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Women's Role in Ancient Egypt Society


 The woman in ancient Egypt was acknowledged to be one of the strangest phenomena in a land of exotic and unusual customs, where the king lived as a god, the gods took the form of animals and the entire population appeared obsessed with death. Her distinctive exotic beauty, coupled with fantastic rumours of lax Egyptian morals and wanton Egyptian females, simply added to their fascination and served as an inspiration to the authors and poets of Greece and Rome.

It is this rather decadent image of Egyptian womanhood which has been perpetuated by more modern authors from Shakespeare onwards, so that even today the names of Nefertiti and Cleopatra conjure up a vision of the ultimate femme fatale. The woman in ancient Egypt did not take part in any activities that involved wielding blades, such as reaping the harvest, presumably because this would threaten male dominance, the blade being both a direct weapon for attack and a metaphor for masculine sexuality. 
 
Women in Ancient Egypt

Futhermore, she was generally excluded from washing clothes, because crocodiles threatened the riverbanks. Apart from these two barriers to hard labour, women took part in backbreaking chores. These chores could involve grinding of grain for flour, pressing fermented loaves in sieves for the mash to make beer, and weaving textiles in the dim halls in which estates had their clothes produced the ancient feature nearest to modern industrial conditions.

The woman in ancient Egypt enjoyed legal and economical equality with men. Nevertheless, she never enjoyed social equality with men, and this is most evident in the rules of kingship; only men could be king, perhaps theoretically because the king acted as sun-god on earth and the sun is male in the Egyptian language.

Following from this rule, so strong that even queens ruling Egypt claimed to be not queen but king, royal power could not be delegated to women, and so men held all positions in the administration and in the temple hierarchies; after the Old Kingdom the only titles held by women concern the musical accompaniments to temple rituals.

Exclusion from state office also meant exclusion from the considerable resources that supported each state office, and this would have left most women in a secondary economic position. In view of the unfavourable circumstances it is perhaps surprising that the woman in ancient Egypt retained equality in law, so that a wife could divorce a husband as easily as he might divorce her. 


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