According to Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasty documents, an Egyptian woman was afforded such seemingly modern freedoms as an ability to step beyond the walls of her household, own her own property, and obtain a divorce—yet she remained nothing without connections to her father, husband, or brothers. Documents from Egyptian villages dating from a similar period tell us that a widow was one of the most vulnerable members of society, subject to being thrown out of her own home by a daughter-in-law, but court proceedings also record charges of rape and abuse brought by women against men, and Egyptian women practiced the power to file legal complaints for mistreatment.
Egyptian kingship was inherently masculine; religious texts clearly link masculine sexual potency with transformation. The god Atum created himself from nothing by means of a sacred act of sex between his own hand and phallus. Osiris was said to return from the dead through the same act of self-gratification. Re was believed to impregnate his own mother with his future self at the moment of his death in the western horizon. One of Amun-Re’s titles was “Bull of his Mother,” evoking the potential of this god to create himself before he had even existed, and the Egyptian king was believed to be the son of Re and thus the inheritor of these sacred sexual abilities. A king’s capacity to create offspring through his sexuality wasn’t just a guarantee of the continued existence of the kingship, it was a mythical cycle as potent as the circuit of the sun, the seasons of the year and the annual flooding of the Nile. The Egyptian king was his father before him and his son after him simultaneously. His royal essence was passed down in an unbroken line of sacred dynastic succession. Given that the king on earth was nothing less than the human embodiment of the creator god’s potentiality, Hatshepsut must have been all too aware that her rule posed a serious existential problem: she could not populate a harem, spread her seed, and fill the royal nurseries with potential heirs; she could not claim to be the strong bull of Egypt.