The fem-3 gene of Caenorhabditis elegans is required for male development. Both maternal and zygotic fem-3 activities are required for spermatogenesis in the XX hermaphrodite germline and for male development in somatic and germline tissues XO (male) animals. Here we show that fem-3 RNA is contributed to embryos as a maternal product and that this RNA is degraded early in embryonic development. The poly(A) tail of embryonic fem-3 RNA is substantially longer than that of adult hermaphrodites which indicates that poly(A) tail lengthening probably occurs at or soon after fertilization. During subsequent development, fem-3 poly(A) tails shorten. The amount of fem-3 RNA in XX and XO embryos is equivalent, suggesting sex-specific regulation of maternal fem-3 activity occurs post-transcriptionally. The sequence of fem-3 predicts an open reading frame that could encode a soluble protein; putative fem-3 null mutants truncate this open reading frame. We discuss the implications of these results for the regulation and function of fem-3.