Misogyny. It is something that is inherent to our culture. Whether you are conscious of it or not, it is something that manifests itself in even the most menial issues, and has the ability to obscure reality. Cleopatra VII Philopator, or more commonly known simply as Cleopatra, is the perfect example of inherent misogyny and its ability to degrade and debilitate women. In Cleopatra’s case, it left behind a tainted legacy with no regard for the pharaonic achievements of the former queen of Egypt.
In western culture, Cleopatra is projected as an exotic woman, a wanton seductress embodied by promiscuous caricatures and Elizabeth Taylor’s feminine portrayal. We see her on slot machines, as the new face of a makeup palette, as Kim Kardashian for Vanity Fair. The overly clichéd image which we so easily grasp onto reduces Cleopatra into nothing but a symbol of exotic femininity. Such a symbol in conjunction with her affiliations with powerful men does nothing but fuel the perception of her as a token whore. However, her significance of history is an indicator of something much larger, something that most are unaware of. Or turn a blind eye to.
The first written accounts of Cleopatra were by Roman men who were staunch conservatives. Cassius Dio and Cicero were Romans who adamantly believed in the need for gender roles, claiming that a woman’s sole purpose was to birth children and appease the demands of her husband. To diverge from such cultural norms risked association with corruption, impurity and even hedonism.
Such associations become prominent when exploring Roman representations of Cleopatra, most of which were quick to slander her, as her very existence as a queen of Egypt challenged the patriarchal foundations of Rome. Due to the supposed instability, her existence posed the Romans were quick to condemn her and construct the narrative of a manipulative whore. Such roman representations became the template for future representations of Cleopatra, leading to profound ignorance regarding her role as pharaoh.
The Cleopatra we speak of today is nothing but a facade constructed by the patriarchal attitudes of Ancient Rome, and preserved by the misogyny woven into contemporary culture. Yet, the rise of third-wave feminism has opened the doors to a more just portrayal of the Egyptian queen. Authors such as Stacy Schiff and Joyce Tydesley have conducted extensive research to illuminate the narrative of an empathetic and intellectual queen concerned with aggrandizing her empire. A woman whose achievements and personality surpassed tales of her beauty and relationships. A true queen, oppressed by self-entitled and ignorant men.
Cleopatra was a true queen who lived to ensure her empire and her people prospered. After a millennia of oppression western culture is now able to witness the true Cleopatra, one free from toxic misogyny.
Ultimately, what can be learned is that it will never be a man’s place to tell the story of a woman.