Rights of Egyptian Women

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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 purity.

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 ensured equality.

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...
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