Women of Babylon: Gender and Representation in Mesopotamia

Women of Babylon: Gender and Representation in Mesopotamia

Women of Babylon: Gender and Representation in Mesopotamia

Women of Babylon: Gender and Representation in Mesopotamia

Synopsis

Representations of sexual difference (whether visual or textual) have become an area of much theoretical concern and investigation in recent feminist scholarship. Yet although a wide range of relevant evidence survives from the ancient Near East, it has been exceptional for those studying women in the ancient world to stray outside the traditional bounds of Greece and Rome. Women of Babylon is a much-needed historical/art historical study that investigates the concepts of femininity which prevailed in Assyro-Babylonian society. Zainab Bahrani's detailed analysis of how the culture of ancient Mesopotamia defined sexuality and gender roles both in, and through, representation is enhanced by a rich selection of visual material extending from 6500 BC - 1891 AD. Professor Bahrani also investigates the ways in which women of the ancient Near East have been perceived in classical scholarship up to the nineteenth century.

Excerpt

The field of women's history has been an area of momentous development since the late 1960s. From being a fringe interest and the realm of a small number of feminist scholars, it has grown into an accepted discipline in its own right, challenging conceptions of a patriarchal universal history, and developing methodologies that have influenced numerous fields in the humanities and social sciences. Many universities in North America and Europe now boast a number of specialists in women's history and departments devoted to women and gender studies. These developments have had a substantial impact on the area of ancient history, yet it is unfortunately the case that European antiquity remains the primary area of focus for feminist scholarship. Because traditionally ancient history is taken to refer to Greece and Rome, very little is known about either the recorded historical roles of women, notions of sex or gender, or the conception of femininity in antiquity outside the Greek or Roman traditions. The records from these parts of the world have not been considered 'proper' history, and were often left out of studies that otherwise purport to cover women or gender in antiquity broadly. Averil Cameron and Amélie Kuhrt's Images of Women in Antiquity (1983) was a landmark work in that it attempted to rectify this situation by including the Near East in its collection of historical essays on women's roles and ancient attitudes towards notions of the feminine. However, areas outside Greek and Roman antiquity remained neglected even after the 1980s, and the more recent anthology, Sexuality in Ancient Art, edited by Natalie Boymel Kampen (1996), still seems exceptional in its addition of three (out of seventeen) chapters covering the Near East and Egypt. More often, books with titles such as Women's History and Ancient History (Pomeroy 1991) imply that they cover ancient history as a whole, yet concern themselves only with Graeco-Roman antiquity. As a result, there has been a general impression that there are no historical documents, or archaeological remains, that might provide information on women or conceptions of gender in antiquity before the Archaic Greek period in the sixth century BC. This is certainly not the case, however. A vast amount of visual and textual evidence survives from areas such as Mesopotamia and Egypt, as well as Anatolia, Iran, and Syria, that has yet to be taken into account. In the field of Egyptian antiquity, a range of

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