Ancient Egypt: Gender roles and relationships, gender in art
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GenderAncient Egyptians divided mankind into two sexes, as is reflected in their language, which knows, like the semitic languages, two grammatical genders only.  Their attitude towards hermaphroditism is unknown, as is whether they had a word for the phenomenon. It did exist in their mythology. Some of their creator gods had androgynous features–male gods bringing forth the next generation of deities, even if the process of giving birth was somewhat unconventional, in the case of Atem it included spitting out and vomitting. Female deities might occasionally have male features: a bearded Isis figure holding a baby Horus has been found,  while Neith is represented with an erect phallus in some papyri.
If some rare people had features of both sexes, others might be unsexed. Castration of humans was, if not completely unknown, at least very rare,  and the only known word relevant in this context, sxtj, may or may not refer to a eunuch.  In literature references to castration are few. There is the story of the murder of Osiris, in which Seth kills his brother and cuts off his genitals, throws them int the Nile where they are swallowed by a fish, in the Pyramid Texts Seth's manhood is impaired in his power struggle with Horus,whether he was castrated or not is unclear,  and a Middle Kingdom execration text threatens the enemies of Egypt, all males, all eunuchs(?), all women.  1]. The reality was somewhat different. Women bore and raised children and were responsible for the familiar, domestic relationships, while men taught their growing up boys their own trade and related to society at large. At least during the first dynasties women belonging to the elite at least received post-mortem treatment similar to that of men: they were buried in individual tombs, with statues of themselves alone. As the civil administration grew stronger and men became more involved in its hierarchy, their wives' economic and social dependence grew, weakening their position. From the 5th dynasty onwards women are frequently shown as part of group statues only.
Women took care of the daily needs of their families; men interpreted this as women serving them. In grave scenes of the Old and Middle Kingdoms wives are often depicted in subservient roles, baking bread, making beer and generally looking after their husbands.
Still, they enjoyed quite a bit of independence in this male-dominated society, and even among the Greeks who began settling in Egypt during the first millennium BCE and restricted the freedom of their women severely, men did not have it all their own way:
Paniskos to Ploutogenia, his wife, greeting.When a woman took on a typically male role in public, as Hatshepsut did when she became pharaoh, she might disguise her feminine features by displaying the insignia of power which people connected with the masculine holders of the title, such as the pharaonic beard.
love poetry which flourished above all during the New Kingdom - but the vast majority of authors was probably male. Most of the writings such as the Instructions were composed by men for men expressing widely diverging views of womanhood .
If you take a wife, do not . . . Let her be more contented than any of her fellow-citizens. She will be attached to you doubly, if her chain is pleasant. Do not repel her; grant that which pleases her; it is to her contentment that she appreciates your work.
The chief of scribes Raherka and his wife Mersankh
5th Dynasty, painted limestone, found in a mastaba at Gizeh
Adapted from a photograph scanned from Les Merveilles du Louvre
Gender relationship in art
Akhenaten and Nefertiti
18th Dynasty, painted limestone, 22 cm tall
Adapted from a photograph scanned from Les Merveilles du Louvre
Various features of statues of couples have been interpreted as pointing to the wives' subordination:
the (inferior left) side of the men they stand on, their position slightly behind their husbands, their smaller size or
the woman touching the man without any reciprocal movement on his behalf.
This may all be true, but the important point is that the men chose to be depicted in the company of their wives. The artists may have fudged the truth a bit, women (and men for that matter) are rarely shown as ugly, fat (the Egyptians seem to have invented our 20th century yearn for thinness), old or bad-tempered.
It seems that they thought that if you had to live an eternity with somebody, then why not in his or her most attractive guise.
Moreover, features can generally be interpreted in more than one way. If a man was shown seated with his wife standing by his side, it may have been in order to offset the larger physical size of the man or, conversely, to stress his greater importance.
During the New Kingdom the representations became less rigid with husband and wife embracing each other, sitting side by side or holding hands.
 Teresa A. Meade, Merry E. Wiesner, Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, A Companion to Gender History, Blackwell Publishing, 2004, p.30
 The Late Period demotic Instructions of Ankhsheshonq are replete with sayings which may well have been proverbial. The 9th Instruction deals mostly with women:
(20) THE NINTH INSTRUCTION. On should not read too much into this. Languages with three grammatical genders still use male or female gender for grown people of unclear sex, sometimes according to which sex preponderates. In German a hermaphrodite, der Zwitter, is male.
 A. H. Krappe, "The Bearded Venus" in Folk-Lore, Vol. 56, No. 4 (December 1945), pp. 325-335
 Gary Taylor, Castration: An Abbreviated History of Western Manhood, Routledge, 2000
, Erman & Grapow, Wörterbuch der ägyptischen Sprache, vol. 4, 264.3
 Geraldine Pinch, Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press US, 2004, p.82
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|Egyptian Women in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt|
| The Egyptian Economy and Non-royal Women: Their Status in Public Life|
|Women and gender in ancient Egypt|
|From warrior women to female pharaohs: careers for women in Ancient Egypt by Dr Joann Fletcher, July 2001|
|The Status of Women in Ancient Egyptian Society by Dr. Peter Piccione|
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