WOMEN IN ANCIENT EGYPT
By Gay Robins, published by the British Museum Press at £14.95. 208pp. ISBN: 0-7141-0956-8
A lot of people ain't gonna like this book much, which claims to be the first one to examine in depth the evidence for the position of women within Egyptian society. The author, an Assistant Professor and Curator of Egyptian Art at Amory Museum, University of Atlanta, suggests something rather different from the official pagan line of a matriarchal Golden Age.
Consider some of the observations noted by Professor Robins: in Egyptian art, women are always depicted in tight figure-hugging dresses, transparent ones or none at all (and virtually always with the pubic area accentuated) while men are depicted with their genitals covered; within society, the sexual double standard was fully operational; by the New Kingdom women had ceased to play any powerful part in the main cults except that of Hathor and had been relegated to peripheral roles focusing on providing temple music or acting as official mourners; in the scribal (upper) classes, boys were educated but girls were not and there is not a single document from the 3000 years of Egyptian history which can be shown to have actually been written by a woman; although women had legal rights to hold and bequeath property absolutely, the legal system was entirely in the hands of literate men and there is considerable textual evidence for the economic and legal vulnerability of widows and single women to exploitation by those more powerful (ie men); women were effectively barred from holding any sort of public office.
If this book had been written by a man, it would have been tempting to dismiss it as a reactionary rear-guard defence against new thinking by a fusty old codger; being written by a woman who clearly knows what she is writing about, it cannot easily be dismissed without giving her ideas and evidence a great deal of careful thought. An excellent and thought-provoking read for the open-minded.