Debate Magazine

Women of Ancient Egypt

Posted on the 30 March 2012 by Starofdavida
Women of Ancient EgyptIn the ancient world, women wereusually considered on a level below men. In ancient Greece, women were stereotyped ashaving strong emotions and weak minds, in need of a man to keep them from doingdamage to themselves. Roman women had no control over their finances andrequired a man to supervise them. Women in ancient China were not even consideredworthy of education or literacy and were simply called “daughter one” and“daughter two.” While most ancient cultures treated their women unfairly, Egyptdid not. Ancient Egyptian women had equal rights and similar opportunities tothe men in their culture.
Throughout Egypt’s rich history, women playedimportant roles in many aspects of ancient Egyptian civilization. AncientEgyptian women had identical legal rights to the men in their culture. Women hadthe legal right to sell and dispose of property (land, servants, livestock,slaves, money, etc.), enter contracts, sue and be sued in civil courts, serveas witnesses, and be part of juries. Noble women often controlled their estatesand helped their husbands with their professions. There were even marriagecontracts, similar to prenuptial agreements, to protect men’s and women’sproperty in the marriage. Women also inherited equally; male and femalechildren evenly inherited their parents’ property, and wives controlled a thirdof their husbands’ estates after their deaths. Women could also take charge ofbusiness affairs. Despite the fact that social norms often held back women fromacting in total equality to their male counterparts, women were still treatedequally under the law.
Women were not only empowered inthe courts, but also had more rights in the religious arena. When women actedas priestesses, they usually worked in temples dedicated to goddesses, whilemen worked in temples for the gods. The title of priestess was commonly held bywomen until the New Kingdom, when priesthoodbecame a full-time position. After priesthood became a difficult option, womenwho wanted to get involved in the temples became singers or musicians. Shemayet, the title for musician, wasthe second-most popular title for women. Women could also participate inentertainment troupes, or kheneru.Women from all social classes, from the elite non-royal to peasant classes,could serve in temples in some form.
In addition to equality in legaland religious fields, women could also rise to the top in rulership positions.While kingship was normally held by men, women also became pharaohs onoccasion. Many female pharaohs are not well-known, mostly because there is nodefinitive evidence that they were indeed pharaohs. One such woman, Merneith,is buried with the full honors of a pharaoh, but there are no documentsverifying that she reigned as a pharaoh as opposed to a regent or queen.However, there are several well-known, heavily documented female pharaohs, likeHatshepsut. Her husband, the pharaoh, died, leaving an infant to inherit, soshe became regent. After seven years, she proclaimed herself as pharaoh. Duringher reign, she renovated hundreds of temples, established trade relationships,maintained peace in Egypt,and brought widespread prosperity to the country.
In most cultures today, womeneither have or are fighting for equal rights. Among the rights that feministshave fought for is fairness for both sexes in the courts. Because of theirefforts, women now have the ability to fully utilize the court system.Feminists have also fought for women’s place in most major religions to beexpanded; in both Christianity and Judaism, women have been successfullyfighting to be ordained and have other rights within the religious sphere.While a woman has not yet assumed the highest position in the government,record amounts of women are holding seats in Congress and other governmentalpositions. The woman of ancient Egyptis similar to the woman today: able to hold her own in a court, place ofworship, and government.

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