When Angela first asked me to write a mummy story I felt embarrassed: ‘I’m not sure I’ve actually seen a mummy before’ I had to confess. However, the more I thought about it, the less this seemed to matter: while I may not have ‘seen’ a mummy ‘in real life’, through my conversations with the Angela the way I ‘view’ mummy’s has changed profoundly.
Before meeting Angela, I had a largely vacuous idea of mummies, cartoonish and empty. What Angela conveyed, in stark contrast, was a sense of deep care for them – or rather for the persons who had been mummified. In her view, these persons should be afforded the same kind of respect we afford our (recent and local) dead, rather than dehumanised as glamorous objects or thrilling monsters.
Angela’s embodied conviction about this was infectious: I instantly felt the truth of her view. However, as it was a new to me, it has taken me a while to make sense of it cognitively.
I now see it this way: while a woman in a music video may never be directly affected by my personal ‘non-objectifying’ of her, it affects me and those around me. By not viewing her as a sex object for me, I exercise my capacity to see others (and myself) as living subjects, deserving of care and respect, and so am more likely to act respectfully in general.
And while the animal slaughtered and packaged up in the supermarket will, of course, never benefit from my non-objectifying of him/her – by ‘viewing’ him/her as a feeling fellow being, who wanted to live but was forced to die, I develop my empathy and compassion for others further.
Likewise, when I ‘view’ mummified Egyptians as the remnants of living human beings, I work against the destructive tendency to see more distant others (in race, culture and time) as nonhuman, subhuman, and alien.
Caring about “mummies” is as important as this, then: it’s the difference between peace and invasion, love and assault, torture and freedom.
Guy Smith is a psychotherapist based in London, who previously studied for an MA in Gender Studies at University College London (UCL).