Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety*
Yesterday was women’s equality day or something like that. I don’t usually pay attention to artificial ’cause X’ days but yesterday got me thinking about important women from times long past. And while I would not deny that throughout much of history regular women have had a hard time being heard, I would venture to say that exceptional women have always been right in the thick of things with the men. Take the 18th dynasty pharaoh, Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt after her husband died.
Okay, she did have to depict herself as a man sometimes and they did erase her name after she died, but while she ruled, she ruled!
And let’s not forget that wonderful Assyrian, Naqi’a, who became the power behind the throne while her son, Esarhaddon, ruled. Here she is depicted on a bronze relief that is now in the Louvre. She is standing behind the king and they are performing a ritual. The rarity of the scene — nothing else like it has ever been found — attests to her power.
In 5th century BC Athens, Pericles’ mistress, Aspasia, gained the public’s admiration through her intellect, social sophistication, and looks — just like the men of the time. How do you think Alcibiades or Pericles himself got so famous?
Centuries later, Cleopatra VII became infamous for killing her relatives and having affairs with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.
She wasn’t a nice person, but as a queen she couldn’t afford to be any different from her male competitors, who weren’t nice either. Everyone used guile, sex, wit, and charisma to gain power. They still do. Let’s not forget that none of these powerful women went out of their way to help other women. And that is not something that you can blame entirely on men. Recognizing the power of the people, Caesar, at least, made reforms to help them out.
I read a lot of complaints that women get judged more harshly for doing the same things that men do. Perhaps that’s true, but in my view, bad behavior is bad behavior no matter who does it. I’ve never celebrated men for lying, cheating, using their bodies to get ahead, or being wholly self-serving. Charm and beauty are nice — it’s how you use them that matters. Maybe we’d do better to emphasize that.
*Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra