharest giving particularly articulate, cogent answers. To the question, ‘Do you think there should be such separate modules?’, 80.6% of respondents replied ‘Yes’, and to ‘Do you think Women’s Studies can yield relevant knowledge?’, 97.2% said ‘Yes’. We take these responses to be relevant and representative of the student population enrolled in English and American Studies programmes in Romania and we will refer to further findings of our study in what follows.

3.1  Institutionalisation

As has been seen, it is impossible to dissociate the Anglo-American feminist tradition from women’s and gender studies in post-communist Romania: it might be said that women’s and gender studies programmes and lecture courses in various fields have shared the task of popularising and acclimatising the theories and empirical findings of Anglo-American feminist and gender studies. It is significant in this respect that of the three early MA programmes in gender studies, one was offered by an English Department, the one in Timişoara, and that the two main feminist scholarly journals, AnALize and Gender Studies, are published in English. Although there is relatively little collaboration between Anglicists and feminists belonging to other fields in terms of common teaching and research projects, the two ← 339 | 340 → disciplines have developed in parallel, sharing the same theoretical resources and sources of inspiration.

As is the case in most East-European countries, English Studies in Romania is a relatively new discipline, emerging during the first half of the 20th century. Interest in British culture had existed in Romania since the 19th century, as witnessed by writers (see Dorobăţ in Gupta / Schneider 2010: 12, Gavriliu et al. in Engler / Haas 2000: 236–41) and scholars such as Nicolae Iorga, Bogdan Petriceicu-Haşdeu and George Călinescu (Irimia in Gupta / Schneider: 33–34), and was no doubt fostered by the fact that at the turn of the century Romania had a Crown Princess of English extraction: the future Queen Marie, born Princess Marie of Edinburgh, was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Translations from English literature into Greek, French and German circulated throughout the 19th century and were gradually rendered into Romanian in turn. Translations from the original however were not made on a regular basis until the 20th century, and even then they were often the work of erudite amateurs with a vast knowledge of foreign languages, such as Henriette Yvonne Stahl, or, sometimes, of established Romanian writers with scant knowledge of English who worked in tandem with Anglicists providing cribs. These translations included the works of women writers, particularly the Brontës, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Pearl Buck, and later on Edith Wharton, Agatha Christie, Iris Murdoch etc. Interest in American culture was to flourish after the First World War but its literature was already read and discussed in the literary press by then. However, the criticism that accompanied these translations during the first half of the 20th century, typically written by male critics, tended to be either condescending or openly dismissive, often focusing on the authors’ biographies and foregrounding the sensational aspects, or describing the novels as productions of a minor female sensibility and ascribing them either to the genre of domestic realism or to romance. There is, nonetheless, an awareness permeating this criticism that the fiction of these women novelists is highly representative of both Victorian and post-Victorian England (Sebastian 1935: 174, Constantinescu 1945: 706), and of the American high life (Holban 1908: 259–62). This inquisitiveness concerning correlations between literature and culture fuelled the creation of English departments in Romania. ← 340 | 341 →

The first English departments were set up by pioneering scholars Ion Botez, Dumitru Chiţoran, Petre Grimm, Dragoş Protopopescu, Ana Cartianu, John Burbank and a few others, at the universities of Iaşi (1917), Cluj-Napoca (1921) and Bucharest (1936). Previously, English had been mostly a language to be taught at university level to diplomatic aspirants, although it had been sporadically taught in secondary schools since the late 18th century (Gavriliu et al. in Engler / Haas 2000: 244–45). The English departments however did not cater primarily to diplomats; rather, from the beginning they trained teachers and translators. With the advent of communism the departments in Iaşi and Cluj were closed down in 1948 and 1950, respectively, only to be reopened a few years later (Cluj in 1956, Iaşi in 1963) and accompanied by others (Timişoara in 1964, Sibiu in 1969 etc.), as the Ministry of Education was forced by international circumstances to admit the usefulness of the study of foreign languages and the need for teachers (Gavriliu et al. in Engler / Haas 2000: 247–48). By the late 1960s, doctoral programmes were set up in the fields of Anglo-American literature and linguistics, and by the early 1970s, English became one of the foreign languages offered in primary schools and non-philological academic programmes (Gavriliu et al. in Engler / Haas 2000: 249).

In the early decades both the professors and the students were predominantly male, but that changed after the Second World War; by now women represent more than 70%2 of the students and almost as much of the professorial body. However, to this day the ‘golden generation’ of Anglicists is considered to be that of Mihail Bogdan, Leon Leviţchi, Dan Duţescu, Virgiliu Ştefănescu-Drăgăneşti, Ioan Aurel Preda, Andrei Bantaş etc. (Irimia in Gupta / Schneider 2010: 35–36, Gavriliu et al. in Engler / Haas 2000: 249) – an all-male constellation that in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s brought about the full professionalisation of the discipline as well as of literary translation. Although some were literature specialists, their contribution to the field of applied linguistics was invaluable: they wrote textbooks, handbooks and bilingual dictionaries which are still in use. Many of them ← 341 | 342 → were also prolific and brilliant translators, and Leviţchi’s 1974 handbook has influenced all subsequent generations of translators. Their achievement was the more significant for continuing at a time when the regime was cutting and discouraging English programmes throughout the country as part of its policy of training the ‘new man’.

Little has been said about the women who have contributed to the prestige of English studies. Early on, Ana Cartianu, one of the founders of the English Department at the University of Bucharest in 1936 and a much loved, highly respected professor of Anglo-American literature, spent her long career consolidating that department. Additionally, she worked as a translator and an author of groundbreaking course books and anthologies for didactic use. Another pioneer was Alice Bădescu, whose 1935 English grammar, revised and expanded throughout her career, is still in use. Edith Iarovici, an outstanding linguist, wrote on the history of the English language and contrastive linguistics in the 1960s and early 1970s. Ileana Galea of Cluj University left her imprint on literary studies, writing prolifically on Victorian and 20th-century English literature in the literary press of the 1980s, alongside her collaborative writing of textbooks and exercise books. She was moreover one of the earliest Romanian Anglicists to write on feminism in one of the prestigious literary journals in Cluj in 1994. The first Romanian handbook on English teaching methodology was also the collaborative work of a woman, Semlyen Eva, with David Filimon (1973), and was not followed by another until 1995, when the Cluj linguist Ecaterina Popa put together a handbook and engaged on a collaborative national study of the teaching of foreign languages in Romania (1997). What must be understood about these early professors, as about their male counterparts, is that they perceived their profession and their vocation to be teaching, rather than research or writing. This explains the overwhelming proportion of textbooks in their published output, and perhaps also their lack of visibility outside the Romanian borders. Their indelible contribution to English Studies consisted not only in setting very high professional standards for their followers, but also in that, although rarely attaining to decision-making positions, they instilled in their students great respect for the profession and for the life-enhancing knowledge it produces.

Meanwhile, as literary translation became professionalised in the 1960s, an ever wider diversity of fiction was published, including new translations ← 342 | 343 → from the novelists already mentioned, but also the novels of contemporary women writers such as Margaret Drabble, Margaret Atwood and Doris Lessing, as well as the late 18th-century gothics and romances of Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth and Ann Radcliffe. A few female translators contributed crucially in this respect, particularly Frida Papadache, Antoaneta Ralian and Felicia Antip. Literary criticism, too, had a far more professional feel to it after the 1960s, appropriating much of the methodology and terminology of various formalisms, though not of feminism. These were outcomes of a general ideological thaw (1964–71), which allowed many Anglicists to study or do research in the United States, for instance. The thaw however was short-lived, and by 1977 it was followed by a period of almost impermeable political isolationism, when Romanian culture, paradoxically, went through what is widely recognised as the most effervescent and original period in its history, the postmodern 1980s. Interest shifted almost exclusively to contemporary American poetry and fiction, mostly by male authors, from whom our young writers took inspiration. Thus, much-loved British women novelists whose works had been regularly re-issued and even re-translated before, such as Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë, were sidelined during the 1980s, although Woolf, Murdoch and Wharton seem to have kept their hold on the readers’ and the critics’ imagination.

3.2  Main Lines of Development in Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies

Although by 1990 women Anglicists had gained recognition as established and highly respected scholars, and it had become clear that the literature of women writers such as Iris Murdoch could hardly be looked down upon as sentimental effusion or romance, feminism was as alien to English Studies as it was to any other discipline. As in the case of sociologists and philosophers, feminism was a discovery of the early 1990s, when Anglicists could travel to western libraries and universities and gain access to works that had been banned during the communist regime. Additionally, it was an importation of institutions such as the Soros Foundation, the Fulbright Commission and the British Council, as well as of western – chiefly American – universities which organised seminars for English teachers and endowed ← 343 | 344 → university libraries with the latest studies in culture and civilisation. Once this discovery was made, Anglicists could easily include feminist ideas and even modules in their teaching, relying on their students’ proficiency in English and thus not having to wait for translations and original work in Romanian. As Dascăl points out, they had the additional advantage of being called upon to modernise the curriculum, repeatedly in the 1990s and then again with the implementation of the Bologna Process (2004), so they could easily make room for such classes (2012: 199). More recently, the prospect of EU accession, and then the integration itself, have contributed to creating a propitious socio-political context for such additions to the curriculum.

Against this background, lecture courses in feminism and gender studies began to be offered by the English departments of several universities: Bucharest, Cluj, Timişoara, Târgu Mureş, Constanţa, Galaţi, Sibiu, i.e. 7 out of 30 universities offering philology study programmes. As has been seen, the bravest of these departments, the one in Timişoara, set up one of the three MA programmes in the country through its Interdisciplinary Centre for Gender Studies (2004). However, with the exception of the SNSPA one, MA programmes in gender studies have so far not fared well in Romania, and moreover Romanian universities have been reluctant to join in the transnational European programmes MATILDA, the European MA programme in Gender and Women’s History, and ATHENA: the European Network for Gender Studies, although they have profited from their experience, participated in their conferences and contributed to their databases.

Outside the institutional confines of dedicated study programmes, women’s and gender studies flourish in Romania. To illustrate, of 52 doctoral dissertations in English and American Studies defended at Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu between 1995 and 2011, 44 of the candidates were women and 9 dissertations were devoted exclusively to female writers between 2003 and 2011. Incidentally, and laudably, the doctoral supervisor of the women’s studies theses was a man. The dissertations focused on the works of 20th-century women writers, three of them dealing with Iris Murdoch’s novels and another three approaching two novelists comparatively, of whom in two cases one was Romanian. These dissertations frequently included chapters on feminism or women’s condition as portrayed in the novels they dealt with, evincing not only a thorough understanding of the writers’ preoccupation with the distinct experiences of women of various ← 344 | 345 → classes and ethnic backgrounds, but also of recent critical theory and methodology. I have no doubt that many of these scholars have since found ways of working their expertise into their teaching and further research.

There is evidence, both in such doctoral studies and in recent publications, that the earlier tendency of applying Anglo-American feminist theory to Anglo-American texts is gradually giving way to comparative analyses and to the more inclusive women’s and gender studies approaches. This shift is opening up new directions, both critical and theoretical, for Romanian Anglicists and prevents their work from being derivative and ultimately redundant. At the same time, scholars have been quick to incorporate into their work the latest western dimensions of the study of gender, such as the by-now customary postcolonial and post-communist theories and cultural studies, but also the more recent ecocriticism, age studies, trauma studies, an interest in life writing, and so on. Furthermore, the very definition of literature has become diversified under the impact of poststructuralist theory. This diversification is best instantiated by the fact that, after 1989, while staples of our publishing houses’ literature in translation, such as Austen, Brontë, Woolf et al., made a strong comeback, they were joined by unlikely companions such as Sandra Brown (with 52 titles published in Romanian translation between 1993–2007) and Barbara Cartland (with 31 titles between 1994–96), to name only the two most striking instances of the popularity of romance, alongside a wide range of previously un-translated award-winning women novelists, from Nadine Gordimer, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers and Angela Carter, to the more recent Amy Tan, Kiran Desai, Jhumpa Lahiri, Zadie Smith or Monica Ali, to name but a few (UNESCO: online). As a result, critical attention has been given to genre literature as well as texts in other media, most frequently film and television.

More practically, the specialists at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Timişoara have produced anthologies for the classroom, in addition to continuing to publish its scholarly journal, Gender Studies, and organising conferences and events. Anglicists have also set hard to work on translating the most seminal texts of Anglo-American feminist and gender studies theory, thus contributing crucially to widening access to these texts. Romanian publishing houses are currently making a very laudable effort to keep up with the latest western publications, in fiction in particular, although ← 345 | 346 → they are slower to commission what remains niche fare, such as theory and criticism in the field of women’s and gender studies. Significant work is thus being done, and its impact is evidenced by the fact that students are becoming increasingly cognisant of feminist and gender theories, versatile with their terminologies, and suspicious of stereotypes,3 as revealed by our questionnaire.

Within English departments, the main proponents of such studies, in print and institutionally, have become household names: Mădălina Nicolaescu, Reghina Dascăl, Adina Ciugureanu, Michaela Praisler, Mihaela Mudure, Smaranda Ştefanovici, to name only those who have conducted internationally funded and internationally visible research. It is by no means a coincidence that these are well-respected Anglicists, whose merits have received institutional recognition, whether by attaining to full professorship or by chairing departments, research centres or schools. They are also part of a generation of high-power female academics who have risen through the ranks by helping subjects such as Shakespeare studies, postmodernism, imagology, translation studies, American studies, etc., out of the textbook and into the public domain. The particular appeal of women’s and gender studies in the context of English and cultural studies has resided in the recognition ‘of the many seminal intersection points of feminist, postcolonial and postmodern discourses, as all these share in common the problem of speaking as Other, of representing the self as Other to various dominant discourses’ (Dascăl 2012: 199). In other words, feminism and gender studies participate in and shed light on broader concerns – cultural identity being not the least among them – that women everywhere are faced with and which the English Studies specialist is particularly aware of. These intersections have indicated to Anglicists, as well as to women’s and gender studies specialists in other fields, that the integrated, mainstreaming approach may be the necessary next step – and in acknowledging the political, ethical, sociological and epistemological pros and cons of suggesting this, ← 346 | 347 → Dascăl (2012: 200) follows Miroiu and Grünberg (Miroiu in Grünberg 2011: 229–38).

4.  Conclusions and New Perspectives

Miroiu concludes one of her recent articles by ironically pointing out that we are currently in lockstep with western countries, in that, in Eastern European countries, too, there is a strong backlash against feminism. However, she warns:

the crucial difference lies in the context: many of the acquisitions of political feminisms have become generally accepted in the world of consolidated democracies. They are facts of life. In Eastern Europe, however, this is still something to be hoped for in the distant future. One lesson that must be learned is that neither liberalism, nor social democracy, nor (even less) communism provide sufficient conditions for gender justice. The depoliticization of the feminist agenda, which is now an insidious phenomenon in advanced democracies as well, is dangerous: it lets women get carried away by the mainstream agenda without also being able to determine policy in accordance with their ideas and interests; it encourages new democracies to deal with gender problems as footnotes to the political agenda; it releases conservative governments from pressures especially because gender fairness remains, to these governments, the unacceptable change. (2010b: 589)

It would be hard to see why Miroiu, or Dascăl (2012: 205), should think about the current situation in Romania as a backlash against feminism. A backlash, according to Faludi, is an exacerbation of the ‘fear and loathing of feminism [that] is a sort of perpetual viral condition’; it is thus distinct from the ‘bedrock of misogyny’ still characterising most western societies. It flares up when feminism is perceived to have made long strides, as an insidious attempt ‘to retract the handful of small and hard-won victories that the feminist movement did manage to win for women’, and it acts by ‘stir[ring] women’s private anxieties and break[ing] their political wills’ (Faludi 2006: 9–11). A backlash would imply that there was a time when feminist values were accepted and when feminism itself was held in some public regard. There has never been such a time in Romania: the cause of women and sexual minorities has always been marginalised and disparaged, its supporters openly reviled. That it has survived this treatment is the merit of small groups of devoted women who have persisted in speaking and writing about the need for feminism and gender studies in spite of the circumstances. ← 347 | 348 →

Nonetheless, Miroiu’s point is well taken: there are clear and considerable dangers to depoliticising the feminist agenda, and Romanian experience bears testimony to them. The fact that the academic activity of NGOs and MA programmes was not quite as influential as had been expected has taught Romanian feminists a few useful lessons, which moreover seem to be confirmed by national and international empirical studies (Balica et al. 2004, Dascal et al. 2013, EACEA 2010, Sedghi 2013, etc.). Like most EU countries, Romanian legislation includes gender equality policies;4 however, it does not include channels for the external monitoring of their implementation. In many cases, gender mainstreaming therefore remains present only at the level of policy rhetoric, where indeed it stipulates ‘the (re)organisation, improvement, development and evaluation of policy processes, to ensure that a gender equality perspective is incorporated at all levels and stages of all policies by those normally involved in policy making’, as prescribed by the Council of Europe in 2007 (qtd. in EACEA 2010: 53). Consequently, as the EACEA pointed out in 2010, although ‘the goal of enhancing the representation of women in decision-making bodies or of obtaining a gender balance in education management is part of [Romania’s] national strateg[y]’, concrete measures are yet to be implemented (52).

Moreover, ‘while education acts aim to ensure equal access to and equal treatment within education for all pupils [irrespective of gender], they do not include specific provisions on the role of education in counteracting existing inequalities in wider society’ (EACEA 2010: 47). Indeed, according to EACEA, Romanian girls score higher in international surveys such as PISA and TIMSS, even in subjects which in many countries are dominated by boys, such as mathematics and science (2010: 36–37); furthermore, the proportion of women enrolled in tertiary education has been steadily increasing since 1998, so that by 2010 it was over 60%, and the percentage of women pursuing a doctoral degree now is 50% or higher (2010: 102). Moreover, according to the latest Eurostat data, the percentages of women ← 348 | 349 → in the Government Sector and research, women academics, and even women academics in grade A positions in Romania are higher than the European averages, and typically higher in the humanities and the health sector than in other fields (European Commission 2013). However, empirical surveys also indicate that it is easier for a woman to lose a job and harder to find another than it is for a man, and that even women with higher education degrees find it difficult to convince employers to allow them to be creative or innovative in the workplace or to promote them to senior positions, and no less so in the state sector than the private one (Dascăl et al. 2013).

To conclude, although in Romania ‘[p]edagogical supervision focusing on the production of gender-sensitive teaching material is currently the subject of national action plans’ and ‘guidelines on gender awareness for school book authors’ have been elaborated (2010: 66), ‘addressing gender issues is not an explicit aim of the curriculum’, EACEA finds (2010: 58). In other words, Romania’s figures and laws look good, by and large; yet Romania is not one of the ‘women friendly’ countries, nor is its culture amenable to gender issues. Education is only one of the areas in which gender issues are still inadequately addressed, but as the feminists of the 19th century rightly intuited, it is fundamental. Mentalities are beginning to change, as evidenced by the responses to our questionnaire, and they are changing faster in the more cosmopolitan major cities than in the comparatively conservative ‘provincial’ towns and rural areas. They are also changing faster in the places where young people have been exposed to gender studies than in the ones where more traditional approaches to literature and culture are still in place. Yet anti-feminist sentiment is still so widespread in Romanian society that any attempt to eradicate it must start with grass-roots activities such as creating gender-sensitive textbooks for all levels of education and promoting gender awareness and a ‘politics of difference’ as part of Romania’s legislation (Miroiu in Grünberg 2011: 238). Ever attuned to current socio-political realities, Romanian feminists and gender studies specialists have already set to work on gender mainstreaming and developing gender-inclusive curricula for higher education (Grünberg 2011) as well as primary and secondary education (Miroiu 2010a: 162–63). Furthermore, their recuperative studies have rendered visible the work of 19th- and 20th-century women writers and activists, Romanian and Anglo-American, thus enabling young women to derive a sense of belonging to a ← 349 | 350 → like-minded global community. Where gender studies has failed, it is hoped that ‘gender IN studies’ – as Grünberg puts it in the title to one of the books she has edited recently – will succeed.


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1 This is perhaps the most significant result that emerges from the responses to a questionnaire we have devised for this project and which will be discussed in some detail in subchapter 3.

2 No statistical data is available for English Studies in this respect. This percentage has been arrived at by comparing the percentage of women students enrolled in the English Philology programme in Sibiu with the available data for private higher education programmes over the past decade or so.

3 When asked to account for the fact that the humanities were dominated by women, 38.9% of respondents mentioned the constructedness of labour division, and when asked to comment on the stereotypical statement according to which Romanian women were beautiful, 57.6% of respondents were critical of the stereotype.

4 As an example, the 2011 Law of Education stipulates that no form of discrimination is acceptable in the Romanian education system, except affirmative action within the limits of the law. Few of the statutory documents of Romanian universities echo this proviso for affirmative action (LBUS does).