Hatshepsut, The Cross-Dressing Pharaoh

If you haven’t noticed, we’re a bit obsessed with women throughout history. National Women’s History Month may be over, but we can’t help but to keep highlighting interesting women from the past. My sister got me a subscription to National Geographic for Christmas, and the April issue introduced me to Hatshepsut, a female pharaoh who ruled Egypt form 1479 to 1458 B.C. Since it’s now 2009 A.D. and the U.S. still hasn’t had a female president, you can imagine that it was a pretty big deal for Hatshepsut to rule back then.

The pharaoh’s body was discovered two years ago, and we still don’t know much about her life, but what we do know is rather scandalous. Hatshepsut was the eldest daughter of Thutmose and Queen Ahmose. Because they believed so much in strengthening royal bloodlines, incest wasn’t a bad thing and Hatshepsut married her half-brother Thutmose II, producing one daughter with him. Thutmose II’s heir, however, was a son by another woman. Thutmose III was super young when his father died, so Hatshepsut stepped in to help him out. At first Hatshepsut simply acted on her stepson’s behalf while he was growing up, but then she began doing things only men previously had done, such as making offerings to the gods. Within a few years, she took control of the throne and ruled for 21 years, long after Thutmose III was old enough to take the throne (they were co-rulers for much of her reign). Hatshepsut wore male attire, including the pharaoh’s headdress, kilt, and false beard, and she had been depicted in statues and texts without female traits. No one seems to know why — maybe they made her feel more legit, like when women in the ’80s wore powersuits. In many of the places where she was depicted as a man, her image was chiseled off of stone monuments and public memorials.

Hatshepsut was, according to National Geographic, “a pip-squeak of a king compared with Tutankhamun,” but I sure didn’t learn about her in school, probably because so many signs of the female pharaoh’s reign were erased. Historians had long thought that the reason Hatshepsut was erased from history was because her stepson was pissed that she had ruled when it was his turn, but now it seems more likely that Thutmose III did so to make sure none of her relatives tried to claim the throne after his reign.

Hatshepsut sounds like she was a smart lady for her time, not only because she took on so much male stuff, like weird fake beards, but because, according to Catharine Roehring, a Egyptian art curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “She ruled for 20 years because she was capable of making things work. I believe she was very canny and that she knew how to play one person off against the next — without murdering them or getting murdered herself.” Hmm… It sounds like Hatshepsut would have done well on “The Real Housewives.” [National Geographic]