Women in Ancient Egypt

In class, we heard about how women in ancient Egypt were allowed a great deal of freedom as compared to other women around the similar time period. But what exactly is the extent of the freedom that they were allowed to have?  

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For starters, women were free to dress in whatever way they seemed fit. Women mostly wore light, ankle-length dresses or robes made of simple, un-dyed linen. These robes either concealed or exposed their breasts, depending on the fashion trend at the particular moment. At that time, a women’s exposed breasts were considered as something natural, not something provocative or indecent. You might think that it is odd for women to bare their breasts in public. But apparently, this was the norm in Egyptian history due to the goddess Isis’ influence on the matter. When men and women were created, she decreed that they should be given equal rights, hence, men had no rights to control a women, not even his own wife, in any way.

 

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Women were given various ‘protection’ during a marriage. A marital contract, akin to a modern-day pre-nuptial agreement, will be drawn up before the marriage, allocating a portion of the husband’s assets to his wife and that in the event of a divorce, the wife is entitled to some form of financial support. Also, she was free to administer her own land as she deemed fit. Her property does not automatically becomes her husband’s after marriage.

 

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The Egyptians also believed that happiness was the only goal of life and so, regarded home and family as a major source of delight. Ancient Egyptian men and women who were married genuinely valued and enjoyed each other's company as they believed that love and affection was important, and that marriage was the natural progression into the next stage of life. There were many portraits and statues of families depicting their happiness and family bliss. As the women bore children, the respect for her in the community grew. Though the birth of a boy generally bought more respect than the birth of a girl, as long as the women could bear many children, the amount of respect given to her increases as well.

 

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Women were equal to men in almost every way. They had the right to have a job, run a business and even represent themselves in court. Even though women were not given any form of education, most of them found some form of work to occupy themselves with. While most of them engaged in domestic work where they helped take care of the household by doing the groceries, cleaning the house and preparing meals, some women did agricultural work as their help was needed in order to harvest the fields in time. Outside of the household, women worked in different industries such as in temples, where they worked as priestesses, mourners, dancers and musicians, in textiles, where they worked as weavers and supervisors, and even in medicine, where they worked as midwives and nannies. Women were also known to help their husbands manage their farms or businesses while they were away.

 

As we can see, women in ancient Egypt were rather fortunate as compared to their counterparts in ancient times. The reason as to why this was such might be due to the fact that the Egyptians' core belief is: "happiness was the only goal of life". In order for men to achieve this form of happiness, their private lives must be blissful and they must feel contented with their life-long partners. By giving their partners a certain degree of freedom, the men are telling their wives that they appreciate them, they matter to their lives and they are important to them. Another reason could be the importance of the goddess Isis. Isis’ headdress is that of a throne, implying that the pharaoh is her child, who is sitting on the throne that she has provided. Given her importance as the mother of the pharaoh, she is revered and admired. As such, this could be why women are respected throughout ancient Egypt.