An Occurrence in Bucharest, Romania
Editor’s Note: This story was transcribed and translated from Romanian by the woman’s daughter. The mom’s story is the text outside of the brackets and the daughter’s comments are in brackets.
In Bucharest, Romania, Boulevard 6 Martie had a large portion in which many movie theaters were close together. Trolleys passed through the center, and it was very busy. [This was about 40 years ago during the Communist era.]
I was wearing high heels and carrying a very large, elegant purse in my hand. I was walking along, very proud of my appearance, my youth, and the way my long legs looked in their attractive black patent leather heels. A dark-skinned male gypsy [Rom] appeared close by at a crosswalk, and suddenly grabbed one of my breasts and squeezed it so hard I saw stars of pain. I screamed at the top of my lungs and began running after him, beating him in the head with my large purse, swearing and yelling at him.
People were laughing, because they knew he must have done something to me, but nobody helped or got involved. At some point I kicked off my heels because it would be easier to run after him that way. At the time, shoes were extremely expensive and hard to find, and I was sure I would have lost them forever. However, a nice elderly gentleman gathered them up and brought them to me and I thanked him from my heart.
[The fact that the man is a Rom is significant, and I left that in because it shows a few important things. First, if he had been a white Romanian man, people might not have been so tolerant of my mom running after him and beating him. I can’t know this for sure, but most people have a bias toward a “respectable” appearance and have a harder time believing those people did anything wrong.
Second, in Romania, anti-Rom discrimination is among the worst in Europe and is still ongoing. When a group of people are oppressed, sometimes men in that group try hard to live up to some standard of masculinity and spread the oppression around to make themselves feel less helpless and emasculated. It’s part of a huge messy culture where people can both be victims and oppressors. In this case, my mom was a victim, and one who had every right to fight back and defend herself. However, I can’t help but think how people might have reacted if she was a Rom, and her harasser was white, and if she would even feel like it was ok to defend herself at all then.
My mom feels some shame because she used violence and swore at him. I told her she was entirely justified and that men are responsible for their own actions, so if they assault her, they have to deal with the consequences. I think a lot of the shame is due to feeling that fighting and swearing is somehow immoral or low when women do it.]
Location: Bucharest, Romania