Gender Roles in Economics

Both men and women participate in both aspects of the island's economy—the cash economy and the traditional subsistence economy. Cash comes from employment in the few hourly wage paying and salaried jobs and from unearned income. According to the U.S. 2000 Census, unemployment was high in both communities: 19.8% in Gambell, and 37.4% in Savoonga. There appears to be little gender-based discrimination associated with employment itself. In summer, men and women work together on community utility projects or serve as village tour-group guides. Men and women work as schoolroom bilingual aides and clerks, fill maintenance positions for the Bering Strait School District and community-based public agencies, and enlist in the armed services. While little overt discrimination is evident in wage labor, this does not mean that equal numbers of men and women work in the market economy. Until the early 1980s, most women worked primarily in and around their homes and summer camps. Nevertheless, when women do put themselves forward, their efforts are supported by community members. Discriminatory work-place pressures appear to come from clan or lineage conflicts rather than gender conflicts.

The summaries below illustrate the level of participation of men and women in wage-labor jobs and in subsistence-related work for the community of Gambell in 1993. The summaries are drawn from research that first appeared in Jolles (1997). Research in 1993 indicated that, at least in Gambell, the more conservative of the two communities, both men and women were employed in both types of work. Some jobs are distinguished by gender, but many were filled opportunistically. A few jobs, such as operation of heavy equipment, are reserved for men. Women were more likely to do food-preparation work in the school. It is unclear, however, whether a man would have been prevented from performing this type of work. Subsistence jobs, in contrast to wage-labor jobs, are highly distinguished by gender, with hunting work performed by men and food-management and sewing tasks performed by women.

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