On Monday, Feb. 25, at 8 p.m. in the Daugherty-Palmer Commons, Jeffrey Hammond, Ph.D. gave a talk on women in ancient Egypt, titled “I’m With Her: A Feminist Parable from Ancient Egypt.” The lecture series, established in 1997, is held in the memory of George Bradford Reeves, Sr., and is given annually by the current holder of the Reeves Chair, which recognizes “a distinguished, eminent scholar with broad expertise in classical civilization and a gifted teacher who provides academic leadership at St. Mary’s” (InsideSMCM). Hammond, a professor of English, has held this chair since 2001.
The program itself focused on a particular point of fascination for Hammond: ancient Egypt. While his fascination first started with Ramses II in the 1956 film, “The Ten Commandments,” he has since grown to see Ramses II as a pompous leader. Ramses, he reflects, focused more on building tall statues than he did being a decent leader.
Hatshepsut, Hammond decides, is the more worthy idol. While female pharaohs like Hatshepsut were not unheard of in ancient Egypt, Hatshepsut’s strategic skill and wisdom made her near legendary. As stepmother of future pharaoh, Thutmose III, Hatshepsut already held considerable power. In fact, many women of the time came to power by either marrying the pharaoh or mothering one.
Another female pharaoh, Nefertiti, was likely a co-regent alongside her husband, Akhenaten, and many other female pharaohs found themselves as ruler if their husband died before the next pharaoh in line was of age. Other than that, many Egyptian women could expect a place in society superior to women in other classical civilizations, and could do almost anything that their male counterparts could, except vote. Though, as Hammond jokes, “Basically no one could vote then anyway.”
Hammond reflects on why it is that, as a child, he found himself drawn to Ramses II over any of the worthy female pharaohs. He decides that it was probably due to a childish immaturity and ignorance, which blinded him to women like Hatshepsut. In our own patriarchal society, we often tend to overlook women in power, viewing them more as anomalies.
The title of the talk, “I’m with Her,” is a reference to the 2016 Clinton campaign slogan of the same name, making a clear connection between women like the former secretary of state and Hatshepsut. Women, he says, are surprisingly underrepresented in American politics, making up only a quarter of the representatives in the U.S. House, a record high as of 2018. This does not sit well with Hammond, especially given the proof that women can be fantastic leaders in Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut’s successor, Thutmose III, is nothing more than a footnote in history, notable mostly for mistakes in battle and trying his best to erase anything alluding to Hatshepsut, from records to monuments. Ramses II and Thutmose III remind Hammond of other bigoted and disappointing male rulers of the modern age.
In 1997, a terrorist attack on the tomb of Hatshepsut took the lives of 62, many of whom were women. This attack, which has come to be known as the Luxor Massacre, specifically targeted women, torturing and butchering them in the sacred temple of one of the strongest female rulers in Egyptian history. The significance, Hammond notes, is not small. Women targeted in the tomb of one of history’s most powerful women is just another sign of the issues of modern society that we refuse to acknowledge.