Hungarian Heritage

The social system in Hungary has been traditionally patriarchal, and the longstanding patterns of conduct and the division of labor based on this system have not changed significantly, especially in some of the more rural areas of Hungary and Transylvania (Romania). Men still predominantly represent the family outside the home, while women strengthen neighbor and kinship relationships by weaving intricate social webs. They care for the ill, cook for the bedridden, and hold vigil for the deceased—all the while keeping track of the courtesies owed to and by the family.

The father figure within a family is head of the household. In the past, a man’s authority was so contingent upon this role that the successful establishment of a family was a necessary condition of his recognition as a standing member of the community. To serve as head of his family was not merely his right; it was his duty. Even today, the man tends to represent his family in legal and financial matters and is responsible for the unity and values of its members. His prestige determines that of the entire family.

Men usually took on more physically demanding jobs that were often far from home. Especially in rural areas, this gender-based division of labor lessened only occasionally—as, for example, during World Wars I and II, when men were conscripted and women became heads of households and carried out tasks that traditionally belonged to men.

Women were equal partners to men in rural homesteads, much more so than in the urban-industrial world. The survival of traditional homesteads depended on male and female duties performed equally and harmoniously.

To this day, women take responsibility for household chores, such as child-rearing, cooking, gardening, laundry, cleaning, and maintaining chicken coops. Men often still feel self-conscious about carrying out the tasks traditionally performed by women. Even widowers often receive assistance from relatives and others, as a courtesy or for a fee, with “female” chores such as laundry and cooking.

Many of these domestic tasks embodied principles of self-sufficiency—spinning and weaving being the foremost—which were maintained in many regions of Hungary until just a few decades ago.

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In Kalotaszeg, Transylvania (Romania), male farm workers collect hay. Photo by Ágnes Fülemile, Balassi Institute/Hungarian Cultural Center