Gender Roles in Economics

Prior to the Yapese cash-based economy of today, Yap's subsistence economy was divided strictly along a male-female division of labor. The fundamental division of labor in Yap was that women worked the land, and men worked the sea. A meal in Yap was not considered complete unless it contained food from both the sea and land, which is a requirement to this day. Although a man's labor was at times required for working the land, women were not allowed to work the sea. Female spirits protected the sea while male spirits oversaw the land, which in turn led to the creation of a number of mandatory restrictions and limitations for men entering the sea and women entering land plots designated as "pure."

Men did all woodworking (e.g., house-building, canoe-making, tool-making), while women made pottery (only low-caste women) and most basketry. Women worked in the gardens on a daily basis and were responsible for all aspects of food preparation, while men provided the heavy labor needed to establish a garden.

As a result of the restrictions surrounding the collection, cooking, and consumption of food for men who participated in "eating classes" that were considered "pure," only older Yapese women could fulfill the role of food producer. A young woman in an "estate" could only attend those plots of land commensurate with her rank and status. Taro, for example, had to be harvested from designated ranked plots by women whose age-grade status matched that of the person for whom the taro was intended. A daughter could never collect or cook food for her father or older brother. Even while adhering to these standards, a woman was required to follow certain restrictions and taboos before and after entering a taro patch. These included wearing a grass skirt designated for use only in the patches suitable for her husband.

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