Posts Tagged ‘women’s history’

A Feminine Perspective of Ancient Egypt

Thursday, August 19th, 2010
Smithsonian traveler enjoys one of many special experiences in Egypt.

A Smithsonian traveler enjoys one of many special experiences in Egypt.

There are many rites of passage for women that only women can truly understand.  Throughout history, and around the world, the female experience has often been misrepresented and misunderstood. That’s one of the many reasons we have our Egyptian Odyssey for Women Only.

What’s notable about Ancient Egypt was that women received equal standing in land ownership and had legal rights. There were several female pharaohs or acting regents including the most well-known—Queen Hatshepsut—as well as the lesser known Nimaethap and Sobeknefru. These women were sometimes wives, mothers, or sisters of male pharaohs who could not fully rule – sometimes due to their young age, but also for other reasons.

Being a woman in Ancient Egypt often involved the identity and role of mother in the family and community. Life expectancy was only 40 years, so most women married and started families in their teens. With the dangers pregnancy and childbirth, as well as diseases and infections, there were many risks for women and their young children. With little medical knowledge, mothers would keep statues of Bastet—the cat goddess of fertility—and wear amulets with the Eye of Horus, who warded off evil spirits, close by in the hopes that their families would be safe.

The average family would have five or six children, who nursed until age three. Wealthy families might hire wet nurses for these purposes, but most mothers carried their babies in slings while going about their normal chores and responsibilities. When these children grew up, it was expected they would care for their mothers to show their devotion and appreciation for the hard work and sacrifices the mothers made for children.

Do you think there is a big difference between being a woman today and being one in Ancient Egypt?

Explore the realm of womanhood, both modern and ancient, as you explore archaeological sites, speak with women living in modern Egypt, and take in the beauty of the fertile Nile River on our Egyptian Odyssey for Women Only.

Japan’s Tradition of Make-Up

Thursday, August 12th, 2010
A Traditional Geisha in Japan   Photo by Tracey Taylor

A traditional geisha in Japan. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The beauty and grace of Japan’s geishas are among many reasons visitors travel to certain parts of the Japan, such as Kyoto. The geisha tradition gained prominence in the mid-18th century, as women worked as skilled entertainers after seeing the success of male performers. Their talents included dancing, singing, playing music, and even creating poetry and artistic calligraphy.

While well-known for thir exquisite clothing, one of the most notable identifiers of a geisha is her immaculate make-up. The application of this makeup is time-consuming, detailed, and specific, and is an extra effort for apprentice geishas who are required to wear it while in public. For the first three years, the young maiko wear their make-up almost constantly.

The make-up of an apprentice geisha include three notable features – the thick, white foundation, red lips, and red and black highlights around the eyes. The white foundation originally included lead, but when it was discovered how toxic it was, the ingredient was changed to rice powder.

The white foundation covers the face completely except for two notable areas – the hairline, which gives the illusion of a mask, and the nape of the neck, which is designed in a traditional W shape, highlighting and accentuating the area, which is considered alluring. Then the eyes are outlined, originally using charcoal. Today modern eyeliner is used, but maiko still add red around the eyes to show their youthful status.

The woman’s red lips are filled in using a small brush with crystallized sugar added to the color to add texture. The rank of the geisha can easily be identified by looking at her lips. First year maiko only have their lower lip filled with color. Only a full-fledged geisha may have her lips fully colored red. It rare to see the lips filled in western-style as it would make the lips look unusually large; the intent is to give the illusion of a flower bud.

After a maiko has worked for three years, her make-up becomes more subdued because now she has matured to a point where her natural beauty can be seen. After the age of thirty, geisha wear the traditional make up only for formal events or special performances.

Which kind of make-up would you never forget to put in your luggage? Share below.

Appreciate the cosmetic efforts and performance skills of geisha in person on our Eternal Japan tour. International airfare included!

Splendors of Morocco – The Fabric of Life

Monday, July 26th, 2010
Moroccan textiles to be sold at a town market.

Moroccan textiles to be sold at a town market.

Strolling through a souk, it’s hard not to notice the intricately woven textiles of Morocco. The Smithsonian found these textiles to be so fascinating, they created an exhibit at the National Museum of African Art called The Fabric of Moroccan Life.

The traditional world of Moroccan textiles was predominantly filled with wealthy women, who learned to sew, embroider, and design as young girls. The women adorned themselves with exotic fabric and jewelry both to show their economic status and create their own style. What makes these particular textiles so unique is that Moroccan style borrows from various other cultures -  the dominant influences are Islamic and Berber, but elements of Jewish, African, and Mediterranean styles are also incorporated.

Once married, women would continue to embroider and might have joined harems where they learned and shared their technical skills and ideas with other women. Because these textiles brought critical income to their communities, women also enjoyed a certain amount of creative freedom.

If you were shopping at a Moroccan souk, what would you buy? Jewelry, blankets, artwork, clothing?

Shop at a medieval maze of souks on our Splendors of Morocco tour.

Women of Ancient Egypt

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010
File:Maler der Grabkammer der Nefertari 004.jpg

Image of Nefertari from her tomb in the Valley of the Queens

No history of ancient Egypt is complete without considering the integral role of women. Unlike many women before and after them, ancient Egyptian women had the right to own property, sign contracts, and initiate divorce, among other things. In some cases, women became Pharaoh.

Here’s a few ancient Egyptian women you should know more about:

1) Cleopatra, perhaps the most famous of all Egyptian women (though she was ethnically Greek), convinced Caesar and later Marc Antony to help assure her position as Pharaoh and dispatched all of her siblings in the process. Very popular among ethnic Egyptians at the time, she learned the Egyptian language and used her power to expand Egypt’s trade and keep it from becoming part of the Roman Empire. Click here for more on Cleopatra.

2) The lesser-known Hypatia, one of ancient Alexandria’s last great scholars, was also one of the first women we know of to become an astronomer and mathematician. Her public lectures were very well-attended, but ultimately she was killed by Christian zealots for her pagan beliefs. Learn more about Hypatia’s life, death, and legacy here.

3) Hatshepsut’s 21-year reign as Pharaoh was marked by prosperity gained through extensive foreign trade, advances in art and architecture, and a period of relative peace. Her successor (stepson, and nephew), Thutmose III nearly obliterated all traces of Hatshepsut from the historical record, removing her name from many monuments. Why? Read more here.

4) Tiy, wife of Amenhotep III and mother of Akhenaten, was a powerful woman in her own right. Her strength in foreign relations meant than many foreign leaders dealt directly with her on matters of state. Her image appears beside Amenhotep III’s in tomb artwork, stelae, and smaller objects, reiterating her importance.

5) Nefertiti, wife of Akhenaten, began with her husband a religious revolution, where followers worshipped only one god – Aten. Scholars believe that she may have served as co-regent with Akhenaten. She was also stepmother to King Tut.

6) Nefertari was one of the principal wives of Rameses the Great, who built a temple in her honor at Abu Simbel. One of the most famous Egyptian queens, her tomb at the Valley of the Queens is notable for its beauty and her image abounds at the temples of Luxor and Karnak.

Are your bags packed for Egypt yet? We’d love to see you there! Click here for options.

What would history be without women? Share your thoughts.

Trivia Answers: Undercover Operations

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Last week’s question: Which one of these influential women was also a spy?

A.  Marie Curie, Nobel Prize winning chemist and physicist
B.  Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts.
C.  Julia Child, chef, author, and TV personality.
D.  Amelia Earhart, first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.

From Left: Marie Curie, Juliette Gordon Low, Amelia Earhart, and Julia Child

From Left: Marie Curie, Juliette Gordon Low, Amelia Earhart, and Julia Child

The answer is Julia Child, whose books and TV shows introduced French cooking to the American public. Her kitchen is now located in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. She applied for the spy post after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, joining the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Washington, D.C. She held several positions within OSS, once helping to develop a shark repellent to prevent sharks from accidentally detonating weapons meant for German U-boats. In 1944, she was sent to Kandy, Sri Lanka, where she managed classified communications for OSS stations in Asia. There, she met her future husband, who also worked for OSS. Finally, she was posted to China. Following the war, she returned to Washington, D.C, and later moved to Paris with her husband, where she began her training as a chef.

In case you were wondering…

Juliette Gordon Low supported the American effort in the Spanish-American War by organizing a hospital for soldiers returning from battle in Cuba.

Marie Curie supported the French war effort during WWI by providing tubes of radium for mobile radiography units used to treat soldiers in the field.

Amelia Earhart was rumored to have spied on the Japanese in the Pacific at the secret request of Franklin Roosevelt and to have performed propaganda radio broadcasts as Tokyo Rose. However, it has been proven that these are myths.

Related Links

Want to learn more about spies firsthand? Join us in Washington, D.C. on our Spies and Spycraft tour.

Click here to learn more about America’s most dangerous female spy.

Click here to learn more about how Smithsonian is celebrating Women’s History Month.