"Most Chuukese Women Don't Strive For Better Jobs"


I was approached with this statement and was asked to respond to it: "most Chuukese women don't strive for better jobs". My short and serious answer is: "I really don't know if that's true, and I am not the right person to respond to this."

With that said the reason why I will reply to this is because I hope it will advance the conversation. My perception on this topic could serve as a thumbnail of what others may think. I am also eager to read/hear the public's criticism in order to mature my own understandings.


The younger generation and more so the diaspora/expat generation understand the value of a "job" and the difference between a "good job" and a "bad job", because it is a western notion. The current idea of a "job" was introduced to Chuuk by Americans after the Second World War. Prior to that, jobs were mostly restricted during the Japanese occupation. The locals had jobs but for the most part they were overseen by the Japanese military. When the idea of "independence" was introduced after the war, it was new and revelatory. Western opportunities and ideas were adopted.

Prior to this there was already a system in place. A system that was inclusive and dependent on the cooperation of everyone. This was the clan system or the extended family, the core of Chuukese culture. Farming, fishing, caring for the young, cleaning, decision making, all of this was systematically outlined, apportioned and carried out for generations. For the most part it worked, and it worked sustainably. It is important to note that this system was still in use some 60 years ago and in some cases is still being used today. However, the introduction of many things, including jobs, altered this system.

With the end of the Second World War and the introduction of western governments and jobs, one individual could become the sole breadwinner for the immediate family. In most cases this would be the man of the house. The introduction of this western concept disturbed the satellite family and introduced the nuclear family (Hezel writes extensively on this). If a person was fortunate enough to have landed a government job, in our case a "good job", he would be able to support his immediate family with his salary. This system could very well mark traditional systems obsolete.

Moreover, as a result of this, you remove the men from their regular functions in the system. This removal can prove burdensome for the women because they now have to take on most of the work that the men have now vacated. Those responsibilities include farming, cleaning, cooking etc.  the women become relegated to being homemakers or housewives. "Jobs" (specifically government jobs) were reserved for men, not under this system directly but under the culture that this system derives from, which is the American culture.

The culture of this time is illustrated well in the TV series, "Mad Men". You'll see that this idea is for the most part American. Men get the jobs, women stay at home, if they want a job they'll be lucky to get secretary. The difference is that in America, a push for women's rights has been fierce. Women's rights has had a loud voice. In Chuuk, not so much. Why? Because for one, the idea of a job is still new. We're still within the "Mad Men" generation. More importantly, the idea of "development" is also a foreign one. How do you develop the women in the society? Well what do you mean by "develop"? If you are advocating the westernization of our society then you'll have to sacrifice our cultural systems. Systems that, as I have explained, have been around for generations.

Another contributing factor is the prevalence of religion, specifically Christianity. The role of women has been redefined and refashioned with the introduction of religion. One can make arguments for and against Christianity but the idea is that significant change occurred since its introduction.

All of these occurrences led to a new gender division. It is important to note that there were traditional divisions prior to the Americanization of Chuuk, but that is the case for all societies. What I contend to argue is it is now more pronounced. It is apparent that Chuukese women have a rougher road to take because of this division. Not only do they have to wade through the imposition of Americanization, they also have to deal with traditional designations.


Because of these divisions the women have taken it upon themselves to redefine themselves. In Chuuk, many of the private businesses are run by women, including my family's which is maintained by my sisters, most of my female cousins and aunts. I can think of many other women who are running successful businesses in Chuuk and throughout Micronesia. The women have also been very aggressive when it comes to activism and the formation of organizations. The youth councils, women's council, conservation societies etc. this is because the private sector was not handed to us predefined as a "man's job".

So, what do I think about when I hear, "most Chuukese women don't strive for better jobs"?

I think of the many Chuukese women that I've had the privilege to know and how they've made the best out of their seemingly limited opportunities. I imagine how much more growth can occur if we were more liberal with these restrictions. I also think of culture, and how it is always changing, always evolving. And I think of how quickly our culture has evolved these past 50 or so years when we were still adjusting to the idea of a "job" and are now realizing the possibilities of, "better jobs".