Gender Roles in Economics

At one level, the division of labor between men and women in subsistence work was clear. Men fished and women gathered. However, the reality was more complex. During the fishing season men gathered the salmon from the streams using a variety of methods and handed them over to the women. At that time, the women prepared the fish for processing and dried or smoked them for year-round use. The end product, processed fish, was a collaboration of men's work and women's work. During the fishing season, then, both genders were focused on this industry. Off-season subsistence pursuits were less critical. Men hunted the land mammals and women gathered the plants. In all cases, it is said that each gender could, and occasionally did, do the work normally assigned to the other gender.

The production of crafts and art was gendered. As a rule, men made objects from rigid materials, while women used soft materials. That meant that woodcarving, including masks, carved bowls, boxes, and spoons, house-posts, and freestanding poles were men's work. Women made the Chilkat and other blankets, leatherwork, and baskets. Artists had to be paid for their work, or the items were considered of no value, and the best artists, male and female, accumulated considerable wealth from their artistic endeavors.

Trade was often a partnership. More men than women went on the long-distance trading expeditions across the mountains or down the coast, but women did go along. As noted, women were trained to be the bargainers in a trade negotiation and so it was imperative that such a skilled trader be present to handle the negotiations. Early European traders in the area complained about having to deal with women and, then, how hard it was to take advantage of them in a deal (Klein, 1980).

Personal goods were owned by those who possessed them, male or female. Those that were gender linked were inherited in a matrilineal fashion from mother to daughter and from father to sister's son. Rank was an issue in ownership and no one was allowed to own an item of greater importance than the individual's status indicated. More highly-ranked individuals could order lesser people to hand their property over to them, and the lesser-ranked person had little alternative but to do so. The most significant property, such as houses, rights to resources, emblems and stories, and the like, were communally owned in matrigroups. Members of that group had the right to use those appropriate to their ranking. The hitsaati, "house chief," who was the highest ranked male in the house was custodian of the property.

Raiding was relatively short-term and men did the fighting. Bravery in such attacks brought honor to the clans of the combatants. Raids were instigated to redress perceived wrongs from specific towns or clans or for financial gain. Raiding was a primary way to obtain slaves. Reports from southern groups told of significant slave raids from the "northern Indians" which included the Tlingit. So-called "wars" between clans and villages among the Tlingit, although rare, were far more disruptive. Since these disputes were often among intermarrying groups, they split families. Women and children of the "enemy clan" left their husbands' or fathers' houses and moved to the houses of their own clans. Since a person's primary loyalty belonged to his or her own clan, a member of an enemy clan in the household was always suspected of spying.

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