History Can Affect Gender Roles

By Megan Y. Tan ’19

Figure 1. Ancient Egyptian women were considered equal to Ancient Egyptian men.

Figure 1. Ancient Egyptian women were considered equal to Ancient Egyptian men.

Gender role inequality, which has several severe disadvantages and discriminations in a variety of countries, is a highlighted and debated societal issue. For instance, in western societies, women’s salary is 20% lower than males who work in the same field. Social attitudes, economic pressure, and conservative structural forces to maintain the status quo are a couple of reasons for the gender role inequality. Although this inequality is global, studies have shown that women in the Arab region face more economic, social, and political challenges than women in other regions.

Professor Radwa Khalil from the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology of Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg in Magdeburg, Germany and his team of researchers proposed that the disparity of gender roles could be improved by educating the public about the historical contributions of Egyptian women. Dignity in Ancient Egyptian society was based on social class instead of gender. Thus, Ancient Egyptian women had more social and economic standing compared to women in Ancient Greece and Rome. In some ways, they also had more rights than women who live in the Arab region now. For example, Ancient Egyptian women could sue and obtain lawful settlement for marriage and property contracts. They also had the right to education and careers in medicine and law. Because of erroneous religious and cultural believes, the impact of Egyptian women declined dramatically. Contrary to Ancient Egyptian women, modern day Arabic women need to obtain permission from her legal male guardian to seek education and employment. According to the social learning theory, individuals are more likely to adopt a modeled behavior if the model is similar to the observer and has an admired status. Thus Professor Khalil argues that referring to female Western pioneers in Egyptian schools will not have the same effect as referring to ancient Egyptian women role models. The knowledge of ancient Egyptian pioneers might improve self-efficacy in Egyptian women since models are an important source of social learning and inspiration.

Males bind Egyptian women from achievements and other professions. It is not the women who need to change, but rather, the system for teaching and advancing women needs to be readjusted. Because most of Professor Khalil’s research is based on the review of literature, an actual study should be conducted to evaluate the impact of providing positive female Egyptian roles models in school. These findings can be further expanded into the media and political agenda to combat gender inequality.

 

References:

  1. R. Khalil et al., How knowledge of Ancient Egyptian women can influence today’s gender role: does history matter in gender psychology?. Frontiers in Psychology 7, (2017). doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.02053.
  2. Image retrieved from: http://www.toxipedia.org/display/toxipedia/Cleopatra
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