The Status of Women in Egypt and the Reign of Hatshepsut

The article “The Social and Political Position of Women in Ancient Egypt,” written by Amelia Blanford Edwards in 2005, describes the high status of women in Ancient Egypt at a time when women in many other cultures were not seen as equals.  Edwards begins her article by referring to her studies of Ancient Egypt, most of which support her thesis that women and men were of equal status in Egyptian society.  The article delves in depth into the reign of each and every pharaoh that had an effect on the status of women.

Amelia Edwards is very qualified to write an article on Egypt.  Edwards has written novels, short stories, “popular histories”, and other literature.  She is the cofounder of the Egypt Exploration Fund and has received honorary degrees from Smith College and Columbia College for her scholastic and literary achievements.  It was also stated in the article that she has established a second career, advocating for a new science called Egyptology (842).   Edwards has studied Egypt very extensively and seems to know a great deal about the subject.  The only possible bias I can see is that her gender may affect her views on the equality of women in ancient Egypt.

The majority of the sources used in the article are primary sources.  The primary sources range from sculptured monuments to inscriptions on funeral tablets.  For example, in the first page of her article, Edwards writes about funeral monuments from the Great Pyramids of Giza.  She states that the statues were made in memory of a husband and wife (847).  The statue of the husband is the same size as the statue of the wife, which allows Edwards to infer that both the man and the woman were of equal social status.  As with the majority of Edwards’s sources, this example was very relevant to her thesis; many historians have used the size of statues as reinforcement for the idea that women and men were seen as equals in ancient Egypt.

Although many of Edwards’s sources are very legitimate, I questioned her use of one particular funeral tablet.  Edwards quotes a statement supposedly spoken by the first queen of Egypt, Queen Merhetep.  In the statement, the speaker describes her gratitude for being blessed with knowledge and words, and she also describes the praise she received for her successes as a ruler.  Edwards uses this source to infer that women could occupy positions in society based on intellect instead of beauty.  She does state that a scribe may have written these words down as having been spoken by the queen even if they were not, but still I feel as though this source should be omitted from the article.  Edwards has plenty of other, more legitimate sources to back up her thesis.

There are no real strong points or weak points to the article; the article is consistent the whole way through.  Edwards’s basic format for the article is to write about a certain period in Egypt, give an example that supports her thesis, and then explain why that example supports her thesis.  With regard to history, Edwards sees it as being motivated by important individuals.  Each person that she mentions has a specific effect on the status of women in Egypt.  There are no other apparent forces driving change in Egyptian society.

Based on the amount of information given in the article on Hatshepsut, it is obvious that Edwards sees her as being one of the most important individuals in changing the status of Egyptian women.  Hatshepsut had married Thothmos II.  When he died, she decided to reign alone instead of marrying her younger brother, which would have been customary (849).  This bold action provides the foundation for Edwards’s focus on Hatshepsut.  She then writes about Hatshepsut’s titles, which included high priestess, a rank historically filled by men (851).  Edwards then used these two important pieces of information to support the idea that Hatshepsut helped improve the political status of women through her bold actions as the new pharaoh.

The subject of this article is a very dry topic, but Edwards does a good job of keeping the reader interested.  I think that overall, the article was very well written and informative.  I had previously thought that men and women were not equal in Egyptian society because of the fact that the Pharaoh was almost always a man.  Edwards provides very strong evidence which suggests that men and women were indeed both politically and socially equal.  This article has changed my perspective on the status of women in Egyptian society because there are many sources that show women being treated as equals.  I would recommend this article to anyone who is interested in ancient Egypt because the reader will learn a great deal about the history of Egypt while Edwards establishes her thesis.