Shared or Stolen: An Examination of Cultural Appropriation by Shannon Wright

A Place For Commentary on Cultural Appropriation

Today NPR published my piece on why “Cultural Appropriation Is, In Fact, Indefensible.” I was inspired to write this article by a recent NYTimes op-ed on the matter that floored me with how the writer misunderstood the topic, conflated it with other issues, and in general did not take into consideration or seem to know about any of the many articles and posts and books that already exist talking about cultural appropriation. It’s frustrating because that often seems to be the case. That’s why my piece has so many links to so many other essays as well as to resources.

It’s been a while since I submitted a piece to NPR, and so I didn’t know that they no longer have comments (I did do a little cheer when I saw). However, some folks are super not okay with not being able to scroll to the bottom and tell me how wrong I am! And thus my Twitter mentions, the Inbox on the Writing the Other account, and comments on unrelated posts here are full of folks offering me their thoughts.

Since this is the case, I thought a post giving folks the opportunity to scratch that itch was in order. Ta da! However, since this is my blog, I have rules, and you’ll have to be bound by them.

First time commenters are always moderated.

If you’ve never participated in discussion here, then your comment will not appear below automatically. It goes into a queue, and an admin has to rescue it from the queue. Since many folks who will rush here to argue with me do not often do so in good faith and/or can’t resist wallowing in racism or misogyny as they type, I will not be looking at the mod queue, someone else will. They will let your comment out if it doesn’t have those issues. If it does, they’ll delete it and I won’t see your words.

Side Note: Someone is moderating the email address my contact form goes to as well, so I won’t see anything deemed to be mired in bigotry there, either.

Before you argue with me about cultural appropriation, read all the links.

I put a ton of links in that piece for a reason. Cultural appropriation is a complex topic that can’t be 100% covered in one 1000 word essay. So I gave all readers the opportunity to delve deeper into it via other great essays. Click every link in that piece and read what’s behind it and click all the links in those pieces as well. Only then should you come here to ask questions or make objections.

“But I don’t have time to read all that!” you might say. “I have a life to lead!” Okay. But if you don’t have time to read up on the subject you don’t have time to argue with me about it. Go do something, anything, else.

Don’t argue with me on points I haven’t made.

If you see something in those links that you want to fight about, fight about it with the person who wrote the article. The person who made that point. Not with me. I’m not the avatar of all people who have written about cultural appropriation ever. Don’t expect me to answer for them.

If you can follow these guidelines, you can submit a comment. I look forward to hearing from you!

P.S. Sorry for the disjointed nature of the comment responses below. My theme doesn’t support threading as of yet, but I’m trying to fix that now.


Top Image: “Shared or Stolen: An Examination of Cultural Appropriation” by Shannon Wright. Find more of her work on her website, twitter, and instagram.

 

A photoshopped image of tempest standing next to a camel with the great Pyramid in the background. An arrow points to Tempest, under it are the words This Could Be Me!

Want To Help Me Reach My Research Goals?

When I was in college I spent three weeks traveling the UK for a class that traced how mythology, folklore, history, and conquest all blended together. Toward the end, our teacher was able to get us special access to Stonehenge, meaning we could walk around inside and not have to settle for only getting tourist close.

All my life I’d seen images of Stonehenge, heard from experts and visitors about how impressive an achievement it is, read about the height and weight and makeup of the stones. But it wasn’t until the moment I was standing next to them, touching them, and craning my neck up to see the top that I grokked the magnitude of the accomplishment Stonehenge represents. I had to experience the truth of those facts myself before I could begin to understand them.

It was a key moment for me as a writer. It helped me realize how important experiencing a place is to being able to convey it on the page–for me.

Today we have so many tools at our disposal to help put us in places virtually. Google Earth is a treasure, Flickr and Facebook and the millions of photos you can find there from every angle are priceless, 3D modeling and 360 degree photography are everything. Still, I know myself, and I know that it’s hard to really capture what it’s like to be somewhere unless I’ve been there or been in a similar space. And there aren’t many places on Earth similar to the Great Pyramid in Giza.

I’ve wanted to go to Egypt on a research trip for many years, but events have made be wary to go until now. Yes, there’s still instability and unrest, but I think the time is finally right for me. So, I’m trying to gather funds for a trip.

The main way I’m doing this is through my Patreon. My first goal is to get to $700 per month. The next goal is $1000. I need to get to my first goal at least in order to save up enough for Egypt.

I’ve picked out a tour in May of 2018 — it’s a group package that includes all the sites key to my novels, including two sites not usually included in tourist packages. In order to go, I’ll need at least $5500.

If you are inclined to help me get to this goal, consider becoming my patron. There’s a $1 month level and everything. If you’re already a patron, or just do not have the wiggle room in your budget, would you tell your friends about my Patreon? All boosting of signal is helpful.

I’m also applying for grants and fellowships (SLF, Tiptree, etc.) to help fund this. If you know of any that I should be aware of, please do let me know.

I know I’m taking a big leap here, especially as I am not a proven novelist. I want very much to get this right, especially in later books in the series where a sense of place is key to the structure and worldbuilding. No matter what happens with these trips, I’ll keep writing and using the tools I do have to get this novel on paper and out in the world.

A stack of Clockwork cairo books

Story Notes: The Copper Scarab (in Clockwork Cairo)

Clockwork Cairo is officially out in the world! An anthology of steampunk stories on an Egyptian theme. It’s as if it was made for me. And I’m so grateful for Matt Bright’s patience in allowing me to submit a story at the last minute AND a little late. (Story of my life.)

I didn’t find out about the anthology until Matthew was almost done picking stories for it. And once I saw the theme, I knew I needed to be in it. I told him I’d write a story set in the world of my novel and then… spent a week not knowing what to write about. My ideas were only vague and, I felt, uninteresting.

Fortunately for me, I have smart and talented friends. Mary Robinette Kowal gave me her worksheet for creating short stories, and it starts with coming up with characters, who then have desires, whose desires collide with other characters’ desires, which makes for a story.

Beyond me thinking that my ideas for stories were too vague and/or uninteresting, I also got hung up where I often get hung up (so you’d think I’d recognize this as something not to get hung up on…), which is trying to adhere to the details of a sketched out idea instead of giving myself room to change and explore. In this case, the ideas I was trying to hold on to had to do with how the copper scarabs came into existence in my world.

NOTE: There are mild spoilers for the story below. Proceed with caution. Continue reading “Story Notes: The Copper Scarab (in Clockwork Cairo)”

Come for the giant steampunk scarabs, stay for the matriarchal culture

Let Me Sum Up: May 2017 on Patreon

A summary of the content my Patreon patrons got for the month of May plus what’s new for patrons plus a kitty.

May was a weird month for me. A ton to do, a con to attend (and help organize), and writing to worry over. I ended up being stalled for most of the month due to brain weasels, but did manage to get all the May content complete and up… if a little late. I’ve discovered that having deadlines is somewhat useful for me, but what’s more useful is having people who are as forgiving about lateness due to brain weasels as they are eager to read what I’m writing. Once again I say: I have the best supporters.

Here’s what they got to access last month:

Read Along ($10 per month and up)

Section 2 of the book starts here! Patrons at this level got to read:

Sneak A Peek ($5 per month and up)

I had a hard time getting section 2 of the book started, so I had several scenes that ended up being cut or completely rewritten. I posted a few of them for the patrons on this level as well as a background sketch.

AMA ($2 per month and up)

In this Q&A post I answered a question about whether I’m an architect or gardener/discovery writer.

All Patrons ($1 per month and up)

Last month my new podcast, ORIGINality, debuted. I posted a link to the first episode here, but there was also a secret, members-only episode we recorded for folks who joined the Relay podcast network. That super secret episode is also available to my patrons!

Other Posts

This post is public, though it’s likely only of interest to people who’ve been reading the novel in progress: I’m Changing A Character’s Gender, Here’s Why

New Stuff

I’m adding new patron content over the next couple of months. June’s new thing is Writing Exercises, which I explain here.

So far I’m on track with June content, and there are more chapters and background sketches coming. Thank you to everyone who stuck with me through the turbulent month of May! And thank you to all the folks who just started supporting me. You give me a reason to keep writing.

Oh, I almost forgot, here is your kitty:

Bast statue with kittens at her feet

A gold statue of egyptian goddess

In Search Of: Consulting Egyptology / Khemitology Scholar

I’ve reached a point in my research where I could really use the services of an Egyptologist, Khemitologist, or someone studying Egyptology at the graduate level or above. Someone I can ask specific questions, such as “what is the exact translation of these words?” or “Did doors in the New Kingdom have hinges or not?” The type of questions that I can’t find for myself with my limited research skills but would likely be very easy for someone studying this stuff to find.

I would likely need to email this person every now and then over the next year (one or two emails a week tops, and sometimes not more than a couple times per month).

I don’t know what kind of compensation is usually offered for this kind of thing (if any), so I’ll just say I am willing to offer some if asked and it’s negotiable.

If you are such a person, or if you know such a person who might be willing, please contact me or have them contact me through this form. Thanks!

Support me on Patreon and read my steampunk ancient egypt novel as I write

Let Me Sum Up: April 2017 on Patreon

Last month I made a significant change to my goals over on Patreon. Not the amount, but the why. Now I’m not looking for support in general as I write my steampunk Ancient Egypt novel, I’m looking to fund some upcoming research trips I have planned. Since I am writing historical fiction, albeit fantasy-infused, I have a ton of research that needs doing, plus I need to set foot in Egypt at least once in my life in order to capture the sense of place the way I want to. To that end, I published a post about how I’ll use the money donated on Patreon, which you can read as it’s public.

As to what my patrons got to read last month:

Read Along level folks ($10/month) got chapters four, five, six, seven, and eight, which brings me to the end of section 1 of the book. I’m planning on 5 sections, we’ll see if that happens.

Folks on the Sneak A Peek level ($5/mo) also got to read Chapter Eight as well as two interludes that I’m trying to fit somewhere in the structure but don’t know exactly where they’ll go yet. I also posted a glimpse into the very first draft of this novel when it was a short story (ahahaha ahahaha AHAHAHAHAAAAAA ohgodIwillneverwriteanythinglessthan6000againwillI).

All patrons got to read a background scene exploring the history between my main character and her sister.

And there are a few interesting tidbits about my writing process in the Ask Me Anything posts for folks on the AMA tier and above.

As to what’s coming up in May: More of the same! I’m moving into section two of the book where all the DRAMAAAAAA happens. And the lesbian sex. This month’s background work is going to involve a ton of research into how a minority population successfully oppresses and marginalizes a majority population. Not exactly full of sunshine, I know.

One thing that will be on the more fun times end is that I am thinking of doing a class called Writing Practice based on some stuff I’ve noticed in the last couple of years teaching Writing the Other courses. The class will be entirely devoted to writing exercises with feedback from peers. The goal is to come up with one new exercise for every day and the class will last 30 days. But first I need to do one writing exercise every day to figure out which ones I want to use. A bunch of my efforts will likely end up in the patron content for May and June.

To those of you supporting me currently: Thank You So Much! I hope you’re enjoying the content.

To those of you still eyeing all this warily, I have some ideas for more things I can add to what patrons at different levels get that won’t take away from my writing time. Perhaps even the aforementioned writing exercises.

It’s My Birthday! Have A Party Favor (i.e. a Story)

Today is my birthday! Break out the confetti and the cupcakes and the ball pit! A real ball pit, not a DashCon ball pit.

Those of you who know me know that I like to celebrate hard when the anniversary of my rotation around the sun comes around. So be warned: this is the first post of many in which I will mention that IT’S MAH BIRTHDAY.

You’re all invited to celebrate with me. So step into my virtual party and collect your party favor. (That’s a free thing you get for showing up.) I’m a writer, so all I can give you is some writing. But it’s free, so hurrah!

The story below is a bit of background writing I did for one of the characters in the Untitled Egyptian Steampunk Novel In Progress, which you have perhaps heard about? If not, there’s an explanation of it over on my Patreon. And yeah, I’m gonna mention how, if you support me via Patreon, you can read more excerpts from this novel and related writings, such as this, each month.

All right, shameless plug over, let’s get to the fiction.


Ibi’s First Dance

The morning of the equinox. The year’s first equinox. The balance of day and night before the night overtakes the sunlight hours. More time for marking the turning of the night sky and the movement of the stars. Ibi’s favorite time of year. It also meant she was closer to the Long Night, marking the end of her second year training in the Spirit House and the beginning of her last.

Two hours before dawn the sorors rang the first bell, calling for the trainees and acolytes to wake up. Ibi was already awake. Fretting. Thinking about the dance. She was a ba-adept, one of the rare people who could see the ba spirits of the dead and guide them. One day guide them. That would be her role, if she completed her training and passed her tests. She was not expected to dance the Hathor ceremony with precision and perfection. But it was her first time and she could not stop being nervous.

She knew the steps. She knew the words. She knew the notes. How many times had she practiced? How many times growing up did she see the dancers and musicians of the Spirit House perform it? Still, she couldn’t shake the fear that she would misstep, fail to hit a note, and ruin the great celebration for everyone.

A good part of her nervousness came from knowing that the Great Mother, Tani, and all the kinswomen of the Pharaoh would be at the ceremony. All of them including Ziwat. What did she look like now? Would she recognize Ibi if she happened to see her dancing?

When she was small and was Ziwat her mother’s favorite student, she attached herself to the woman almost as soon as she got to know her. Ziwat was the best person in the world, aside from her parents and her older siblings. And, like her sisters and brother, Zi grew up and left to live her own life. Natural, yes, but heartbreaking.

Now she was the Superior Engineer of the High House, the netjer Seshat in human form. Ibi was just another ba-adept in the crowd. She probably wouldn’t notice her.

The Supreme Musician of the Spirit House wouldn’t reveal her place in the formation until later that morning. The dancers would be assigned a quadrant in the festival square and stay within certain bounds as they went through the ceremonial steps. The kinswomen would be watching from the West. Part of her hoped to be assigned there, part of her didn’t. To mess up at all would be mortifying. To mess up in front of the Great Mother and Ziwat?

The second bell brought her back to the present. It was time to get ready.

She pulled on the fine, white linen dress worn for ceremonies, its skirt loose to allow for full leg movement, the arms sleeveless to display the Spirit House tattoos and make working the sheer veil easier. She wrapped the veil around her waist for the moment, then followed the other trainees to the inner sanctum.

There were over sixty of them in the columned room, and their energy–mixed nervous and excited–made them want to chatter. None did. The sanctum was only for sacred sound.

The Supreme Musician, voice of Hathor, emerged from the netjer chamber and they all stilled, waiting for her words. She said nothing for heartbeat on heartbeat until a final bell rang announcing the appearance of the Aten disk above the horizon and the emergence of the Kheper-dawn.

She then moved among them, singing the notes for the four directions and touching each of their foreheads as she did. You go north, you go east, you go south, you go west. That last she sang to Ibi; West it would be, then.

The dancers moved to the walls of the room that corresponded to their direction, waiting in no set order. The Supreme’s voice, low, sonorous, and resonant, made the walls vibrate just a touch. At some signal in her tone, instrument players came into the room and moved among them, wrapping belts around their waists and hanging two of the sacred sistrum at the hips. This instrument, only allowed during ceremonies and often only played by dancers, bore the face of Hathor and was sacred to her.

While this happened, the Supreme chanted words marking the passage of time and the role of Hathor as the guiding hand on the sun barge. In response, trainees and acolytes, adepts and sorors, chanted the mirror words. She came to each and arranged them in lines, showing where they would be for the dance. When she came to the West, the last group, she placed Ibi in the front line. Ibi tried not to break her chant, but did take the woman’s hand in her own and squeeze it, her eyes asking “Are you certain?” The Supreme only smiled and cupped her cheeks for a moment, certainty in her own expression.

That should have made Ibi less nervous. It didn’t. Now she wouldn’t even have the comfort of hiding in the crowd.

~~~

The Ra-sun crested the endless blue sky, coming to its highest point before dipping back down to the horizon. The dancers filed out of the Spirit House’s main entrance into the cheerful cacophony of the Festival crowd. They moved to their assigned positions in the Festival square without speaking, the only sound a collective sussurus from the sistrum banging against their hips. Ibi’s feet knew where to go, and she kept her eyes on them while she concentrated on getting to her place.

Around them, the voices of the majority of hetWaret’s citizens called out words of praise and respect and thanks. The dancers and musicians would deliver the grateful joy of the Khemetan people to the netjer and ensure the continuation of the world with their words and notes and music.

When Ibi’s group reached the western quadrant she finally looked up. The congregation of the High House sat on a raised platform a few yards away. Above them, on a higher dais, the kinswomen stood in front of the Pharaoh and the Great Mother, who stood in front of a giant copper scarab. The outer wings were raised halfway up, bouncing the rays of the sun back to the sky. The massive machines were taller than two tall men, wider than two wide elephants, made all of copper on the outside, which had been newly polished on this one. Likely the Pharaoh and Great Mother had come to the square riding in it.

And standing just in front of them: Ziwat. Ibi recognized her right away. Same sand-colored skin, hair twists longer now with touches of silver, wide brows still dark, complimenting her wide, red-tinted mouth. She was beautiful. How was she so beautiful? How had Ibi not remembered that?

Rapid drumbeats signaled the start of the ceremony and the crowd came to attention. The dancers did not move. Still, still, still; counting until the right moment. The first note burst from the Superior Musician’s throat and, as one, they all lifted their arms and began the dance.

Ceremonial song took over Ibi’s mind and body and transported her beyond herself within the first few beats. All nerves, all worry, all self-consciousness dissolved as she became one with the others, one with the voice of Hathor. The dancers moved in unison, each step, arc of the arm, position of the hand, note of the song carrying layer on layer of meaning. Their celebration praised all aspects of the netjer as she moved through the mill of time.

When the first verse ended all the dancers turned to face the center of the square and lifted their voices to create a note that reverberated up to the sun itself, an offering to the Hathor at the center of everything.

Now came the hard part.

They turned back and all danced into the crowd. People parted to allow them in as the front line was expected to move all the way to the back of the crowd and the base of the kinswomen’s dais. Once they were all properly dispersed, the dancers began again, this time inviting the citizens around them to join. The women in the rearmost line took the hands of children new to ceremony to teach them the movements. The lines in the middle danced with adults who knew their part in this well. The highest ranking citizens stood in the back of the crowds on all four sides and often only watched the front line dancers. Their presence was sacred offering enough. Though sometimes they were moved to join the dance.

Ibi lifted her eyes to search for Ziwat and discovered her friend was already looking at her, recognition in her wide smile and joyous gaze. Ibi knew not to approach her directly, even though she wanted to. But with her own smile she tried to communicate the same happiness at seeing Ziwat again.

At a prompt from the song, she unwrapped the veil from her shoulders and spun, the fabric rippling around her in waves. When she faced the dais again, Ziwat was there in front of her. They danced together, Zi matching or mirroring her moves in accordance with the ceremony. They were Seshet and Hathor, celebrating each other, spinning, clapping, harmonious on Earth as in the heavens.

Other kinswomen joined the dancers–more than had in many years, Ibi learned later. Her whole being overflowed with joy.

The Supreme’s voice sang out a note as the song crested toward its highest point, a signal to the dancers to return to formation. Ibi touched Zi’s arm one more time, then spun away, her veil almost wrapping itself back around her. Fingers unhooking the sistrum, feet landing exactly so, arms raised at a right angle, she joined the others in this final display of gratitude and celebration. As one, they shook the sistrum, the small metal disks strung between the cow’s horns clattering against each other. The sound came to the ear harsh at first, then transformed into a sacred vibration that reached into every body, every stone, every thing.

Ibi’s brown eyes swirled to gold and she saw hundreds of fluttering lights rushing toward them. These were the ba spirits of those who had not yet passed beyond the Door to the West. The sound of the sistrum drew them, always. Just as they had at her first Hathor Festival. She’d seem them and cried out “What are those shining birds?” That’s when her family discovered she was a ba-adept. The moment that set her on the path that led to this one.

Dancers shook the sistrum side to side, shaking or rolling different parts of their bodies in precise, isolated movements. Arms only, now wrists, hips now, one leg, then the other, the midriff, then finally absolute stillness as the song and ceremony ended and the crowd burst into cheers and praise.

This is when Ibi sunk fully back into herself, breath and heartbeat rapid, dress clinging to sweaty skin. Above all the heads in front of her she saw Ziwat, hand cupped to her mouth, her ululation directed right to her.

~End~

A map of Africa with Egypt highlighted and Will Smith as a meme gesturing toward it

Yes, in my novel, the Ancient Egyptians are Black

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with an indie publisher[1] about an anthology project they’ve been wanting to do for a long time: speculative fiction stories set in Ancient Egypt where the only rule about the stories is that the authors must make it clear that the Egyptian characters are Black people. They told me every time they get ready to put the wheels in motion for this, they pull back after they ask themselves “Do I really want to deal with the grief and attacks I’m gonna get because of this?”

If your first thought upon reading this is “But of course the Ancient Egyptian characters should be Black Africans because the Ancient Egyptians were Black Africans…” or “But why would people give the publisher so much grief over this that the project keeps getting put on the shelf?” then you belong to the group of people who are attempting to live in a rational world where truth is real and things make sense. Not everyone lives in this world.

How do I know this? Well, there’s Fox News. But also, as previously mentioned, I’ve been researching Ancient Egypt off and on for over a decade, and in academic circles you will still find people arguing for how the Egyptians weren’t really African, or weren’t sub-Saharan African (which I guess is where all the Black Africans live. Above the Sahara they are so totes white), which is a holdover from the beginnings of Egyptology and archaeology in the West that are built on white supremacist ideas. The pyramids, the Great Sphinx, the many wonders of Egypt are very clearly the work of advanced, intelligent people. But Black folks are just tribal savages rolling around in the mud. Therefore…

Now, you won’t find too many modern academics being quite this blatant with their racism. You will find the average Joe from that forum you frequent wallowing in this nonsense while pretending that isn’t racist as fuck. For some more recent evidence of this, I invite you to venture into the comments of Scott Woods’ post on why The Gods Of Egypt is a terrible, racist movie. You will find therein people who argue vehemently that Ancient Egyptians were not Black like those other Africans, are kind Greek, or some other ridiculousness that I have likely erased from my memory. This is not new. Armchair historians who learned everything they know about the past from watching The Mummy[2] have been giving us this chin music for years.

So yeah, it is a bit of a radical act to stipulate that stories set in Ancient Egypt should have Black Egyptians and I can sort of understand not wanting to walk into that particular hornet’s nest willy nilly. Still though. I’m ready and waiting for this anthology to become a reality because I will just write a story set in the Steampunk Egypt world my novel is set in. Because, other than wanting to ensure the culture I crafted is matriarchal, my other base reality is that all the native Egyptians in the book are Black. I intend to mark their dark skin colors as often as I can get away with, and using language that makes it clear they and other people in Egypt consider that skin to be beautiful. Hell, everything about their features will be marked as the epitome of beauty and the standard by which people of nearby countries judge themselves by.

And if someone out there has a problem with it, I will compose a special song to sing for them that will go something like:

Just keep steppin’ / just keep steppin’ / get that racism out of my waaaaaay!

Just keep steppin’ / stay in your lane / or go right to hell to-daaaaaay.

And yeah, the next time you see me at a con I’ll sing that for you if you like.

Cuz look: Hollywood is gonna keep trying with this Egyptians Were White business. They haven’t lost enough money yet to stop. So other forms of art are going to have to carry this for now. So I challenge you to write stories with Black Egyptians and create art with Black Egyptians and sing songs about Black Egyptians. I know that’s what I plan to do.

Footnotes

  1. Whose name I won’t reveal here because they might not want everyone and their mama to know they have this opinion.[]
  2. Pick a version. Any version.[]
Tempest Challenge - History According to Women

History, According to Women | The Tempest Challenge

Today is the close of women’s history month! It doesn’t quite loom as large, or as annoyingly, as Black History Month in terms of the kinds of narratives it perpetuates about women. There’s still probably far too narrow a focus on what Women’s History means (I see a bunch of suffragette stuff bandied about). The thing that interests me most about women and history is how different history looks when women write it.

Take the research I’m currently engaged in. The novel I’m writing is a historical fantasy novel set in a real time in earth’s history. I’ve spent over a decade reading books and journal articles about Ancient Egypt for various versions of this project. A few years ago I hit a point where I decided that I just wasn’t going to read any more books on the subject written by men. The more I began to understand my research subject, the more I could see how much patriarchal nonsense plays a role in how everything from artifacts to culture are interpreted and presented.

I recently picked up Merlin Stone’s When God Was A Woman and found in the introduction a reaffirmation of the observations I’d made.

…another problem I encountered was the sexual and religious bias of many of the erudite scholars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Most of the available information in both archaeology and ancient religious history was compiled and discussed by male authors. The overwhelming prevalence of male scholars, and the fact that nearly all archaeologists, historians and theologians of both sexes were raised in societies that embrace the male-oriented religions of Judaism or Christianity, appeared to influence heavily what was included and expanded upon and what was considered to be minor and hardly worth mentioning.

…Despite the discovery of temples of the Goddess in nearly every Neolithic and historic excavation, Werner Keller writes that the female deity was worshiped primarily on “hills and knolls,” simply echoing the words of the Old Testament. Professor W. F. Albright, one of the leading authorities on the archaeology of Palestine, wrote of the female religion as “orgiastic nature worship, sensuous nudity and gross mythology.” He continued by saying that “It was replaced by Israel with its pastoral simplicity and purity of life, its lofty monotheism and its severe code of ethics.” It is difficult to understand how these words can be academically justified after reading of the massacres perpetrated by the Hebrews on the original inhabitants of Canaan as portrayed in the Book of Joshua, especially chapters nine to eleven.

This part in particular caught my eye, given my proclivities:

In 1961 a series of mistakes was described by Professor Walter Emery, who took part in the excavations of some of the earliest Egyptian tombs. He tells us that “The chronological position and status of Meryet-Nit is uncertain, but there is reason to suppose that she might be the successor of Zer and the third sovereign of the First Dynasty.” Writing of the excavation of this tomb by Sir Flinders Petrie in 1900 he says, “At that time it was believed that Meryet-Nit was a king, but later research has shown the name to be that of a woman and, to judge by the richness of the burial, a queen.” He goes on to say, “In 1896 de Morgan, then Director of the Service of Antiquities discovered at Nagadeh a gigantic tomb which, from the objects found in it, was identified as the burial place of Hor-Aha, first king of the First Dynasty. However later research has shown that it is more probable that it was the sepulchre of Nit-Hotep, Hor-Aha’s mother.” And again he tells us that “On the mace of Narmer a seated figure in a canopied palanquin was once thought to be that of a man, but a comparison of similar figures on a wooden label from Sakkara shows that this is improbable and that it almost certainly represents a woman.” Yet, despite his own accounts of this series of assumptions that the richest burials and royal palanquins of the past were for men, rather than women, in describing the tomb of King Narmer he then states, “This monument is almost insignificant in comparison with the tomb of Nit-Hotep at Nagadeh and we can only conclude that this was only the king’s southern tomb and that his real burial place still awaits discovery …” Though some pharaohs did build two tombs, one might expect a “possibly” or “probably” rather than such an absolute conclusion and the implied dismissal of the possibility that, in that period of earliest dynastic Egypt, a queen’s tomb just might have been larger and more richly decorated than a king’s. (emphasis mine)

If you’re interested in this subject you should read the entire introduction because I can’t excerpt all the good parts here.

When God Was A Woman was written in the 1970s, but lo these almost 40 years later, this is still a problem. That’s because many of these foundational ideas of archaeology aren’t being challenged, they’re being taught. So new discoveries are often analyzed through these faulty, patriarchal lenses.

It’s not just men who do this, mind you. On one of my trips to Powell’s I came across a book I should have wanted to buy immediately: Nefertiti: Egypt’s Sun Queen by Joyce Tyldesley. But when I read the introduction I came across a paragraph that made me shut the entire thing and fling it back at the shelf.

The women of the 18th Dynasty enjoyed a freedom that made them unique in the ancient world. They had the same legal rights as men, and were permitted to own property, to work outside the home, and to live alone and raise their children without the protection of a male guardian.

Pause right here. This kind of paragraph can be found in many books or articles that tackle the subject of women in Ancient Egypt. These conclusions are based on several things, including existing records around Egyptian law, plus first person observations of historians and travelers from ancient times. This is where I wish most of these paragraphs would end. Yet there is always a But. Or, in this case, a:

Nevertheless, few women received a formal education and, in a country where maybe between two and ten per cent of the population was literate, few women could read or write. Women were not expected to train for careers.

Pausing again to slam my fist on a table. Because first, no one ever backs that bit about the formal education up with actual data and, second, what is the criteria for “formal education”? Is it “training men receive to do jobs generally done by men in these times”? I bet if you asked Joyce Tyldesley if masonry required a “formal education” she’d say yes, but if we asked her if weaving required one, she’d say no. And she’d be wrong.

Also, that line about “few women could read or write” is always, ALWAYS included in these things. But if less than ten percent of the population could read or write then that means few men could read or write, so why are we taking this time to single out women?

And finally, what constitutes a career in Ancient Egypt? Once again I’m going to bet if we asked, the answers would reveal this is some patriarchal nonsense. Because:

They were expected to marry and produce children, and mothers enjoyed a position of great respect within the home and the wider community. Nefertiti was no exception. Born a non-royal member of Egypt’s elite, she was married as a young girl to the most enigmatic individual in Egyptian history. By the age of thirty Nefertiti had borne at least six children and had transformed herself into a semi-divine human being. Meanwhile her husband, Akhenaten, had instigated a religious revolution and founded a capital city.

I don’t have time to dismantle all the nonsense around the idea of women being wives and mothers means they couldn’t have careers or read or anything, because this would turn into a book and other people have written far better ones on this than I could. But do you see how she positions Nefertiti as a person who was just expected to produce children, which she did, proving she was just like any other woman, but hey she was married to an extraordinary man! This is a book about Nefertiti.

You see why I put it back on the shelf.

And yeah, Joyce Tyldesley is a woman, and she still falls under the sway of patriarchal nonsense, because she was educated by the institutions that uphold it. That’s going to be true for many of the books I come across in my research quest. Still, of the books about Egypt, and about history in general, that I read, the ones I see stepping out of the shadow of patriarchy are all written by women. I’m more willing to give those books my time and money.

Many of the research books I’ve come across in the last few years are written by women who seem to acknowledge that early pioneers in this field had unexamined biases and that their conclusions and conjectures need not be dismissed, but rather re-examined in that light. Still, they are willing to step back and see new things, reach different conclusions, and present a different paradigm.

And that’s so important, not just in archaeology, but in many disciplines that examine the past. The assumptions and base viewpoints of the scholars doing the research will always have an impact. And it would not surprise me to find that across many different history categories there are women writing books, papers, articles, and more that are more willing to poke at those paradigms. It probably costs them to do so. That’s another good reason to seek out their work.

Here are my current favorite books that touch on Ancient Egypt written by women. I’m always on the hunt for new ones. If you know of any, please do share them in the comments.

When God Was A Woman by Merlin StoneWhen God Was A Woman by Merlin Stone

This book doesn’t focus on Egypt specifically, yet it’s been very valuable to me as I try to construct a matrifocal[1] culture for my book. Stone talks about the evidence she found for how spiritualities and religions with goddesses at the center as well as how women were treated in the cultures where this was prevalent. Then she goes into how matrifocal cultures were invaded and replaced by patrifocal ones. It’s all fascinating and still relevant many decades on. More relevant right now, I’d say.

Hathor Rising The Power of the Goddess in Ancient Egypt by Alison Roberts Ph.D.Hathor Rising: The Power of the Goddess in Ancient Egypt by Alison Roberts Ph.D.

The way Dr. Roberts illuminates the story of the goddess Hathor through textual, mythological, and archaeological evidence is amazing. Hathor is so much more than just Egypt’s Aphrodite, and is so intertwined with the other major female deities as well as the history and evolution of dynastic Egypt that I’m surprised more alternative Egyptologists don’t spend more time on her. The author is not necessarily of that alternative set; I do find it interesting that the press where she chose to publish this leans heavily toward books on spirituality and not serious books on Ancient Egypt.

The Dawning Moon of the Mind Unlocking the Pyramid Texts by Susan Brind MorrowThe Dawning Moon of the Mind: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts by Susan Brind Morrow

If, like me, you have ever tried to read the Pyramid Texts or the so-called Book of the Dead and went: “The hell? This doesn’t make sense…” you need to read this book. It’s a new translation of the texts by a woman who understands poetry, knows multiple languages derived from Ancient Egyptian, and views the texts from a spiritual perspective most of the original translators don’t. The middle of the book is the straight up translation, but the first and third parts go through the texts line by line, column by column, explaining the author’s conclusions and readings. It’s so wonderful.

The Woman Who Would Be King Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara CooneyThe Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney

I haven’t read this one yet! I’m recommending it, anyway, based on the reviews that I’ve read, including this one from a woman Egyptologist on Goodreads. Hatshepsut may be the protagonist of my next book in the Steampunk Egypt books, so this is near the top of my To Read pile. I am side-eyeing that cover, though.


I do have a few other go to Egyptology books that I always keep around written by men. So let’s not hear any of you saying BUT BUT BUT YOU’RE MISSING OUT BLAARRGGG because I’m not. Going forward, though, if an Egyptology book isn’t written by a woman or a trans person or a non-binary person, it’s going to have to prove itself to me in several specific ways before I get too deep into it.

For those who venture into the comments, which books about history written by women are your favorites?

Footnotes

  1. Matrifocal is a new term I heard at this year’s ICFA conference. It encompasses matriarchal and matrilineal, which aren’t exactly the same thing. It’s a nice umbrella term.[]
The Copper Scarab

Coming Soon: Clockwork Cairo

There’s a new steampunk anthology in town, and this one has a theme close to my heart: steampunk stories with an Egyptian theme. It’s called Clockwork Cairo and it’s coming out in May from TwoPenny Press. The antho features my first original short story in a long while: The Copper Scarab. It’s set in the same world as the steampunk Ancient Egypt novel I’m writing.

The art above is the frontispiece to the story and I am super excited about it. My first story art!

You can pre-order the anthology right now. If you’re curious about the story, I posted the opening over on my Patreon page (for patrons only). You can also hear me read from it at AnomalyCon!