Apparently I Missed Something

According to an analyst of poetry and literature, Kipling’s “Female of the Species” is sexist and racist. I thought it was a documentary description. But then I miss a lot of the bad stuff in Kipling. Part of it is that I read expurgated editions when I was younger (Elise Kipling Bainbridge apparently had certain things modified while she and the family held the copyright to Rudyard’s poetry). Part of it is that I read Kipling as being of his time and place, and try to take the good with the (modern) bad.

I do agree that some of his poems do not rise to the quality of others. As much as he wrote, that’s to be expected. It’s like the novel that he co-wrote. Sorry, I tried it, I didn’t like it at all. However, this critic is criticizing Kipling for using the word “squaw” to describe women of the Northeastern Native American groups (Iroquois, Ojibwe, others), and says that Kipling’s comparison of how women political and social activists (Victorian-style) resemble ferocious female animals. Specifically, he’s looking at how females defend their children, and their ideas and causes (their mental children, so to speak).

Now, the critic is male. I’m not. And I consider “Female of the Species” to be rather accurate, if a touch over-the-top. Not too over-the-top, though, given what I’ve seen in the past few years from female activists of various stripes, and teenaged girl fights.

You decide.

The poem:

  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.
    For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

    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.
    For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

    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.
    For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

    Man’s timid heart is bursting with the things he must not say,
    For the Woman that God gave him isn’t his to give away;
    But when hunter meets with husbands, each confirms the other’s tale—
    The female of the species is more deadly than the male.

    Man, a bear in most relations—worm and savage otherwise,—
    Man propounds negotiations, Man accepts the compromise.
    Very rarely will he squarely push the logic of a fact
    To its ultimate conclusion in unmitigated act.

    Fear, or foolishness, impels him, ere he lay the wicked low,
    To concede some form of trial even to his fiercest foe.
    Mirth obscene diverts his anger—Doubt and Pity oft perplex
    Him in dealing with an issue—to the scandal of The Sex!

    But the Woman that God gave him, every fibre of her frame
    Proves her launched for one sole issue, armed and engined for the same;
    And to serve that single issue, lest the generations fail,
    The female of the species must be deadlier than the male.

    She who faces Death by torture for each life beneath her breast
    May not deal in doubt or pity—must not swerve for fact or jest.
    These be purely male diversions—not in these her honour dwells—
    She the Other Law we live by, is that Law and nothing else.

    She can bring no more to living than the powers that make her great
    As the Mother of the Infant and the Mistress of the Mate.
    And when Babe and Man are lacking and she strides unclaimed to claim
    Her right as femme (and baron), her equipment is the same.

    She is wedded to convictions—in default of grosser ties;
    Her contentions are her children, Heaven help him who denies!—
    He will meet no suave discussion, but the instant, white-hot, wild,
    Wakened female of the species warring as for spouse and child.

    Unprovoked and awful charges—even so the she-bear fights,
    Speech that drips, corrodes, and poisons—even so the cobra bites,
    Scientific vivisection of one nerve till it is raw
    And the victim writhes in anguish—like the Jesuit with the squaw!

    So it comes that Man, the coward, when he gathers to confer
    With his fellow-braves in council, dare not leave a place for her
    Where, at war with Life and Conscience, he uplifts his erring hands
    To some God of Abstract Justice—which no woman understands.

    And Man knows it! Knows, moreover, that the Woman that God gave him
    Must command but may not govern—shall enthral but not enslave him.
    And She knows, because She warns him, and Her instincts never fail,
    That the Female of Her Species is more deadly than the Male.



22 thoughts on “Apparently I Missed Something

  1. Consider fifth-wave feminism and and her tocsin on the male,
    “Toxic masculinity” maledictions frothing forth from the female;
    Lawsuits, pogroms, imprecations, that make them turn quite pale,
    Dearie destroys the species, for she can’t abide the Male!

    It’s no longer over-the top, but horrifyingly tame.

  2. Quoth the wife:
    My husband has wrestled animals eight times his mass to the ground, and held them there. The Marine Corps taught him any number of ways to kill and disable a person. He has physically restrained people who were high on drugs or having mental breaks.
    He is not the one you need to be frightened of.

    (meekly) Yes, dear. (/meekly)

      • Heh.
        That’s actually a remarkably complicated statement to answer, and the way it’s answered tells you a lot about the person answering.
        Marine is a title, but also a status.
        Sure, once you earn the title, it’s yours unless involuntary separated with a dishonorable discharge or a big chicken dinner (bad conduct discharge). In those cases alone, you become an “ex-marine”.
        The second component is what you did while in.
        If you were in a direct combat-related role, you’ll almost always focus on the status. It’s something you do, not something you are. And when you’re no longer bound to “Disciple is: the instant and willing obedience to all orders”, you’ll likely take a great degree of satisfaction from being undisciplined.
        You’ll also tend to regard those “Marines” in support roles as poseurs. (And due to the nature of bureaucracies, support elements are MUCH more often obstacles than allies.) “Every Marine is a Rifleman” is obvious BS, and insulting to the infantry. This is highlighted by SOI (School of Infantry) and MCT (Marine Combat Training) co-located. It’s hard to take a person whining about having to carry a flashlight for five miles seriously when you have to run that route on a regular basis. And carry more than your bodyweight on much longer marches.
        I guess I should offer an illustration.
        Some years after I got out, I was in a group conversion where a former pogue (People other than grunts–grunts being infantry. Combat engineers are honorary grunts. Arty/tankers get grudging respect, but they’re still pogues.) Loudly declaimed, “In MY marine corps” (a phrase *guaranteed* to piss off an 03) “no Marine would lie, cheat, or steal. Nor would they tolerate anyone who does.”
        Yeah, I laughed in his face. Those were core competencies in the infantry.
        The third thing would be self-image. If you’ve been out for a couple of years, and your identity is still defined by something that you once did…
        Well, I can only feel sorry for you.
        So. I used to be a Marine. Now, I am a PFC (a Proud F***ing Civilian).
        BTW, don’t tell a grunt “Thank you for your service.” They know you mean well, and they’ll try to be nice about it, but they didn’t volunteer to be the tip of the lance for you. It’s awkward. Pogues might eat it up, but don’t do it. Just don’t.
        (“Wow. I bet you have some stories.” will almost always be appreciated, though. If you have time to listen to a story or two, anyway.)

        • My Marines were avionic techs– standing on one foot summary of their approach to “once a Marine, always a Marine” is that they had the world’s most awesome college and fraternity rolled into one.

        • I worked with a couple very intense techs who were former Marines; good men. One took the opportunity to tell Stories. Part of it was a sympathetic ear on overtime, where he could unpack and unwind some things carried since Parris Island and ‘Nam. I listened and let him get some things told. Good man, with some ghosts still following.

  3. It’s poetry, and as poetry, when it hits– it hits hard.

    Was in the book of poems I found in the high school library when I was trying to find out what this line about “you’re a better man than I am, Gungadin” my uncles kept saying was about. (card catalog had it; counter the usual complaints, if I’d been 30 years later, I would’ve found his poems and dug around the same way, just with an auto-suggest of Gunga Din.)

    As a girl of maybe 14, I thought it was shockingly accurate and a rather brave recognition of what nobody would say.

    • It’s a crucial miscommunication between the sexes that never seems to get cleared up. Guys fight for dominance, settle things, go out and have a beer, it’s all good.

      If a woman gets pushed to fighting, someone is likely to die.

      (AKA “I am small and breakable. I can’t afford to fight fair.”)

  4. “The Female of the Species” isn’t the only Kipling poem with seemingly-misogynistic lines in it. Have a look at “The Young British Soldier,” especially the final verse:

    When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
    And the women come out to cut up what remains,
    Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
    An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.

    But if you think of a woman’s usual lot in wartime … well, it becomes easier to understand. He wasn’t being misogynistic, he was telling the truth as he saw it.

    It even makes biological sense: in any K-strategist species (meaning it has few offspring, but invests a lot of energy in each one), the female should be very aggressive in defense of her kids, because each one represents such a large chunk of her chances to pass on her genes.

    • I read “Bugles and a Tiger” by John Masters, and his descriptions of what had happened on the Northwest Frontier before things “settled down” (for Afghani versions of settled). Er, yeah, Kipling was downplaying things.

    • Anybody who has read any accounts of tribal stuff in Afghanistan back in the day would know that Kipling was being honest, even boringly honest. Maybe not so much of that now, partly because the Taliban made it a good idea for tribal women to stay home. But yeah.

      And the more aggressive Woodland tribes, and even some of the Plains ones, tended to be set up on a peace chief/war chief basis, with religious societies oriented toward peace, and ones oriented toward war. The women’s war societies were definitely involved with things like setting up the gauntlets, or torturing captives so that they could test bravery, and finding the best ones to kill and take heads or other magical components from, or just eat (if you ran into a magical cannibalism tribe). Of course, the women’s peace societies were often the ones that were in charge of saving and adopting captives, if the tribe could absorb one, or politicking around until they could be telling the war societies that the freaking war was over.

  5. The female is more deadly in mathematics, too. This is proved by the Theorem of Pythagoras – the Native American version.

    You see, a chief had three wives, or squaws. Being a wealthy man by tribal standards, he gave each of them their own tepee, and unique floor coverings to go with them. The first wife’s tepee had a floor made of deer hide. The second wife’s tepee had a floor made of bear hide. The third, his favorite, had a tepee floor covered with specially imported hippopotamus hide.

    When the time came for children, the first wife – in her tepee, of course – gave birth to a baby boy. The second wife gave birth to a baby girl. The third wife, his favorite, gave birth to twins: a boy and a girl.

    This proves that the squaw on the hippopotamus is equal to the sum of the squaws on the other two hides.


  6. I suspect that the critic knows the Truth in Kipling’s poem but is too afraid of the women (Leftish ones) to admit the Truth. 😆

  7. And yes, there are several related tribes where the word for woman is “squaw” in various spellings. But noooo, that’s offensive. Just like several tribes describe themselves as being “red”, and more related to positive things like blood, the sun, fire, and perfectly-baked bread than white people (yucky pale, like uncooked dough, or given insufficient paint coating by the Creator) or black people (the bread got burnt, or the painting got overdone). Of course, some of this was in response to white people, so it’s hard to tell what predated what (although frankly, you’re not getting those colors from cornbread, so maybe we’re talking acorn bread or a late story about wheat bread).

    • Hey, somebody has some really in-depth thoughts on acorn bread. I’ve always kinda wondered about a lot of the details and never bothered to do it, although my local Korean groceries sell acorn meal that is pre-processed! Maybe I can make some for Thanksgiving!

  8. A woman rejected in love can be very angry and dangerous. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. There is nothing as unpleasant as a woman who has been offended or whose love has not been returned.

  9. Also, those little murder conspiracies that school girls get up to some times.

    Otaku who have a yandere fetish from 2D girls are out of their minds. And would be bug nuts to extend it to 3D girls.

    Apologize for the additional commentary, but I read a bunch of garbage, and a story has started trying to congeal that could be quite unpleasant.

    • The school girl murder conspiracy thing is more of a male vs female expression of a similar issue– the male version tends to be random target of availability (most famous horrifying story is James Bulger of the UK) while the female is very specific target.

      There’s probably some connection to gang activity vs obviously just homicide, given the pattern that populations where joining a violent gang is a reasonably easy option tend to have fewer not-part-of-a-crime spree murders than their demographics would suggest.

  10. Lot of truth there, especially in the context that it was written. And the female of the species is ALWAYS the more deadly…

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