First let’s have a quick look at the kangaroo in general. Then we’ll focus in on the red kangaroo in this post and the grey kangaroo in the next.
Kangaroos are the largest of all marsupials with the red being the biggest. They can run up to 70mph and can maintain lower but still fast speeds for a long time. They have strong, powerful hind feet which help them bounce and hop and jump. Despite all this apparent energy, they are grazers and as such can be perceived as pests by farmers.
The kangaroo pouch gives us a fantastic metaphor to play with. It is a place of safety, of comfort, of refuge. A quiet place that lets the joey retreat when the world gets too much, just like a blanket fort! There is also the sense that this is a place where it would be very easy to overstay your welcome, to get stuck in your comfort zone.
Red kangaroos have a super kidney and conserve water very well – better than greys do. Indeed the red kangaroo is better adapted to surviving harsh climates than the grey. They have developed a number of mechanisms to coping with the heat, the water conservation being just one.
Their fur reflects about 30% of heat and saliva licked onto the fur cools their blood. When they’re moving they sweat but this increases water loss so they don’t sweat when they are still, instead they pant. They will dig into the hot sand to reach the cooler sands and then they relax into their “nest”. The males masters of heat regulation have to be particularly careful because the heat can lower their fertility. To keep their precious sperm cool, they lick their scrotum. They can also retract their testicles to protect them in fights…
But females don’t have it easy. They are almost always pregnant and can have three offspring, each at a different stage of development. There is a newly fertilised egg which is “on hold” until the peanut sized baby stops suckling and moves on to the more familiar joey stage. Female red kangaroos are essentially just a reproductive factory and this allows for species maximisation in their harsh climates. As harsh as it sounds, if one dies there are two others and if climate or access to food dictates, one of her young can be sacrificed. This sounds tough and uncaring but it’s actually a highly responsible thing to do. If there is not enough food or water for all then surely it’s better to lose one than all? And if mum continued looking after all her children and producing the milk they need, there is a higher chance she wouldn’t survive. This brings us to self responsibility. We tend to think as responsibility as looking after others but ultimately we must look after ourselves first in order to then be able to help others. We live in a culture which often asks mothers to sacrifice themselves for family but this is not a helpful idea. We can be responsible for others without losing ourselves. Being responsible for our own needs does not mean we cannot meet the needs of others. But be careful, women in particular, often internalise the idea that we must meet the needs of everyone around us. This emotional work, this keeping everyone else happy, is draining and unnecessary*.
Emotional labor is the exertion of energy for the purpose of addressing people’s feelings, making people comfortable, or living up to social expectations. It’s called “emotional labor” because it ends up using – and often draining – our emotional resources.
– Everyday FeminismEveryday Feminism
*It is of course deeply engrained in many of us so I’m not suggesting it’s easy to stop but being aware of it is an excellent start and not doing emotional work for people who aren’t important to you is a great second step.