Change in Attitudes Beliefs and Practices Regarding Gender

The last quarter of the 20th century represents a significant transitional stage in Yapese beliefs and practices as they pertain to male-female relationships. The American administration of Micronesia from 1945 to 1986 ushered in a new era of trade, education, and infrastructure, as well as a cash economy. The Yapese may not be as "modernized" as other Micronesian societies, but neither can one state that they have remained unchanged. The relationships between men and women in Yap today are reflective of the economic choices they enjoy. The availability of cash-paying jobs for both men and women and an open educational system (required up to age 14) has resulted in a shift in traditional patterns of courtship, marriage, and overall social behavior between men and women. Status in Yap is now sought and gained in ways unconnected to the traditional tabugul-ta'ay system.

The use of menstrual houses declined steadily from 1945-75 and has now ended. Yapese girls could hardly attend school and be forced to miss at least a week each month to go to the dapaal. Similarly, fathers no longer construct a separate house for their adolescent daughters; the daughters remain part of the main house even after reaching puberty. Although one would still not see a teenaged girl sitting on the veranda of a men's house, it is not uncommon to see younger girls within very close proximity of a men's house. Men no longer participate in the traditional eating classes except during certain ceremonial occasions. As a consequence, the restrictions placed on the wife regarding her daily gardening activities have been significantly reduced. Overall, it is fair to state that Yapese women have gained much freedom of movement during the last quarter of the 20th century.

The port town and capital of Colonia serves almost as a "tradition-free zone." It is quite common in Colonia to see young Yapese men and women dressed completely in Western attire, speaking with one another, and participating in courtship. The same could be said of the United States administered Yap High School which opened in 1966. When the high school first opened, it was not unusual for a brother who was in a class with his sister to be changed to another room. This is no longer the case since there is a general acceptance that brothers and sisters will eat in the same cafeteria, ride the same school bus, and take the same classes. School books, movies, and television shows depicting families eating together and brothers and sisters conversing and doing things together socially have all had an impact on changing the position of men and women. Cross-sibling avoidance is almost impossible in the Yap of today.

Courtship is more public, and marriage has become more personalized and individualized. Traditional marriage ceremonies are rare events today. Some Yapese opt for a church wedding, but, more commonly, young couples just live together. Yapese women with an education and/or job are taking more of an active role in selecting a spouse or making the decision to marry at all. Consequently, the number of female-headed households in Yap has increased greatly during the last few decades. Self-reliant single mothers are on the rise in Yap, and all indications are that their numbers will increase. Brothers and sisters now talk in public, but they still avoid conversations on sexual matters. Traditional kinship terminology is giving way to a kinship system that has been Americanized. Young Yapese boys and girls are unfamiliar with the details of Yapese kin terms and prescribed behaviors associated with them. Old limitations and restrictions placed on Yapese women continue to be lifted, and the quickly changing roles of men and women are finding a balance.

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