Gender Roles in Ancient Greece and Egypt Centuries of cultural and social evolution has afforded us the liberty to pride ourselves on being keen about who we are, what we want, and what we are willing to do to get it. It stands to reason that this evolution would be accompanied by opportunities and freedoms (generally speaking) enjoyed today which lend support to the varied expressions of self determined roles that often supersede fading gender prejudices.
The trouble with freedom and opportunity often lays with the hesitant recipient whose boundaries and guidelines have suddenly been blurred, and who now must steer beyond confusion to reclaim his place in society. Fortunately, ancient cultures such as that of Greece and Egypt, which share credit for some of the freedoms we exercise today, were able to weather the issues of gender roles and still leave their mark in history, though their expectations of these roles were often quite different.
Both the Greeks (specifically Athenians and Spartans) and the Egyptians accepted obvious gender roles as that of male and female, with the exception of the Egyptian consideration of a third gender, which were eunuchs. The role of the eunuch in Egypt was assumed to be one of royal or religious service but may be much more according to art found in the and tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khanumhotep (Reeder, 2000). The role of men in Greece and Egypt wove strong common threads found throughout every culture in ancient history.
The classes for men usually fell under three categories: citizen, which gave men certain privileges and protection under the law; free, which restricted privilege but allowed them to come and go as they wished; and bond, which meant they were the property and slave of an owner and had no rights. The ongoing focus of ancient men was the perpetuation of the species (homo sapiens), whether by procreation, protection, governing, or merely maintaining life in peaceful times. They were rarely found straying from their role.
They led and ruled and trained their sons and young men who would stand in their place someday. There was little variance in their occupations: warriors, political leaders, merchants, craftsmen, scribes, priests, and such. The crossover by a qualified female was rare but not unheard of, and would more often be found in Egyptian culture than among the Greeks, as Egypt was a society that readily accommodated and supported women. Egyptian women, unlike their Athenian counterparts, grew up in a culture that valued them and embraced the family unit (Thompson, J. 2005). Although Egyptian and Athenian girls both received training in domestic duties that would benefit the management of a household, the quality of life they experienced after marriage had little if anything at all in common. Life for women in Sparta had its own benefits, as Sparta assured the certainty of a strong state by pushing their girls through the same rigorous training their brothers endured, leaving the domestic work to others (Minnesota State University, n. . para. 1). Once married, women from these three cultures would experience lifestyles contrary to each other in many ways with a few basic similarities. Socially, ancient Egypt was centuries ahead of its time, and as a result has seen little change in its culture with regard to the roles of men and women. Egyptian women had liberties and rights very similar to men in their culture that exceeded the rights of Greek women.
They were allowed to socialize outside of the home, accompany their husbands in mixed company, customarily greeting male visitors to their home, negotiate inherited property, and exercise legal rights. Greek women did none of this, least of all socialize with men. Instead they would gather separately, especially Athenian women who rarely left their homes once wed, and were regarded only slightly higher than slaves.
Childbearing was high priority in Egypt for married women (as it was for the Greeks), validating their place in society while giving bragging rights to the husbands with fertile wives (Tyldesley, J. , n. d. ). As Egyptian men were proving their virility by marrying girls as young as their early teens and fathering as many children as possible, Spartans were concerned with securing a lasting state and married young women who were a few years older than their Egyptian sisters but much healthier so they could produce mighty warriors.
So then if Egypt bred for numbers and Sparta’s focus was strength, then Athens’ aim would have been to produce citizens, yes, and legitimate heirs! Ironically, the democracy being born alongside its newest citizens that would soon spread from Greece, left no remnant of itself for the citizen wives busy replenishing Athens, dedicated to childbearing, childrearing and house-keeping in a world reduced to the size of their husband’s estate, of which they had no ownership.
Athenian women had no right to any property and if widowed could end up in slavery. Not far away, Spartan women, the fitting counterpart to their men, were strong, intelligent women who controlled over a third of the land, were able to influence the decision of Spartan men without holding office, and could even remarry if their husbands were gone long enough (Minnesota State University, n. d. , para. 3). What would these ancients say to us if they could?
Perhaps the only voice worth listening to would come from across the Mediterranean. Egyptian women whose culture could speak volumes on behalf of their view of gender roles, most certainly would be heard echoing, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! ” References Minnesota State University (n. d. ). Ancient greek civilizations. Retrieved March 5, 2009r, from http://www. mnsu. edu/emuseum/prehistory/aegean/culture/womenofsparta. html Reeder, G. (2000). The tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khanumhotep. Egyptology.
Retrieved March 5, 2009, from http://www. egyptology. com/niankhkhnum_khnumhotep/ Seawright, C. (2001). Egyptology. . Retrieved March 4, 2009, from http://www. thekeep. org/~kunoichi/kunoichi/egypt/index. html Thompson, J. (2005). Women in the ancient world. . Retrieved March 1, 2009, from http://www. womenintheancientworld. com/women%20in%20ancient%20egypt. htm Tyldesley, J. (n. d. ). The Status of Women in Egyptian Society. Retrieved March 1, 2009 from http://www. library. cornell. edu/colldev/mideast/womneg. htm