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“The Female of the Species Is More Deadly Than the Male”

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Some have called Rudyard Kipling’s poem sexist, but I think “The Female of the Species Is More Deadly Than the Male” celebrates some of the greatest gifts biology gave me as a woman.

Women have that great power, not just because we are necessary for bearing and raising children, but also because we are the ones responsible for defending the family. And I’m proud to be the member of a sex that I have observed, time and again, look for practical solutions to keep our families fed, warm, and safe where men look for abstract principals.

“The Female of the Species Is More Deadly Than the Male” makes me feel empowered by the gifts biology gave my sex. I don’t have to be like a man to be strong. I am “deadly” in my own, very feminine, way.

“The Female of the Species Is More Deadly Than the Male”

by Rudyard Kipling

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.

You do you think? An empowering celebration of women’s virtues or an anti-feminist classic? Let us know in the comments.

6 responses »

  1. I have a similar reaction. Sexist? Pshaw. Makes us sound badass.

  2. Have never heard of this poem. Awesome! Sexist? Yes. Poor men. 😉 So unfair to compare them to us, really.

  3. This was my first time reading this poem. Just last night I was talking to my wife about something and she WAS this poem. I just took a step back and surrendered. (In love of course)

  4. James Featherstone

    Hi, I just Googled the poem and found your site.

    I thought you might be interested to hear my take on this poem. First, some background. I’m British and took a degree in English at UCL. When I first read this poem, I thought “wow, that seems pretty accurate to me, it seems to portray most of the women in my life – they do have that sort of power.” But then I read the notes that accompanied the poem, the first of which was “…this devastatingly misogynist poem…” I thought, misogynist? Really? Have you not understood it? It’s a testament to the incredible power that women have. My mother, my grandmothers, my sisters, my sisters-in-law – they all loved their men, but they all have this ‘other’ focus that Kipling talks about, something much deeper and more profound than the stuff that men occupy their days with: the propagation of the species. “She who faces death by torture for each life beneath her breast” indeed. Most men would agree, if you got them to speak honestly, but for some reason we now live in a world in which that is unsayable, and women have to be portrayed as weak victims. It’s bewildering to me. Anyway, thanks for putting this great poem out there.


  5. Thanks for your perspective, James!


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