Dr. Mariam Ayad, Associate Professor of Egyptology, American University in Cairo
Egyptian women, particularly those of the Old Kingdom, enjoyed a wide-range of religious and administrative titles. While these may reflect actual employment outside the home, which provided some economic independence to the women who bore them, all too often the significance of such titles is downplayed and the titles dismissed as “honorific.” Evidence for women’s literacy, their employment and/or their economic independence has thus been systematically ignored, dismissed, or misinterpreted. Attitudes dismissive of women’s literacy not only run against modern feminist sensibilities, but also risk ignoring Egyptian evidence, refusing to assess it on its own merits and to understand the culture on its own terms. To date, only one study (Bryan 1985) attempted to systematically present evidence of female literacy, as presented in iconographic scenes preserved on the walls of New Kingdom tombs. Expanding on Bryan’s work, this paper will outline and synthesize iconographic evidence for female literacy dating to the Old Kingdom through the Third Intermediate Period and will argue that women may have been more literate than had hitherto been assumed.
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