Ancient Egyptian mummies have fascinated the world for centuries and Egyptian beliefs about the afterlife are just as intriguing. But when researchers look at mummies, one thing stands out more than others; the vast majority of the deceased seem to be male. One wonders if women were really that under-represented in society?
The truth is that female mummies underwent a special step while preparing for their transition to the afterlife. Women were allowed into the next world, of course, but only if they were transformed into men first.
Ancient Egyptian beliefs hold that only men had the power to regenerate themselves and enter the afterlife so the ladies were given a bit of a makeover, so to speak. The role of gender and the power of sex had a strong influence in Egyptian life and just as strong an influence in death.
The Priests Used A Little Bit Of Magic For The TransformationPhoto: Rob Koopman / Flickr
Egyptian methods to swap genders vary significantly when compared to today's more scientific gender reassignment procedures. That is to say, they were a bit more magical and a lot less grounded in science. The priest would paint the coffin of the dead woman red and then write inscriptions using masculine pronouns on the coffin shell. Since red was a typically masculine color, it was believed that use of it could genetically alter one's natural anatomy.
The Ruse Was So Good That Scholars Believed Most Ancient Egyptian Rulers Were MalePhoto: Dguendel / Wikimedia Commons
Rulers like Hatshepsut were once thought to be outliers - women who only occasionally popped up amongst a field of men. However, with recent research, it's been discovered that there were actually quite a few female rulers in Ancient Egypt. Merneith, Khentkawes, Neithikret, Sobekneferu, Nefertiti and Tawosret are a few of the more well known. Of course later on, Cleopatra joined their ranks. According to The Guardian, Merneith was originally listed as a king before researchers realized that she was in fact a ruling female.
Feminism Changed The Way We Study Female MummiesPhoto: User:FA2010 / Wikimedia Commons
For many years, scientists and researchers were perplexed by the female mummies. They'd initially written off the male trappings on coffins as accidental occurrences but those would've been egregious mistakes committed by both priests and surviving family members.
An exhibit at The Brooklyn Museum featuring a collection of female mummies and artifacts points out that feminism may have been the key to demanding deeper research on the subject. Curator of Egyptian Art Edward Bleiberg offered strong sentiments on the subject.
"Feminism has changed the questions we ask of ancient history as well as the answers we offer. This is a striking example of how feminism has provided a basis for new scholarship that reinterprets an ancient puzzle."
No Male Body Parts Were Posthumously Applied To Female MummiesPhoto: garrigou / Wikimedia Commons
Although Egyptians completely believed that the mummified women changed genders for a time, no additional male parts were attached to their bodies. However, there are reports that some male mummies were buried with false penises attached and that some females were given false nipples. Apparently they needed to be prepared for all sorts of pleasures in the afterlife.