Women in Egypt
Egyptian Queens and Pharaohs
Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe
The argument for the existence of prehistoric matriarchal societies (societies, that is, in which familial and political authority was wielded
by women), first developed by Johann Jacob Bachofen [see also the section Mother Goddess under Women in Prehistory], was further articulated by, among
others, Friedrich Engels in his book The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State published in 1884. Engels argued that the transition
from primate societies to the earliest human social structure was achieved by granting to solidarity a supreme importance which transcended even
sexual competitiveness and jealousy. According to Engels, solidarity was achieved through "group marriage" where whole groups of kin-related women
were collectively "married" to whole groups of men. Under these circumstances, only the mother of a child was known, so kinship tended to be traced
through the female line, creating what Engels called a "matrilineal clan." The kinship rights of men were his sisters and her children.
The question of whether or not some cultures in the early historical period were, if not matriarchal, then at least matrilineal, is today a
controversial one. The consensus among most anthropologists and sociologists is that a strictly matriarchal society never existed. The issue has
important ramifications. To argue in support of matrilinearity in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Crete, and Anatolia is also to argue that these cultures
were still matrilineal as they entered the historical period; that they, and by inference other cultures too, were matrilineal in the prehistoric era.
If this was indeed the case, then matrilinearity was, and for some still is, a more "natural" (because prehistoric and therefore "primitive,"
uncorrupted, and true) arrangement of human society. This "natural" state, however, was gradually destroyed as men established the "unnatural"
condition of patriarchy by subjugating women and usurping female power.
The historical period, beginning around 5,500 years ago, marks the beginning of the rise of patriarchy. It arose gradually, however, and for a
while women appear to have maintained, mostly by default of tradition and custom, especially in conservative societies like that in Ancient Egypt, a
position of importance that was not only different from but, and this is the crucial point, also independent of that of men. In other words, for a
while in Ancient Egypt (and also in Minoan Crete and still in Archaic Greece), women were recognized as embodying an identity and power which derived
from, and was based upon, the female, of which the Mother Goddess, and ultimately all female goddesses, was its manifestation.
It was a power acknowledged and respected by men which resided in the female and could be claimed by all women; it was not, as it subsequently became
in the later Egyptian, Greek, and Minoan periods and has remained ever since, a power defined and delimited by men.
edit on 4-8-2011 by awareness10 because: (no reason given)