PODCAST: What can humans learn from female-centric animal societies?

We often point to nature in order to defend our own behaviour and patterns in human society. People will defend everything from violence, to rape, to male dominance by pointing to animal behaviour. But maybe instead of looking to defend patriarchy by looking to nature, we should look to nature for alternative structures and behaviours that challenge our own social norms.

When Caitlin Starowicz headed off to the Kenyan savannah, she found matriarchal and matrilineal societies that humans could certainly take cues from. Indeed, the king of the jungle may in fact be a queen.

Caitlin is co-director of a fascinating new documentary called Mommy Wildest, which follows female-led and female-centric lion, elephant, and baboon families, challenging the notion that male dominance is either the most natural or functional family structure.

In this episode, I speak with Caitlin about the documentary and what she learned from her time on the Kenyan savannah.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Meghan Murphy

    Yes all great points! There are most certainly Indigenous societies that are hierarchical, just in a different way, not focused on domination in the way patriarchy is. It’s incredibly annoying that Western people are so unimaginative when it comes to social structures. We have to either be patriarchal or we create some delusion of anarchist collectivism where there is no hierarchy whatsoever but somehow dudes don’t just take over. Puh-leez. I don’t necessarily have a problem with hierarchical structures, but they need to explicitly be non-patriarchal and ensure everyone is taken care of and valued. I also love the idea of women living among women, raising their families together, while the males fuck off. (Or, idk, gather sustenance.)

    • Mmmeee

      “I also love the idea of women living among women, raising their families together” Yeah, like on Pitcairn Island (before it was discoverd by whalers) or in “Wonderwoman” (the movie) It must be magical…

  • Meghan Murphy

    Do watch the doc if you are able to! It’s wonderful.

  • Maria Gatti

    And also the alpha wolf is often a she-wolf. I think of La Lupa, the she-wolf seen as the canine adoptive mother of the founders of Rome. Of course “we’re all mammals”, as a rather horrible song goes.

  • Martin Langevin

    I think Katy Perry sexually coercing Benjamin Glaze on live television shows that men and women can sometimes share more in common with one another than between others of the same sex. What I mean by that is that while plenty of men and women sexually coerce others, others don’t. It has nothing to do with sex.

    That being said, men are raised to be far more stoic and our society now disparages any unmarried straight man who refuses the sexual advances of an attractive woman. In other words, a unmarried straight man is expected to entertain the sexual desires of an attractive woman (or will be mocked as a religious prude for refusing).

    I agree that a man should respect a woman’s boundaries, but society needs to teach women that just because a straight unmarried man might find a woman to be sexually attractive, that does not mean that he necessarily wants to interact with her sexually in any way, that he’ll necessarily appreciate any unwanted sexual advance of hers, or that he’s a prude for refusing her advances. Even if his refusal to interact with her sexually is motivated by his religious beliefs, it’s not up to a woman to mock his religion to shame him into sexual consent.

  • Topazthecat

    Male Sea Horses take care of their babies so do male Penguins and female elephants lead their clans.And I have seen PBS shows about lions and female lions go out in hunting packs and teach their cubs how to hunt,so do female wolves and bonobos who share 99% of our genetics,females tend to dominate but it’s more of an equal society.

  • PithHelmut

    This was a great interview thank you. Just goes to show that prohibiting females from education and public life gave us a very narrow view of the world without the balancing feminine input.

  • Lily M

    I agree that the population discourse is often problematic, but interestingly it is middle-class or elite Westerners who create the largest ecological footprints, which is why we need to be the most mindful of overpopulation.