Women in Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt   treated its female gender much better in comparison to other major civilizations in the world.  According to ancient Egyptians happiness and joy were the ultimate goals in life and they believed homes and family are the main sources of it. The perception that men are the head of the house was not taken that seriously in the ancient world. The role of men from, women point of view varied considerably from one person to another. There are those who believed that they are all almost equal whereas there are those who believe women to be the pillar of the society.

Although offspring and marriage were desirable, some wives were just regarded as domestic servants and children become important only when they grew up. There were quite a number of iron ladies who gave a cold shoulder to customs and ruled over their families with an utter force of their characters. Women in ancient Egypt were fortunate in various ways, but most importantly they were regarded to be equal as men so long as the law was concerned. They had the right to acquire property, get loaned, initiate divorce, make agreements, and appear in court as witnesses among other things. It was, however, a bit complicated for them to become Pharaoh.

Emotional support and love were considered to be among the most important ingredients of marriage. Children were loved as people and not just as latent care-takers or workers (Graves-Brown 2010). During this era, an Egyptian woman could get the property through many ways. Assets could be acquired as a gift or inheritance from the husband, parents or distant relatives. She could also buy goods using money borrowed or gotten from employment. A married lady could claim about one-third of all the property. Property that a woman possessed before getting married remained to be her private property although the husband could use it as he pleases for free. In the event of a divorce in such a marriage, the woman had the right to take all her possession with sharing with the husband.

When a husband passed on leaving behind the wife, she inherited one-third of the property whereas the remaining two-thirds were shared between the children and the siblings of the deceased. To avoid the occurrence of such a situation and enable the wife to get the whole share husbands could do so by either signing a legal unilateral deed for donating the property called a house document. It served just the same way a will does; only that it after being made it was executed even though the husband is still alive. In situations where there are no children and the husband is not comfortable with his siblings getting the remaining third of his property he could legally adopt the wife as his heir and child for all the property.

Despite marriage not having an age limit girls did not get married until they reached puberty and began their menstruation cycle (Sharp 2005). Since marriages were not considered to be religious ceremonies there were no special bridal gowns worn during the ceremony. After tying the note it was not necessary for the newly wedded woman to change their names. Rings did not signify marriage, for girls marriage was marked by the fact that she physically left her father’s homestead and enter the compound of another man. If the husband died, the widow was allowed to re-marriage after mourning. 

In ancient Egypt, women did not undergo oppression in comparison to other parts of the world where women could not even own property.  During the ancient times, women did not have a say and we seen as baby machines. Their role in the society was to give birth and look after children. But in Egypt things were very different; the only issue that women would have to find to be unfair was the lack of complete trust in their leadership.

Since there has never been any evidence of female scribes, it is believed that females could not be let into temple administration or even allowed to share their thoughts in the government bureaucracy. The fact that women could not join the government or become scribes explains why they never knew how to write or read. At a young age, girls were mainly taught to manage household’s chores. Involvement in any sexual activities before marriage was considered to be taboo. Those women who were found virgin were considered to be unclean.

It was not easy for women to rise to power. Take for instance Hatshepsut who was the daughter of Thutmose I and queen Ahmose (Tyldesley 2012). When her father died she had to get married at the age of 12 years to her half-brother Thutmose II, in order to become queen. The couple had a daughter and as a result when Thutmose II passed on his son from a second wife took over the throne.  Hatshepsut started acting as Thutmose III’s regent, dealing with affairs of state until her stepson became of age. Within a span of less than seven years, however, Hatshepsut made the exceptional move of taking the title and full powers of a pharaoh, becoming co-ruler of Egypt together with Thutmose III. 

With the knowledge that how she grab power was highly contentious, the queen fought to defend her crowns legitimacy. She wanted to envision her image differently in paintings and statues. She, therefore, ordered to be portrayed as a male pharaoh, with rigid muscles and a beard.  As pharaoh, she had to work extremely hard in order to earn respect from her followers. Most ancient Egyptian women worked majorly in homes. Their light skin was an indication that they spent most of their daytime indoors. While at home women sang and played the harp for their husbands or their parents in the case of unmarried women. Women were not to be subjected to hard labor like farming and construction.

Some of the occupation that was only meant for women was mourning. They could be employed as ritual mourners at funerals and wailing. They pulled their hair and dusted themselves publicly as a sign of grief. Other than the role of being a wife or mother, ancient women contributed in many ways that were a bit different from that of men. Their roles served to enrich the society politically, religiously and socially. The most significant productive activity that women indulged in was weaving. It was an activity that they enjoyed and liked being associated with. In spite of weaving being performed almost entirely by women in the Middle Kingdom, something of that prestige may have been lost, for the term previously applied to them was no longer  in use. It is maybe more logical that the term for midwives is also unknown from later periods, and the Old Kingdom evidence is negligible.

Bibliography

Graves-Brown, Carolyn. Dancing for Hathor: Women in Ancient Egypt. London: Continuum, 2010.

Sharp, Anne Wallace. Women of Ancient Egypt. Detroit: Thomson/Gale, 2005.

Tyldesley, Joyce. “Foremost of Women: The Female Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt.” TausretForgotten Queen and Pharaoh of Egypt, 2012, 5-24.

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