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More deadly than the male.

By AA Patawaran

Illustration by Oteph Antipolo

The female of the species is more deadly than the male, said Rudyard Kipling in a poem he wrote in 1911. He spoke of the Himalayan bear--"When the Himalayan peasant meets the he-bear in his pride/He shouts to scare the monster, who will often turn aside/But the she-bear thus accosted rends the peasant tooth and nail..." And also of the cobra--"When Nag the basking cobra hears the careless foot of man/He will sometimes wriggle sideways and avoid it if he can/But his mate makes no such motion where she camps beside the trail..." As well as the American Indian woman--"When the early Jesuit fathers preached to Hurons and Choctaws/They prayed to be delivered from the vengeance of the squaws/'Twas the women, not the warriors, turned those stark enthusiasts pale..." Yes, Kipling so declared, "For the female of the species is more deadly than the male."

I'm not sure if Kipling was being creative, but in all likelihood he wasn't. His mother, Alice MacDonald Kipling, was a great influence in his life, of whom in many of his poems he sang praise, such as in "Mother o' Mine," in which he wrote: "If I were hanged on the highest hill, I know whose love would follow me still... If I were drowned in the deepest sea, I know whose tears would come down to me... If I were damned of body and soul, I know whose prayers would make me whole... Mother o' mine, mother o' mine!" The mother-son relationship was also a prevalent theme in his fiction.

Although it might not sit well with modern feminists that in "The Female of the Species," Kipling wrote that man "knows, moreover, that the woman God gave him must command, but may not govern--shall enthral but not enslave him..." it should console them that he was from a different time. It wasn't until 1928, 17 years after he wrote the poem, that the "Conservative government passed the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act giving the vote to all women over the age of 21 on equal terms with men" in the United Kingdom. In India, where he was born and where he spent his early years in Bombay (now Mumbai)--until his mother, who wanted him to have an English education, sent him off to Southsea, Portsmouth in the UK with his sister when he was five--voting rights were granted to all women much later, in 1950.

Either Kipling was a "sympathizer" of women in the Battle of the Sexes or he knew, as the author of The Jungle Book, that beyond the cobra and the Himalayan bear, the female of the species, indeed, is deadlier than the male in the natural world.

Let us count the ways--the praying mantis, the Black Widow, the spotted hyena, the lionesses, the octopus, the Barbary macaque, not to mention the Queen Bee and her army of honey bees, Amazons of the natural world in that, like Themyscira, theirs is female-centric; the komodo dragon, which doesn't even need males to reproduce; or the topi antelopes, the female equivalent of the skirt-chaser.

Let's not even talk about bizarre gender role swaps, such as in the case of the Black Widow or the wolf spider, which the male is not required to take on a date prior to the consummation of the affair because the treat is often post-coital, which means she has him for dinner after sex. Come to think of it, the adjectives we assign almost exclusively to the male, especially on those days machismo was still hot, apply more, in fact, to the female of many other species in the animal kingdom.

So which of the genders is really bigger, bolder, more aggressive, more dominant?

"I am," says the bonobo and she's the female of this ape species, otherwise known as the pygmy chimpanzee. "That's me," whistles the orca, the toothed whale that belongs to the oceanic dolphin family, although to her, it's neither her size nor her aggression that makes her the leader of the pack, it's her longevity--females outlive males by 40 years--and her resultant knowledge of the lay of the ocean by which to lead her matriarchal unit on the food hunt. "I am, too," says the elephant, whose herd, led by her if she is the oldest or, more often, if she is the largest in the group, is not called the matriarch for nothing. Usually, it is an all-female ensemble, unless there are male calves under 12 to 15 years that need to be raised. Beyond that, the males have to go on their solitary ways or group with other males for a while. "So am I," says the female bald eagle, too, stretching the full span of her impressive wings. The falcon and goshawk join the chorus. "So are we," a good number of shorebirds, such as gulls and raptors, speak in unison. "#Metoo," grunts the naked mole rat and the dwarf mongoose follows suit. So does the mosquito, the female of which is the one that bites and the one to fear.

All these superanimals in The Jungle Book of life, I assume, are no stranger to Kipling, just as females of the human species with superhuman strength, who could handle life's adversity like no man can because their pain tolerance is unimaginable to men, are no stranger to each of us.

After all, like Kipling, we were all carried in the womb for nine months--while the body in which we grew undergoes a sea change, replete with morning sickness, hyperacidity, constipation, back pain, gestational diabetes, and more--and delivered to the earth by way of blood and gore by a female of the species.

Kipling called her "Mother o' Mine."

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Title Annotation:Panorama
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Date:Mar 11, 2018
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