Because most cooperative societies are despotic, it has been difficult to test models of egalitarianism. Female African lions demonstrate a unique form of plural breeding in which companions consistently produce similar numbers of surviving offspring. Consistent with theoretical predictions from models of reproductive skew, female lions are unable to control each other's reproduction because of high costs of fighting and low access to each other's newborn cubs. A female also lacks incentives to reduce her companions' reproduction, because her own survival and reproduction depend on group territoriality and synchronous breeding. Consequently, female relationships are highly symmetrical, and female lions are "free agents" who only contribute to communal care when they have cubs of their own.