This riveting narrative explores the lives of six remarkable female pharaohs, from Hatshepsut to Cleopatra--women who ruled with real power--and shines a piercing light on our own perceptions of women in power today.
Female rulers are a rare phenomenon--but thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt, women reigned supreme. Regularly, repeatedly, and with impunity, queens like Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, and Cleopatra controlled the totalitarian state as power-brokers and rulers. But throughout human history, women in positions of power were more often used as political pawns in a male-dominated society. What was so special about ancient Egypt that provided women this kind of access to the highest political office? What was it about these women that allowed them to transcend patriarchal obstacles? What did Egypt gain from its liberal reliance on female leadership, and could today's world learn from its example?
Celebrated Egyptologist Kara Cooney delivers a fascinating tale of female power, exploring the reasons why it has seldom been allowed through the ages, and why we should care.
Cooney, an Egyptologist at UCLA, profiles six women who rose to power in ancient Egypt. The women most closely connected to the king played a central role and could, when circumstances demanded, become kings themselves. Some of the names (Nefertiti, Cleopatra) are familiar, but this book breaks from trends in studies of ancient Egypt by not focusing exclusively on death rites and funerary architecture. Cooney discusses the women's leadership ("Merneith and Neferusobek selflessly took up authority only to mitigate disaster," but the power-hungry Hatshepsut was the only one who "managed to transcend the crisis had inherited and leave Egypt in better shape") and speculates about what they must have experienced, including the habits and perspectives of the elite (Nefertiti was early in life "exposed to ancient Egyptian submission to authoritarian rule. She knew when to keep her mouth shut"). Attempting to draw parallels between the pharaohs and contemporary rock stars and politicians, Cooney occasionally asks too much of her narrative. But her stories of these remarkable women, who in flashes displayed "true, successful female power that tapped into the emotions of people, that embraced multiple perspectives, that reached out in a spirit of reconciliation to those who had been expelled or cast out," will enchant those wishing to imagine what ancient Egyptian court life was like. Illus.