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.
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.
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
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
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