“When Women Ruled the World” a lecture by Dr. Kara Cooney

Dr. Kara Cooney speaks about a time when the world was ruled by women

Avery Blasko, Contributing Writer

The Weis Center for the Performing Arts hosted its second event of the semester on Aug. 30, a lecture by Dr. Kara Cooney, professor of Egyptian Art and Architecture at UCLA. Cooney discussed women who once ruled Egypt as kings and what this means in the broader context of feminism and female leadership.  

Cooney received her doctorate in Egyptology from Johns Hopkins University and holds many achievements in her field. In 2005, she co-curated “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of Pharaohs” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She produced the archaeology television series “Out of Egypt” in 2009, which aired on the Discovery Channel. Cooney has also written two books. “The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt,” published in 2014, fills in the historical gaps of the story of the Egyptian woman Hatshepsut. “When Women Ruled the World” will be released later this year and explores the reigns of six powerful Egyptian female kings, which is what her presentation highlighted.

“Divine kingship and female leadership are inseparable,” Cooney said.  

To clear up confusion, she also made the comment that women were indeed called “kings” instead of “queens,” and throughout the presentation, referred to the women as kings.  Cooney spoke about six female kings, most of whom only came into power because their husbands had died, leaving a young son. The mothers then became rulers, calling the shots for their sons and earning the divine title of “king.” They even had the honor of being buried as kings, with intricately decorated tombs and human sacrifices. Egypt is the only place in the ancient world that allowed a woman to be king because it was the only society with divine kingship.  

Dr. Janet Jones, professor of classics and ancient Mediterranean studies, noted that although these women were buried with the title, their respect didn’t necessarily carry through the years. “Professor Cooney was quick to point out that even these women rulers rose only in response to specific situations and that their rule, no matter how successful, was often erased from the historical record,” Jones said.

Cooney provided the audience with a bit of background on her studies and the rule of women, not only in Ancient Egypt but throughout the rest of the world. She gave insight on her experiences as an archaeologist using coffins as social documents to see how the Ancient Egyptians dealt with social collapse. From the excavated coffins, Cooney is able to tell the gender, social status, and many other details of the person buried.

Cooney also described the background of women in government and society.  She gave multiple statistics, including that in large governmental bodies throughout the world, only 20 percent of leaders are women. According to Cooney, a major reason women are repressed in areas like this is because of caretaking. Because women have to deal with things such as breastfeeding, postpartum depression, and physically taking care of the child, they are historically thought of as “too emotional” to handle highstake positions.

Cooney’s talk was incredibly well received by Renne Venico ’22. “The Egyptology lecture given last Thursday was truly eye-opening,” Venico said. “It seems as if we’ve only been taught the significance of male leaders all throughout history. It was refreshing to learn a different perspective of how women played significant roles in civilization.”  

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