When Women Ruled The World by: Kara Cooney | Review

When Women Ruled The World
By: Kara Cooney
Genre: History, Politics, Egypt, Non-fiction
Rating: 2 stars
Publisher: National Geographic Society
Release Date: October 30, 2018

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Synopsis:  This riveting narrative explores the lives of six remarkable female pharaohs, from Hatshepsut to Cleopatra–women who ruled with real power–and shines a piercing light on our own perceptions of women in power today.  Female rulers are a rare phenomenon–but thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt, women reigned supreme. Regularly, repeatedly, and with impunity, queens like Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, and Cleopatra controlled the totalitarian state as power-brokers and rulers. But throughout human history, women in positions of power were more often used as political pawns in a male-dominated society. What was so special about ancient Egypt that provided women this kind of access to the highest political office? What was it about these women that allowed them to transcend patriarchal obstacles? What did Egypt gain from its liberal reliance on female leadership, and could today’s world learn from its example?

Celebrated Egyptologist Kara Cooney delivers a fascinating tale of female power, exploring the reasons why it has seldom been allowed through the ages, and why we should care.

My Thoughts:

I really wanted to dive into this book and become immersed within its promise of breaking down the ancient, political power and stance for six of Egypt’s female Pharaohs, while comparing and contrasting it to the United States’ current political landscape from the female opposition.

However, the further I got into the book, the more I felt a deviation from the promised synopsis and expectations I had for the context. As I did not think it would resonate with any forward-thinking, politically-conscious feminists interested in similarities or uniquely explicit details of these female pharaohs’ reign (as I was) that could have been seen as awe-inspiring.

On top of feeling left out of the conversation as a queer, WOC in the perspective and points made for the “female” opposition. I felt dishearten and saddened by all the negativeness toward women with the general stance of this book. I just could not bring myself to stand behind it and it was really upsetting to be so excited to read this book and to come out on the other side having not liked it.

There were a few things that I felt went wrong with the direction and overall tone of this book that each chapter continued to repeat or reword a negative (semi)dated, and de-constructive viewpoint of the female in regards to both the past and the current references of women in power. I say “semi” because there are still difficulties, stereotypes, and biases that women in politics and positions of power have to face in the present. However, I strongly felt a lack of inclusion/mention of several positives that have happened over the years.

With the absence of the core, factual details about the female Pharaohs and how their reign of power played out; uniquely original (majority ruled as regents) or impactful for the world/Egyptian society, apart from being a female-king, I was left disinterested and no further connected to these specifically selected Pharaohs or their stories.

At most, I felt I could partially envision Neferusobek for her use of using Egyptian mythologies and ideologies to gain allegiance from those around her and provide proof that she was destined to rule. With that being said, Cleopatra aside (one of whom many are overly familiar with), I felt that the other four’s stories were riddled with speculation and assumptions when it came to the markings that made their kingships so memorable.

The first reason I say this is because their lives, focused mostly on the men (Fathers/Brothers/Sons/Nephews/Husbands) in their lives, from childhood up until their time of rule treats each of them as afterthoughts. And reading their family history and the pivotal moment when they take power, it is fast-tracked to their deaths and burial grounds. It felt more like a fact sheet for each Pharaohs’ dynasty with pieces of information from the ones in between.

The second reason I felt this way after reading this book, outside of Neferusobek, I could not pinpoint relative or concrete facts about their unique ruling styles, specifics about why these picks were greater than others, no proof is given to back up the claims about how (if/when) they were able to manipulate the position of power in their favor.

I was even more confused that it was said that with each new dynasty, there was a push to link former female Kings to the previous ones when it was made clear that the previous female pharaoh would have had her name wiped from history. Word of mouth of former female Kings passed down through the generations is possible, but with such large time-gaps in between each of their dynasties–I’m skeptical on of just how much each female Pharaoh knew of her predecessor who technically “didn’t” exist.

Skipping over the explanation of Egypt’s ideologies and mythologies when it came to the decision of selecting a woman as king (essentially by default) because they were seen as less hostile, less likely to cause wars or be erratic: aka complicit.

The next reason for my opinion on this book was the largely negative examples of our current political climate and the “lack” therefore of a positive perspective of the female presence. Not to say that some of the conclusions made in this book were entirely wrong, but only the failures were given special attention.

Strategically leaving out positive women in power today, in terms of politics i.e. reasons why Hillary Clinton did not win the 2016 presidential election in regards to her appeal to the public based on how attractive she is or is not. Further details connected to her time as the First Lady when she was (and in ways now) being seen as overstepping her bounds of what she is allowed to do and what she isn’t. Linking this to the current First Lady who seems to know her “place” because she spends her time redecorating??—— I can’t recall the full passage because I was just so confused and off-put by it.

My point being, need we forgot the eight years the Obamas were in office and the presence, influence, and power they EACH held during that time? I mean, I wasn’t the only one who dreamed that right?? OR the now 100+ (up from the previous 84, I believe) women who will now be going to congress?? I apologies for any repetitiveness, but you can clearly see I strongly disagreed with the bleaker (questionably focus driven) angle of the book.

By the time I finished this book, I was struck by the feeling that the only people I could think to recommend this book to were CIS, straight, white men left me really confused.
Besides the impersonal, allusive and greatly cynical tone of the book, I think it needed to offer a balance of positive, forward-thinking examples of achievements by women even in light of all the setbacks, politically or otherwise, encountered specifically over the last few years.  As well as greater details on the female kings featured in this book and why their time in power meant more than ruling in place of a “thrown-protector” for a man.

About The Author:

KARA COONEY is a professor of Egyptology at UCLA. Her academic work focuses on death preparations, afterlife beliefs, and gender studies. She has participated in digs with the Metropolitan Museum of New York at the Royal Pyramid complex of Senwosret III and the Theban Necropolis with Johns Hopkins University. She appeared as a lead expert in the popular Discovery Channel special The Secrets of Egypt’s Lost Queen, and is a recurring team member of the History Channel’s Digging for the Truth. Her book The Woman Who Would Be King was published in 2014.

Find out more about Kara at her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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