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Gender: women in technical compositions from Lahun

Mathematical papyri:
As in all other mathematical manuscripts from ancient Egypt, the surviving fragments from Lahun use the masculine pronouns rather than the feminine pronouns to denote the reader/user (the Egyptian language has different forms for 'you' depending on whether a man or woman is being addressed: male .k, female .T). This could be taken to indicate that they assume a world in which men only are readers, but in fact the masculine form might theoretically cover 'male or female'.

Healing papyri:
The ancient Egyptian manuscripts on healing indicate three aspects to the craft
1 manual treatments/prognoses/diagnoses
2 prescriptions and instructions for application
3 incantations to reinforce/restore health

In all of these, the directives always use masculine pronouns, and therefore might be taken to assume a normative male readership; as with the mathematical papyri, though, the masculine pronoun .k 'you (male)' might be used to cover both male and female, appropriately where the gender of the user is not known ('common gender').

In healing, the female world intervenes in two major aspects - as the object of care in manuscripts dealing with childbirth and related ailments of women, and as the divine prototype for healing, in the person of the goddess Isis. Although the manuscript use of masculine pronouns assumes that the healer is a man, the healer identifies 'himself' as the goddess Isis in order to secure the health of the patient, identified as her child Horus. For such normative transgender identifications within androcentric social framing, compare the identity of the king as goddess in the Hymns to Senusret III, among the religious compositions from Lahun.

From Lahun there are fragments of incantations, as well as the oldest and most substantial of the manuscripts dealing with childbirth. This 'gynaecological papyrus' presents a series of diagnoses and prognoses for conditions of birth (UC 32057). Amongst other topics, the prognoses include, on one interpretation, symbolic methods to determine the gender of a child to be born. Conceivably, there is a sinister motive behind the apparent need to know the gender of the unborn child. See Scott 1999: 66-80, on domestic infanticide, for persistent preference for male births in androcentric contexts. Note, however, that infanticide has not yet been documented with certainty for pre-Roman Egypt. A later Egyptian example cited by Scott belongs, as she notes, to the Hellenised environment of the Roman Period (1 BC, reign of Augustus, letter of Hilarion to his wife Alis: 'if you have the baby before I return, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, expose it', cited by Scott 1999: 71).


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