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Rights of Egyptian Women
Throughout written history, women have experienced status subservient to
the men they lived with. Generally, most cultures known to modern historians
followed a standard pattern of males assigned the role of protector and provider
while women were assigned roles of domestic servitude. Scholars speculate
endlessly at the cause: biology, religion, social custom. Nevertheless, the
women were always subordinated to the men in their culture. Through their
artwork, tomb inscriptions, and papyrus and leather scrolls, preserved in the
dry, desert air, Ancient Egyptians left evidence for scholars suggesting that
Egypt was once a peculiar exception to this pattern. Anthropological evidence
suggests that unusual circumstances in Ancient Egyptian culture provided for
women to be given equal status to their male counterparts: notably, matrilineal
inheritance and emphasis on the joy of family life over maintaining ethnic
Legally, women in Ancient Egypt held the same legal rights as men. A
woman could own property and manage it as she saw fit. One example of this, the
Inscription of Mes, provided scholars with proof that women could manage
property, institute litigation, and could act as a witness before a court of law.
Surviving court documents not only showed that women were free to take action
with the court, but the documents also show that they frequently won their cases.
They could also enter contracts and travel freely, unescorted, throughout the
state. This is a great contrast to women in Greece, who were required to act
through a male representative. Interestingly, property and its administration
was passed from mother to daughter, matrilineally. The Egyptians relied on
matrilineal heritage, based on the assumption that maternal ancestors are less
disputable than paternal ones. The effect of legal equality in writing and
practice coupled with the ownership and administration of property led to an
The rights and egalitarian conditions enjoyed by Egyptian women shocked
the conquering Greeks. In 450 BC, Greek historian Herodotus noted:
They Egyptians, in their manners and customs, seem to have reversed the
ordinary practices of mankind. For instance, women attend market and are
employed in trade, while men stay at home and do the weaving. Athenian Democracy
mandated that the female\'s role in the domestic economy was the production of
heirs and service of the family. The Egyptian state took no direct part in
either marriage nor divorce and made no efforts to regulate the family. The
purpose of the Egyptian family was apparently not the production of heirs for
the patriarchal head of household, but the shared life and the pleasures and
comfort it had to offer.
The legal subjugation of women in other societies seems to have been
designed to ensure that women were denied sexual freedom to prevent them from
indiscriminate breeding. Often, this was a direct result of the need to provide
a pure ruling elite and to restrict the dispersal of family assets within a
caste. The unique position of the god-king and the absence of a strictly
defined "citizen" class made similar considerations irrelevant in Egypt. Modern
Scholars are thoroughly aware that Egypt was greatly mixed, racially, and that
no written evidence exists of racial tensions or bias. This was most likely the
cause of lax sexual restrictions. The Egyptians simply did not care about
maintaining racial purity.
With the exception of the Pharaoh, all marriages were monogamous and
women had the right to arrange the terms of the marriage contract.
Realistically, marriages were not polygamous. Many records survive of men
raising children born to them of the household servants. Social stigma against
married men having affairs was mild, yet married women were socially obligated
to be faithful to their husbands. Unlike most societies, however, men having
sex with married women were persecuted more severely than their partners.
Egyptian Art tells us the primarily of the women in the upper castes.
Grave murals and reliefs depict wives standing next to their husbands.
Archaeologist have yet to discover any evidence of domestic constriction.
Daughters and Wives were free to live independently of male dominance of
influence. It is believed from various murals, however, that women were also
"put on a pedestal" by their culture. Egyptian art was reflective of their
conservative culture where art was Artistic convention of Egyptian and Aegean
art depicts women as fairer skinned than their male companions. Generally, art
historians have concluded that this was a both and artistic convention
expressing the social ideals of the vigorous male with a more refined female and
representation of the fact that women were often relieved of working out in the
hot, Egyptian sun.
Unfortunately, the privilege of Ancient Egyptian women does not
constitute the modern connotation of
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Ancient Egypt, Women in ancient Egypt, Egypt, Womens history, Women in Egypt, Ancient Egyptian literature
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