It's normal in Moldova

When I arrived in Chişinău, I was naturally terrified by the state of the roads
and the recklessness of the taxi driver as well as being amazed at the state of
the many buildings that had been left to rot and the so-called 'green spaces'
that had gone a pale shade of yellow from the dry heat. I remember the taxi
driver asking me how far behind I thought Moldova was compared to the UK. My
British politeness (and foreigner's fear) caused me to lie and say "Oh, not too
far... maybe 10 years!" but as the days turned into weeks and weeks turned into
months I found myself realising that saying Moldova was 10 years behind Britain
was an understatement: try 40 years.

Allow me to explain. I'm from a country that is regarded as 'tolerant'. Until
recently, I took this observation for granted: the fact that being gay isn't an
issue; the belief that women have every right to want to have a career before
having a family or not having a family at all; the declining importance of
marriage; the rising emphasis on individuality... I took all of this for
granted until I came here. I had no idea that being a left-wing, liberal,
atheist, bisexual, ambitious feminist was regarded as something of an
abnormality here as I was so used to not really being noticed in my home town
of Edinburgh.

Being here in Chişinău made me notice how very different I am to the average
Moldovan. This observation became glaringly obvious when I spotted the women.
Tight, revealing clothes and sky-high heels paired with thick, colourful layers
of make-up and painfully straight hair. I was reminded of the girls back home
that dress in such a fashion when they go out clubbing; the goal to be spotted
by men and possibly have a casual fling. I wondered if the women dressed in
such a fashion for similar reasons – I was right. Every day I saw girls my age
getting married, groups of girls smiling suggestively at groups of men, couples
holding each other tightly... well, the woman would always hold her man close,
the man always held her fairly loosely or groped her publicly. The men, I
noticed, didn't make half as much of an effort as the women. I got the feeling
in my first week that the Moldovan society was somewhat chauvinistic. I
speculated as to why that might be and it was then that I noticed the many
churches in the city as well as the amount of people blessing themselves as
they passed a church. I saw that the Orthodox Church had a heavy influence on
society and, given my previous experiences with the Greek Orthodox faith, I
thought that this might be the reason for such an unequal society.

As a British citizen, such an environment is totally alien to me. In the UK, a
mere 30% of the population practice a religion, the average age for marriage is
28 (and the rates are declining) and men and women make roughly the same effort
with their appearances. Admittedly, men and women are still not equal
(trans*gender people even less so) but the inequality is so very subtle
compared to the gender inequality in Moldova. As for the belief in the church,
British people do not go to church on a regular basis anymore and celebrations
such as Christmas and Easter have been transformed beyond all recognition by
commercialisation. One could argue that this lack of belief is part of the
reason for Britain's individualistic style and when one looks at the
collectivist, God-fearing culture that is present in Moldova it seems like a
fairly reasonable assumption to make. However, whenever someone is openly
racist or homophobic in public in the UK, they are quickly shouted down, their
opinions discredited, with all of society uniting against the troublemaker. One
wonders if British citizens, while individualistic, tend to unite as one
against anything or anyone that would dare try to deny anybody happiness. If
this is true, why can't Moldovans extend the same courtesy to their fellow man
or woman?

I speak now of the prejudice I have endured whilst living here. I do not
openly speak of my bisexuality, except for when I'm in Western European or
American company, and I generally do not speak about when I will start a family
or whether or not I'm seeing somebody because, in my mind, that's nobody's
business but my own. However, I tend to get the same questions from elder
"Do you live with your mother here?"
"Do you have a boyfriend?"
"Why do you dress less feminine?"

That last one amuses me somewhat as it is so very polite that it reminds me of
how people avoid such tricky questions back home. But the assumption from
Moldovans – mostly female – that I am a young girl looking to get married soon,
a young girl that is so very close to her mother, is bizarre to me. It also
puts me in an awkward position as I am not sure how to explain that I have no
desire to marry and that, while I do love my mother, we don't really
communicate very well and we haven't lived together in four years. When I try
to explain that I do not want to marry, merely settle down with someone and for
us both to have good careers and 2 or 3 children, I always get the same puzzled
look. Followed by, "But don't you want to be happy?" This I take exception to.
I reject the idea that a woman is not complete until she has a husband to cook
for and to protect her. I reject the whole institution of marriage as it was
originally the way in which a woman was kept as a slave before it changed into
something religious that promised her eternity in Hell if she did not obey her
husband. I'd rather co-habit, keep separate bank accounts, and focus on the
both of us providing for our offspring. Surely taking good care of one's
children is more important than a sheet of paper and a ring? Besides, I'm happy
now: exploring Eastern Europe; making new friends everywhere I go; tasting
different cuisines... how can anybody assume that I'm unhappy just because I
want to do things in a fashion totally different to theirs?

However, I become very unhappy when I'm openly challenged by locals. A group
of young men in my neighbourhood recently threw things in my direction because
they thought I was a lesbian – apparently, my nose ring and masculine dress
sense intimidated the weak-minded little boys. They've since changed their
reasons for harassing me, having noticed that I speak English instead of
Russian or Romanian, but trying to insult me in a language that isn't their own
really doesn't pack a punch especially when one gets the impression that they
have no idea what they're saying and are merely mimicking what they might have
once seen in a Hollywood film or a sitcom. "Kiss my... uh... ass!" Please.
Nobody's said that to me since I was 12.

While verbal abuse by the immature and frightened no longer fazes me, I
recently got a shock whilst shopping in Piaţa Centrală (Central Market). I was
walking down str. Tighina, happy that I'd found a nice skirt to wear, when a
man suddenly grabbed my left breast. Furious, I turned around and smacked the
guy in the face, shouting various obscenities at him in English (I don't know
how to insult somebody in Romanian). I was further incensed by his never-
faltering grin so I proceeded to hit him a few times more before one of the
women running a shoe stall – a woman I had just been speaking to about my
volunteer service, actually – came forward, pointing at her own head, saying
"Bolnavă! Bolnavă!" (Sick! Sick!) before pointing at this creep of a man. I
understood what she was saying, nodded and walked away; only to be angered
further by passers-by giggling at what had just happened. I called my Moldovan
friends, explained the situation and demanded an explanation. Their reason for
what had just happened to me?

"It's normal in Moldova".

What? In what reality is sexual harassment considered normal? This revelation
only emphasised the apparent sexism in Moldova, it said to me that, in this
country, women only exist to please men. In fact, one of my friends advised me
to "take it as a compliment". This infuriates me to no end. I have been raised
to stand up for myself, to be independent, to do what makes me happy. To think
that in the year 2012 this kind of mentality still exists is sickening to me.
This is part of the reason as to why I believe that Moldova is 40 years behind
Britain; what with the second wave of feminism being at its peak in the early
1970s in response to the then-present notion that men were superior to women in
every way except for raising children, cooking, cleaning and nursing. In those
days, such jobs were considered to be "women's work". I see this mentality
present in Moldova today and it bothers me.

However, the sexism is not the biggest reason for my belief that Moldova is
far behind: the biggest reason behind my logic is the homophobia. Recently, in
Balţi, a piece of legislation passed which banned "homosexual propaganda".
Words cannot express how stupid I find this. It's almost as if Bălţi City
Council is labouring under the impression that homosexuals are some sort of
religious or political movement that seek to replace Christianity and
democracy. I fail to see why the heterosexual majority feel so threatened by
the non-violent minority. And as for the "It's not natural!" rhetoric, I feel
compelled to remind my close-minded counterparts that homosexuality has been
found in nearly all species on the planet thus rendering your uneducated and
fear-fuelled arguments irrelevant. The homophobes always, I notice, claim that
their beliefs stem from high morals and concern for children. First of all,
there is nothing moral about lying about people you do not know to spread fear
and hate against them. Second, if children were taught that there was nothing
wrong with homosexuality then there would be far fewer homophobic assaults,
fewer murders and fewer people like those who like to pretend that they are
morally sound and "pure" (incidentally, why is it that priests keep telling
people how to have sex when they themselves are celibate?). As with chauvinism,
this kind of mindset has not been seen in the UK for decades. True, LGBT people
still face a lot of prejudice but we also receive the same amount of tolerance
and acceptance if not more so. At present, Scotland is considering a law that
would allow homosexuals to marry; with the rest of the UK following suit within
2-3 years. We know that just because something makes us uncomfortable it does
not mean that it must be wrong. As long as nobody is being hurt, as long as
everyone is safe, healthy and happy, it doesn't make sense to us to deny people
basic human rights and social acceptance just because of who they love.

My experiences here have inspired me to fight for LGBT and women's rights; a
fight I plan to fight until the day I die. Naturally, I shan't leave my friends
of other races, religions or abilities behind – I'll fight for them too. This
country has reminded me how lucky I am to be from a tolerant country but there
is still an awful lot of work to be done. However, I am most concerned by the
mountain that Moldova has to climb before she can join her Western counterparts
in the 21st century. I fully intend to help her on her way to tolerance and
understanding. Even if I can't pronounce anything in Romanian.


Pubblicato da Lorenzo Bernini