In “An Elephant Crackup? ”, Charles Siebert partly attributes the belligerence of the recent generations of elephants, the animals considered to be among the most intelligently advanced, to the lack of a matriarch, a powerful female figure. He takes an example of the case of the last elephant survivors at Queen Elizabeth National Park, where the elderly female elephant was the one who “gathered the survivors together from their various hideouts”, “led them back out as one group”, and “held the group together [as] the population all the while slowly beginning to rebound” (Siebert 358).
The idea that the sustainability of the group is dependent on its leading female is rather surprising, in the sense that in the wilderness, where the determination of roles among the members of the herds is largely, or even solely, influenced by physical ability, it would be more logical that the males are in control. Surprisingly, there are several researches that prove the opposite, that despite lacking physical advantage, female leaders are vital to the behavior and existence of the group itself.
This phenomenon is not only interesting, but also very useful and fundamental to the effort of improving the aggression of the elephants, and through that, the relationship between elephants and humans. Also, there are certain ways that the “political” and social order of the matriarchal societies in elephant can be held accountable for the sake of this process. After all, the question is how do females as leaders in animal matriarchal societies govern the system and affect the healthiness of those societies, specifically in the area of violence and security, and why is it important?
To begin discussing about a matriarchal society, it is necessary to understand what the system is all about. According to Heide Goettner-Abendroth in his “Matriarchal Society: Studies on indigenous cultures across the globe”, a matriarchal society is “[truly] gender-egalitarian”, which can be defined as asserting equality between genders. He also adds that those in this system are all about ensuring the “social functioning and freedom of both sexes” (Goettner- Abendroth, xv).
The idea is absolutely, or “emphatically” as how the author puts it, different from the popular impression that matriarchy only closely focuses on women, the dominators of the government, and is a “mirror [image] of [patriarchy]”, a government in which males are all that matter. For example, in elephant matriarchal societies, even though the female leaders are powerful and extremely influential to the herd , like what is “constituted” in the “amendments of the matriarchal society”, the male individuals in elephant’s herd also have their share of responsibility.
In accordance to “An Elephant Crackup? , “ young males go off for a time into an all-male social group before going back into the fold as mature adults” (355). The mature males take many roles in the herd, such as advisors, educators and sources of knowledge. Nevertheless, even when the intention of the author is clearly to exculpate the unfriendliness of how the word matriarchy sounds, it still seems that he is a little bit too optimistic in using strong words like “true” or “emphatically” in his statements, since not all of the societies under the name “matriarchal society” are to have the same purposes and intentions.
However, this supposedly generalization of the author is somewhat explainable, based on his true experience in researching about the subject. Goettner-Abendroth mentions that with the stereotypical understanding of the word, many researchers have searched for the evidence of matriarchal societies that “ conforms to their patriarchally-oriented hypothesis of domination by women”(Goettner- Abendroth xvi) but failed.
Nevertheless, instead of changing the strategy and try to look at these societies in different light, the researchers overlook their misconception and jump to the conclusion that matriarchal societies do not exist. And this act, I have to agree with the author, “is a shameful waste of science”(Goettner-Abendroth xvi). Being a matriarchal society does not simply mean that all females are leaders; there is a whole logical system behind the way in which the society is governed. It is notable that the ones who are really in charge are the elder individuals in the herd, also known as the “allomothers” (Siebert 356).
According to “Leadership in elephants: the adaptive value of age”, the power of the elder females is attributed to the experience they gain as they age and also, the decrease in chance of having young off-spring leaves them more available to deal with the common affairs of the group. However, not having babies does not mean that they do not have any influence on the upcoming generations in the herd, and especially, their tendency of being violent. In his essay, Siebert emphasizes the importance of the role of experienced “mothers” in raising of young calves.
He says the allomothers “[keep] the younger males in line”, that the disappearing of them actually creates the “absence of the support system that defines traditional elephant’s life” (Siebert 356), which eventually leads to the trauma of the species in recent days. In short, the elder females are responsible for passing down and encourage the characteristic traits of the group from generation to generation, and this task is utterly important. The work “Not by Bread Alone: Symbolic Loss, Trauma, and Recovery in Elephant Communities ” by Isabel Gay A. Bradshaw provides a closer look into this particular function of the female elderly. According to her, elephants have long developed different rituals, namely “grieving, mourning, and socialization” (Bradshaw Abstract), which can also be seen exhibiting among human beings, to deal with their advanced emotions. The rituals are then passed down and reserved by the carrier groups consisting of the older matriarchs “who traditionally lead and teach these healing practices”(Bradshaw Abstract).
For instance, as described in the work, the new-born calves are “shared” among members of the group and constantly treated with affection and they will be kept close to the females of the group for years. Also, when a member of the group dies, the others will bury him with dirt and stay in mourning for a long time. With the matriarchs hunted down by humans, the practices will then be lost and with no method to deal with their feelings, the young generations become traumatic and violent.
By and large, it seems like the presence alone of the matriarchs directly influences the behaviour and the aggressiveness of the herd, making it questionable about what the future of the group would look like when they disappear. The way in which the inability to express mourning and affection triggers sadistic behavior in elephants can be used to consider and understand the reaction of humans under the same circumstances.
The most clear-cut example of the similarity between human’s reaction towards the extreme emotionally restriction and that of elephants might be the case of the cadets in Susan Faludi’s “The Naked Citadel”. In order to live up to the model of the “real men”, the cadets are required to suppress any affectionate or unmanly actions among each other. The school comes up with the “fourth-class system”, a cruel training which is specifically used to ensure that the cadets are fitted in the mold of masculinity, which is rather solely consisted of acting out in the most virile way possible.
Moreover, just like how humans interfere with the presence of the female leaders in the herd, the administration at the Citadel does not allow any female student in the school. Thus, the closest the cadets can get to being taught about intimacy and bringing up their emotions is in the workshop with a single “hostess”, who teaches them unrealistic expectation of women and how to use superficial affectionate acts in order to seduce women into doing what they want.
Under the traumatic influence of the school and the lack of fundamental understanding and guidance of “acting like a human beings”(Faludi 103), which includes the ability to deal with emotions through affection and love, the cadets are just like those poor young elephants who do not know what to do with their feelings. As the result, they find another substitute way to let it out: violence. They start targeting the freshmen, also known as the knobs, on campus, “[burst] into their room, [… ] [knee] them in the genitals, [pull] out some of their chest hair and beat them up” ( Faludi 81).
Those, of course, are not the things that a real man would do, but at the same time, in order to maintain sane and keep the role of a “real man” up to the Citadel’s standard, those actions are something rather unavoidable. One more significant thing is that the cadets do not keep the absurd violence among themselves, or even among their species, but also to other people and animals. The cadets start beating up their “dates”, the girlfriends that they meet outside of school, when the girls do not respond to their educational way of being a gentleman.
This act is more or less the result of constantly exposing to the sexist environment where it is normal to sing songs and brag about punishing girls, which would otherwise be limited has there been frequent respectable appearances of women inside the Citadel. There is even an incident mentioned in Faludi’s work where “a high-ranking cadets [once] trapped a raccoon in the barracks and began to stab it with a knife” (81). These disturbing, unreasonable and insane acts closely resembles the unstable and worsening relationship between elephants and other species, including humans.
Meanwhile in the animal world, as recorded in Siebert’s essay, the male elephants lately too show a lot of aggression towards other animals and other individuals of their species: they rape and kill rhinos in bunk, they go to villages and destroy human’s properties, killing them and making them flee away from their homes, they are held responsible for “ninety percent of [other] male elephants death” (353), which is alarmingly high for a speci with such strong sense of society.
All of these, according to Siebert, are the result of “a form of chronic stress, a kind of species-wide trauma” (354), which most directly result from the discontinuity of traditional knowledge about dealing with emotions due to the absence of powerful females. And that, too, should most likely be the diagnosis for the cadets in the Citadel.