restricted access 9. The Real Power of Women
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113«.«.« 9 ».».» The Real Power of Women Appearances Can Be Deceptive We were on the back of a flatbed truck filled with students when a drunken young man stepped into the middle of the road and tossed a rock at our truck. I hopped off the back of the truck and was running toward him when I was intercepted by a woman in her thirties. She blocked my path with arms outstretched, apologizing all the while for the young man’s drunken behavior. She then turned to the young man and led him off, while I stood bewildered by the scene. Meanwhile, the students were beckoning me back onto the truck. Just as I was ready to hop back on, I heard a loud slap as the young man struck the woman who was leading him away from trouble. I must have looked as though I was ready to chase after the drunk because I heard one of the students say, “That’s okay, Father. She’s the sister of that guy.” As we drove on, at each house we passed we would see women holding toddlers, gathering the small children, or hanging out laundry. Women were everywhere, it seemed, while men were invisible. “Where are all the men?” I asked one of the students. “They’re all in the house sleeping or playing cards,” he laughingly replied. A mile or two farther on we reached a bend in the road. As we rounded the bend, I saw two middle-aged men with cigarettes in their mouths enjoying an animated conversation. Trailing behind them by several yards was a woman who could have been the wife of one of the two men. She was staggering under the weight of the large basket she was carrying, the two men 114 Chapter 9 oblivious to her burden. I had only been on the island for a few months, but I remember thinking as I watched the woman trail behind the two men: such is the unfortunate fate of women in the islands. Like so many other new visitors to the islands, I couldn’t help but feel that Micronesian women were ill-used creatures. Just look at how they’re treated. A young woman tries to intervene to help her drunken brother, who repays her with blows to the face. Men enjoy themselves while women struggle with their heavy work burdens. Other images flash to mind. Sometimes we would see a married couple walking down the road, the man usually a few steps ahead of his wife, eyes fixed on the road ahead as if he were deliberately ignoring her. Then there is my own vivid memory of a man and his wife entering our school chapel after Sunday mass had already begun. The man plunked himself down in the last remaining seat on the pew, while his wife took her place on the floor at the back of the chapel. Chivalry had not died in Micronesia, I reflected; it had not even been born. These impressions seem to be confirmed at any major social event in the islands. While men are seated at feasts, busily feeding themselves , the women are scurrying around refilling platters of food on the table and tending to the needs of the guests. At the conclusion of the party the women will be occupied picking up the plates, cleaning the tables, and dividing up the leftover food. Newcomers may well ask themselves if there is any work connected with the feast that is not assigned to women. Or, to frame the question more broadly, is the role of women in island society to play the part of servants so that men might enjoy themselves in peace? Not so many years ago the treatment of women became an issue on the University of Guam campus when one of the teachers noticed young women in his class dropping to their knees and crawling to their seats in front of their brothers. This may have been the customary respect behavior young women showed their “brothers” in the atolls of Micronesia, but it registered as degrading in the eyes of the American teacher who witnessed it. What the teacher did not know, of course, is that brothers would have been expected to practice other, less obvious forms of respect behavior toward their sisters. On their own island, they might have risen from their seats to allow their sisters The Real Power of Women 115 to pass by without having to crawl...