Daughters of Isis: Women of Ancient Egypt

“Egypt was undoubtedly the best place to have been born a woman in the whole of the Ancient World…. Egyptian women enjoyed a legal, social, and sexual independence unrivaled by their Greek or Roman sisters, unrivaled, indeed by women in Europe until the late nineteenth century.

They could own and trade in property, work outside the home, marry foreigners and even live alone without the protection of a male guardian. Furthermore, women fortunate enough to be members of the royal harem were vastly influential, as were those rare women who rose to rule Egypt as ‘female kings’.”

Daughters of Isis: Women of Ancient Egypt
Daughters of Isis: Women of Ancient Egypt

“In the ancient Egyptian mind housework was very firmly equated with women’s work. Domesticated house-husbands were quite simply unknown, and the married woman’s most coveted title of Mistress [or Lady] of the House was a constant reminder of her principal wifely duty: to ensure the smooth day-to-day running of her husband’s home. It seems very unlikely that either sex would ever have dreamed of questioning the inevitability of this division of labour.

Males and females were understood by all to be different types of people destined to live very different lives, and any upsetting of this natural order would clearly have been wrong. In every household, therefore, the wife was nominally responsible for all domestic tasks.

Naturally, the amount of housework which any individual was personally required to undertake was dependent upon her social status.

A queen had no need to disrupt her social life to cook, clean or change nappies, while a wealthy society lady could rely upon the help of a large number of servants including maids, cooks, nurses and brewers, but was expected to supervise and order their activities. A poor woman would need to perform all the domestic tasks herself, helped only by her unmarried daughters and her other close female relations.

Given the absence of modern luxuries such as running water, electricity, gas, supermarkets and motorized transport, the care of the home was a full-time occupation involving a great deal of hard physical work.”

Daughters of Isis: Women of Ancient Egypt, by Joyce Tyldesley