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What can Hatshepsut's rule tell us about relationships between gender and power?

Mohawk Games, 2020. Egyptian Pharaoh Hatshepsut (1479–1458 BCE) depicted in the game Old World.

Hatshepsut ruled in New Kingdom Egypt as a female Pharaoh. Her rule allows us to reconsider how gender and power interacted in New Kingdom Egypt. In particular, Hatshepsut’s artistic representations of herself as Pharaoh invite us to recognise that gender and power operated on a spectrum in New Kingdom Egypt, not within exclusive binaries. Social science epistemologies including gender studies and Queer Theory are applied to Hatshepsut's kingship to demonstrate how gender and power operated outside of binaries in New Kingdom Egypt.

Matić’s (2016, p. 810) application of Queer Theory to the archaeology of Egypt invites us to recognise that we cannot assume a “binary bind” of gender in a given society, but rather we must look for evidence that could indicate towards any nature of a gender division and/or fluidity within that society. Both Diamond (2020, p. 5) and Matić (2016, p. 811) agree that there was a gender binary in Egypt—for example, the gendered endings of hieroglyphs. Yet there is also evidence for a more fluid representation of gender existing outside of the binary. Troy (2002, p. 3) speaks of gender in Egypt as “two ends of a single continuum”, a statement which is echoed by Diamond (2020, pp. 5-8), commenting on the fluidity of the “gender spectrum” that existed in Egypt, which saw “creator deities [as] both uterine and phallic”. Within this discourse, Troy (2002, p. 3) concludes that the creator in Egyptian mythology is an androgynous being, creating “a kingship which can, as an androgynous construct, facilitate between male and female manifestations of power”. Troy’s interpretative model, used in the analysis of creation myths and creator deities, offers critical insight into the relationship between masculine and feminine power in Egypt, which is essential if we are to investigate how Hatshepsut’s rule worked within this gendering of power.

Fitzpatrick, C. (n.d.). Shu, the god of air, separates the sky goddess, Nut, from the earth god, Geb. Two ram-headed gods stand beside Shu.

As the role of the Pharaoh was typically performed by a man, it corresponds that the iconography of the Pharaoh represented masculine projections of power. In presenting herself with the iconography of the Pharaoh, Diamond (2020, p. 3) describes how Hatshepsut “undercut the assumed connection between men and masculinity”, using masculinity as a political tool with which to project the established Pharaonic identity. Through her artistic representations, Hatshepsut showed masculinity was not attached to biologically male bodies and can be negotiated with (Diamond 2020, p. 4). For example, the Sphinx from her mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri wears the royal nemes headdress, a piece of regalia reserved for the Pharaoh.