I decided to read The Cows after listening to a podcast interview with Dawn O’Porter. It sounds bad, but I’d never even considered reading it before. This was out of pure ignorance- I had no idea what it was about and took no time to find out. However, when I listened to her podcast interview with Emma Gannon I was instantly intrigued. I’m massively into how society portrays, treats and views women for a number of reasons, but namely a) because I am one and b) because I studied two incredible modules in my final year of university that dealt with this subject and I feel like I have a new level of understanding on it. When O’Porter mentioned that this was a huge part of the book, I knew I’d have to read it.
It became clear from the very start that my ignorance had meant I was missing out. The Cows is great. I won’t lie; it’s not the most poetically written book I’ve ever read, but that isn’t important. It deals with some pretty big issues, with a huge focus on a woman’s relationship with her body in the modern world and the judgement they face not just by people they know, or men, or strangers, but even themselves, about how they use and interact with their female bodies.
What I also liked is that O’Porter varies the perspective, shifting between the voices of three different woman in very different situations to show that there simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to being a woman. Now, it’s important to remember that, even with this varied representation, O’Porter’s leading ladies are all privileged Western women, and that their experiences aren’t on the same level as other oppressed women in the world. But that’s not to say that her argument is any less valid: other people have far too much to say about how women choose to live their lives- even women.
I found my own opinion changing throughout the novel- so aware of the judgements I was making, and wondering why — as a pretty liberal-minded, I’d like to think, person– I held such opinions of other women- even fictional ones. However, the one thing that kept popping up was sympathy. I didn’t pity these women in a patronising way, but rather I felt so sorry for what they were experiencing- in the apologetic, I’m-so-sorry-society-is-like-this kind of way.
The message of The Cows isn’t hidden or subtle, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I love the way it gets straight to the point, and that the narrators don’t shy away from what they think or want to do. This book really made me think about things I already knew and, while I can’t say I’ve had experiences on the same level as these characters, I’ve certainly had smaller-scale experiences, and this book has totally opened my eyes as to how all it takes is strength and solidarity from women to overcome the pressures and prejudices of modern Western society.
Go read The Cows if you want to feel good about women and what we’re capable of. I can’t pretend it’s all positive and happiness, but the end result certainly left me feeling proud to be part of this amazing group of humans.