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Who’s Laughing Now?

The strange connection between Spotted hyenas and Feminism

By Daniel TothPublished 3 years ago 5 min read
Spotted Hyena (Crocuta Crocuta). Photo by: IanZA @pixabay

Like many of us, we grow up trying to fit into a patriarchal world. We’ve been told how to and not to behave – “pink is for women and blue is for men,” they say; women have to cross their legs, cannot show their bodies, their only job is to raise children; while men should focus on their profession and financial success, they cannot show many emotions, cannot play with barbies, etc.

With this article, you might find empowerment in the behavior of Spotted hyenas. I know, a bold statement, but bear with me.

They are one of the most misunderstood animals in the world.

Hyenas in films and folklore are vilified as greedy, opportunistic, back-stabbing scavengers who viciously laugh at everything that comes their way. Even today, hyenas are still struggling to shake off this unfair reputation – yes, I'm talking about you, Lion King!

On the contrary of the above misconception, Spotted hyenas are one of Africa's most clever and successful predators – they hunt most of their meals instead of scavenging. When it’s dinner-time, they do a huge frenzy where they can dismantle and devour a 200-kilogram (440 pounds) zebra in half an hour. They can easily tear off and swallow 18 kg (40 pounds) of meat per feeding. With their massive jaw muscles and molars, they are capable of crushing any bone and they don’t shy away from eating hooves, hair, and even teeth. The only thing that’s left after their frenzy, is a patch of blood – the outdoor nose-to-tail restaurant –.

It’s ladies first!

Most hyenas live in groups called clans that range from 6 to over 100 members. They live in matriarchal societies which are led by alpha females. Females do the majority of the hunting, eat first, dictate the social structure, raise cubs, and are bigger than males. This means that even the highest-ranking male is below the lowest ranking female. But there's a reason why girl power rules the clans: they are more aggressive than males, caused by unusually high testosterone levels.

Photo by: Wikipedia

Hyena cubs are born into a very competitive world: they are fighting for dominance and female cubs are typically beating out their brothers. If males are lucky to grow up, they usually leave the clan looking for another group – where they become the lowest-ranking males in that clan’s social ladder. Most females, on the other hand, stay with their clan inheriting their mothers’ ranks.

Hence, their complex lineage shows us that patriarchy is not inevitable.

Their social life is probably much better than yours.

Unlike most animals in the world, Spotted hyenas are extremely loyal and know every single member of their clan on an individual level. They do everything together – raise babies, hunt and fight together, and make peace after a fight.

Scientists believe that their social intelligence and behavior are as complex as some primates. They pass social status from mother to daughter, can form coalitions, and understand that certain relationships are much more valuable than others. They learn to follow rules of social status and behavior, and they solve social problems in different ways.

Watching in groups as the drama goes down. Posted by: Eve Davidian

Can they change their gender?

Even though Spotted hyenas cannot change genders, they have a peculiar way of reproduction. The females have enlarged clitoris – also called pseudo-penis –, which resembles to a penis. To further confuse matters, females also developed false testicles. Due to their odd evolution, hyenas were suspected to be hermaphrodites and capable of changing genders and performing witchcraft.

This pseudo-penis allows females to produce more testosterone which makes them more aggressive and dominant so they can protect and rule the clan.

Moreover, it allows consensual sex. To have a successful intercourse, a female must patiently retract her pseudo-penis to reveal her vagina. In other words, sex cannot happen without the female’s full consent and cooperation. It’s a built-in anti-rape defense system!

Male stalking, bullying, and aggression toward females are not an option. They are all taboo. If a guy wants to allure a female or just wants her attention, he waits patiently and earns her respect through admiration and altruism – as he knows he’s not entitled to her affection by just being a male. So, when it comes to hyena love, only the gentlemen get the ladies and the aggressive ones get nothing.

However, having a pseudo-penis is not always rainbows and butterflies; females have to give birth to multiple cubs through their 2.5-centimeter-wide (1 inch) pseudo-penis – which is complicated, causes huge pain, and has an incredibly high health risk.

We have to reach a middle ground.

Most people who were subordinates – like peasants, slaves, ethnic minorities, and many other groups —, are liberated sometime in history, and got – most – of their rights as human beings. But even after several decades of the Equal Pay Act, women still get paid less than males – and this gap widens even more among women of color.

I’m not suggesting we should have a matriarchal society like the Spotted hyenas, we have to reach gender equality instead where neither side suffer. The answer lies halfway between these two social systems.

We need to start acknowledging more women and realize that societies led by women are not doomed. As seen in nature, females can be powerful, govern complex societies and make good decisions – not just among hyenas, but elephants, orcas, meerkats, bees, bonobos and wolves –, so why is it hard for us, men, to give more responsibility and space for them.

By Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

Our world is changing

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, many scandals surface which empowers women everywhere in the world to speak out and tell their truth. However, this also shows how ignorance and discrimination are still the norms in our world.

This year’s Woman’s day marked with thousands of women marching on the streets of Warsaw – and around the world – after a near-total ban on abortion rights in January. Under the new law, abortion is only allowed if the mother’s health is in danger, or if the baby is the result of a crime, incest, or rape – the latter can be difficult to prove. These women stopped waiting for their government to do better and they took matters into their own hands. They are risking their freedom by doing petitions, protests and providing support for each other.

From the French revolution to modern-day Poland, women have stood up for themselves. Sometimes with greater success, other times with less. This March marks another Women's History Month and hopefully next year we can talk about women's rights differently.

It is very important to note that female Spotted hyenas don’t rise to the top by copying the traits of the other sex or masquerading their femininity. Rather, they’re showing their unique female anatomy and femininity – which is quite awesome and powerful, in my opinion.

On a final note, we should live in a world where we can be who we are, women are not just women in the kitchen, in bed, or when they have children, we are free to love and we can take care of each other. After all, we are all in this together.

By Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

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About the Creator

Daniel Toth

Amateur Writer | World Traveler | Animal Lover | Foodie

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