Gender Roles in Economics

Up until the 1980s, the majority of the male population was absent from the island for 6-8 months of the year on sponge expeditions. Some claim that it was this male absence, as well as the tendency of divers to "live it up" when they returned, that accounted for "women's rule" on the island. One woman, commenting on women's power over the "purse strings" and other critical family decisions, described it to me as follows: "The divers spent all their time at the coffee shops—music and retsina. And not home 'til the next morning. They said "we've been so long at sea, let's celebrate." And thus there was women's rule on the island" (Sutton, 1998a, p. 104). Thus women had control over household management, as well as involvement in informal small-scale animal husbandry and small-scale agriculture. Women control the kitchen, and often do not let their husbands enter kitchen spaces, claiming that they are incompetent at cooking, and would just mess things up.

The decline of the sponge industry has led men into other occupations, such as seasonal migration and the merchant marine, which continues their pattern of absence. Both men and women work in retail trade, and women are increasingly entering the professions on Kalymnos, as well as the increasing number of jobs provided by tourism. Women have an advantage here, as they own the houses that may be set up as "rooms" for the tourist trade (see Galani-Moutafi [1993] for other Greek islands). Women also dominate in the growth of tutorial schools, which supplement the local high-school system in areas such as foreign languages (Sutton, 1998a).

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