Do the cows in the field know they are shut in? As they shuffle painfully into the milking parlour do they know there is another way to live their lives? No. A cow kept for breeding may have felt the sweet pull of a hungry little mouth against her painfully full udder, but not a milker. Never. Cows are farmed but do not know it. So are other animals.
What about us women? Surely it is different, we are human, we have choices. But do we? Are we, surreptitiously and without realising it, subject to the same techniques as the cows, the sheep, the goats? While of course being ‘fed’ the line that we are human and equal to men?
History, archaeology, language, sexual politics and the arts all tell the same story.
Farming started in the Middle East ten thousand years ago with what is called the Neolithic (Stone Age) Revolution — agriculture.
The horticultural stage came first. From millennia of foraging for food, people knew a lot about edible plants and where they grew. They developed regular annual migration routes to find the food available in different areas and eventually noticed that discarded bits of plants taken back to the campsite sprouted and spread. A few, perhaps infirm people may have stayed behind somewhere with enough food to sustain a few of them, and gradually deliberate planting and harvesting took place. Gardening had begun!
Foraging and horticultural societies are relatively egalitarian, and often have matriarchal aspects (Lerner). They venerated mothers: group survival depended on mothers carrying, birthing and nurturing babies. A group with more women than men would grow faster than one with more men than women. Many wonderful stone statues of fat, pregnant (or just older, saggier) women who have had lots of children and have huge pendulous breasts have been found all over Africa, the Middle East and Europe. As an older woman who has had kids I find them hugely validating in our present youth-fetishising society. Women’s status was high back then. We were worshipped. It was not to last.
Gradually group hunting began and hunter-gathering became a handy way to live. Sharing was key. Back then we deliberately avoided the submissive-dominant social pattern; in fact for 90% of the time we have been recognisably human, equality has been our social norm (Wilkinson & Pickett). We used ‘counter-dominance strategies’ (eg ridicule, ostracization) to change the behaviour of those who tried to dominate. Hunter-gatherers lived in plenty — the original affluent societies.
The farming of animals is thought to have originated in animal sacrifice, an ancient and world-wide practice aimed at appeasing and feeding the gods. ‘Sacrifice’ (Latin Sacer = holy, ficio =make) means to ‘make holy’, perhaps the original way of justifying violence by religion. ‘Religion, not rational economics, was the key motivating factor’ (Lewis-Williams & Pearce). ‘Blood sacrifice is not just ‘a’ religious ritual, it is the central ritual of the religions of all ancient and traditional civilisations.’(Ehrenreich). Originally sacrifices were human, as in the bible story of Abraham and Isaac, where Abraham is persuaded to kill a wild ram instead of his son. Importantly, the practice of human sacrifice rendered some humans into meat, a substance for control and consumption by other humans. Later, animals were mostly used for sacrifice. The best of the slaughtered animal was given to the gods (did the priest eat them later?), and we read of the gods sniffing the aroma of roasting meat: when the god of Israel is angry with his people, he says ‘ I hate, I despise your feasts and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies.’ (Bible: Amos 5, 21). The rest of the animal was eaten by the priests, or in more egalitarian societies, shared among the group at a feast.
Often an apology to the sacrificed animal is part of the slaughter ritual, in recognition that a wrong is being perpetrated on a fellow creature (Hubert & Mauss, cited in Ehrenreich, p33). There is an important guilty thrill (still familiar to porn users and rapists) at balancing wrong-doing with pleasure-seeking, at having an excuse for doing something bad. Violence has been made not just acceptable, but mandated by and for god. Far from being our fellow-creatures on the planet, animals are now regular victims, meat, a commodity, other and less than us, a clear precedent for how we now treat women (Adams). By now we have also firmly established the projection practice of using the gods as an excuse to take actions which benefit the ruling class at the expense of others. This will run and run.
The enclosing and farming of animals, inspired by random predation on creatures trapped or injured in the wild, is thought to have developed in 4 stages (Jarman): loose corralling (eg game drives), controlled predation (animals controlled at certain times of year (eg breeding season), herd following, a continuous association between man and an animal (like the Sami and reindeer), loose herding with closer control during spring and autumn movements in order to split a herd up for different people to own, and finally close herding, ie modern farming, where fences contain a herd in a space. Humans obtain gradually greater animal food benefits as they progress through the stages. The animals’ reproductive cycle gradually becomes well known and techniques for catching, milking, cheese-making, breeding etc develop. Animals are a uniquely portable protein food as they can walk on their own four hooves. As the control of animals grew, how could men NOT see the parallels with our own biology and breeding? As Lerner says, ‘All agricultural societies have reified women’s, and not men’s reproductive capacity’. Archaeologist Ian Hodder argues that ‘The process of domestication is a metaphor and mechanism for the control of society, especially for man’s control of woman. (cited in Lewis-Williams and Pearce)
Farming spread gradually from the Middle East. Prior suggests that in Britain by the fifth millennium BCE we see a gradual switch to loose herding, with close herding towards the later Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, when the first field systems found by archaeologists began to appear.
Gardening for food in a fixed settlement is hit-and-miss: rains fail, blights descend and damage your plants, insects and birds munch them, predators sneak in by night and steal them, kids walk all over them by accident (Lewis-Williams and Pearce, p21). Soil degenerates, disease ravages a community living amid its own waste, a less varied diet causes health problems. So hedging your bets with a combination of horticulture and animal farming is a good idea. Archaeology often shows settlements with houses all of similar size, indicating a relatively egalitarian society:
As metal-working methods gradually spread and the Bronze Age started, agriculture and warfare developed together, with better ploughs making good use of men’s greater upper body strength, and metal cutting weapons conferring a decisive advantage in conflict. These two metal-based developments multiply exponentially the biological advantages of the male physique. Women were often excluded from metal working (Pryor p264)
With more food, more protein and less walking, women have more children (or has informal farming already started?) and are therefore, advantageously to men, more tied up looking after them. The human infant needs the most prolonged and intensive care of all the species, so this is a major lifestyle change from the days of foraging with just one or two kids in tow. The potential for emotional blackmail is huge. Settled groups could no longer deal with disputes by going their separate ways; they had to develop conflict resolution techniques, arbitrators, rules and priestly hierarchies using god as an excuse for their rulings. War, virtually unknown among hunter-gatherers, was endemic among many horticultural people (Harman p13) — once you have something in a known place, others try to take it. Once you try to shut things away to stop others from taking them, you can also shut people in to stop them from leaving. Given the huge advantages conferred on men by metals technology in food production AND conflicts, plus the greater attention women devoted to multi-child-care as birth rates rose, this is probably when recognisable patriarchal structures really took hold.
Fisher argued that the domestication of animals taught men their role in procreation, leading to the male practice of raping women. Lerner rejects this hypothesis, based on the existence of egalitarian societies (see picture above) practicing animal husbandry around 6,000 BC. She says there cannot be a causal connection. This is a false dichotomy which, as we are studying farming not rape, we can bypass. Clearly direct causation of anything in the ancient world is hard to prove, let alone proof of so universal a practice as rape. As we now know, the relationship between protection and control is close, the former often used to justify the latter. The use of walls and fences in agriculture to contain animals and in the home to protect women and children will have inspired men’s practice of encouraging women to stay at home and busy themselves with gardening and the ever-enlarging family. This would leave men free to leave the home to become the experts in the uses of metals, larger-scale agriculture, hunting and warfare, while returning home regularly to initiate more offspring. There are advantages to specialisation. We women were not farmed suddenly, we were edged into it when it was a valued and valuable activity, herded so slowly that we did not notice the disadvantages. Our emotional bonds to our children were exploited by a process of emotional blackmail, deliberately or not, to ensure we toed the patriarchal line. We were weaned off wandering, indoctrinated into indoors, chivvied into childcare, inducted into insemination, domesticated (from Latin domus =home) into dominion, farmed without our knowledge. Those of us who produce children are still farmed without realising it, like our sisters in the fields.
Lerner, in rejecting Fisher’s hypothesis, directs us instead to the widespread early practice of the exchange of women, which parallels the farming practice of bringing in superior animals for breeding purposes. This is another rich source of evidence relating to the husbandry of animals and women. Women were exchanged because they could be relied upon to stay with and be loyal to their children in the new group, whereas men if exchanged would be more likely to leave, an early example of institutionalised emotional blackmail.
The best known example of woman exchange is the Romans’ seizure around 750BC of women from surrounding tribes to breed from. Known as the ‘Rape of the Sabine women’, it has been repeatedly depicted in western art by Degas, Giambologna, Poussin, Rubens, David, Picasso and others, a joyful male magnification and endorsement of patriarchal themes.
Woman exchange is well documented through history and (though illegal) still persists in the form of ‘swara’ in Afghanistan, where it is used to wipe out upaid debts. Abduction of women is common practice in warfare among tribal societies, alongside cattle raiding: women are cattle or chattels. Woman exchange, by force or contract, takes forms as diverse as forced marriage, arranged marriage, bride kidnapping, hostage-taking, mail-order bride, and, as described in Hardy’s ‘Mayor of Casterbridge’, wife-selling (with a halter round her neck).. There are echoes in the Christian marriage ceremony where the bride’s father, ‘gives her away’ to the male she is to marry.
Levi-Strauss saw woman exchange as reification or objectification of women. Looking at all the forms and examples where women have less agency than men and are forced one way or another to submit to the sexual advances of men, it is hard to disagree, although there will always be individual instances of abstention or empowerment.
Whether you agree with Fisher or with Levi-Strauss and Lerner, we women are objectified and farmed, either by treating us deliberately as female animals are treated in farming, or by emotionally blackmailing us to stay put and place our children before our freedom, our welfare and ourselves.
There are still many societal mechanisms for ensuring women breed: rape, surrogacy, artificial insemination, marital rape (not illegal in the UK until the 1990s), prohibition on abortions, non-availability of contraception, idolisation of motherhood, difficulties placed in the way of the gainful employment of pregnant women or mothers, allowing fathers to walk away from supporting children they have fathered or continue working as normal while paying ridiculously small amounts to help raise their children, forcing mothers to take time off work, etc plus the generalised violence and threats of violence to which women who say ‘no’ are ubiquitously subject. In some societies women are forced to marry a man who has raped them. In many countries ‘child brides’ are still common.
In all systems of sexual exploitation (prostitution, pornography, strip clubs), the working women will often be single parents who say this is their best option because decently paid work with hours that fit with childcare responsibilities is otherwise impossible to find. This was illustrated (but not explored) in Ken Loach’s 2016 film ‘I, Daniel Blake’. Woman exchange as a male bonding trope appears in the novels The Great Gatsby and Tropic of Capricorn. Indecent Proposal and other female-barter movies were criticized for this.
Cultures acting in the name of religions play a huge part in this systematic surreptitious farming of women by enforcing staying at home (remember ‘fermer’ means to shut in or enclose) within walls, within a compulsory veil, or by having sole responsibility for household and childcare. There are a lot of little harems about.
We might hope that things have changed, at least in the ‘enlightened’ liberal west. Far from it, that most reliable barometer of culture, colloquial language, shows us that if anything things have got worse. Who has not heard the local club or disco referred to as ‘a cattle market’, a woman called ‘silly cow’ or, in a euphemistic echo of the apology before the sacrificial blow, ‘silly moo’?
As Carole J Adams points out, the sex trade, that objectifier of women and flatterer of men, is still full of women-farming links. In French ‘maisons d’abbatage’ (literally, houses of slaughter), six or seven young women would EACH ‘service’ 80–120 men per night. In Shakespeare’s time, ‘mutton’ meant a prostituted woman. A young woman in prostitution is ‘fresh meat’, and older one ‘dead meat’. An episode of TV show China Beach featured the murder of a prostituted woman and ended with a monologue about working in a meat-packing factory. An episode of The Cosby Show showed his son Theo and a friend referring to women as ‘burgers’, ‘double burgers’ and ‘deluxe burgers’. In an episode of The Fresh Prince, Will talks about women at a nearby club: ‘There’s some 100% USDA Prime Choice down there. I could be tenderizing some right now’. UK news coverage of the child sexual exploitation scandals referred to the abused girls as ‘easy meat’.
In western countries, cows are often named with women’s names: Emma, Penelope, Bella, Molly, Nettie, Annabelle, Ella, Anna, Dorothy and Annie come up in Google as the commonest names for cows, whereas horses, the other farm animal we tend to name, have names like Star, Dakota, Spirit, Blaze, Rocky, Dusty or Magic.
The Victorians divided women into ’fallen’ and respectable women, excoriating and excluding the former, while idolising and isolating ‘respectable’ women as the ‘angel in the house’, sitting in her parlour. Significantly cows are milked in a milking ‘parlour’, the production of milk seen, by men who have never done it, and never felt the agony of an overfull breast, as a calm, relaxed and passive activity.
Going further back in time, cattle and chattels derive from the same root. Under English common law, according to the principle of couverture (a fancy word for copulation or covering), a woman was considered a chattel (ie cow) of her husband, who had full power over her finances until the Married Women’s Property Acts in the 19th century. The woman with whom a man legally copulated was considered as his cow for thousands of years.
Chattering, an activity stereotypically associated with women, originally indicated an animal noise and comes from the same root as ‘chattel’. The term ‘animal husbandry’ is another strong clue that marrying a woman equates to farming her.
In 2018, India’s Supreme Court declared that ‘women are not chattels’ when it repealed a colonial-era law of British origin. Laurie Penny titled her 2010 book ‘Meat Market — Female Flesh Under Capitalism’.
Another indication of our invisible farming is our strange inability to be seen as farmers. Women of course ARE farmers, and even where farmland is owned by men and only by men, they still do a lot of farm work. Yet even women who operate their own farms report that when they state their occupation husbands are mentioned, and it is imputed that they are a ‘farmer’s wife’, forcing them to refute this. So we still tend to see farming as a male activity, where men are the subject and women the object, the farmed.
The association between sexual partner and farm animal may not be open and conscious in the minds of modern western males, but deep down they will recognise the similar processes of farming and husbandry, whoops I mean husbanding. This may, unless consciously acknowledged, influence them to view and even to treat their wives as objects and sources of profit. As violent men act out violent porn scripts for their sexual pleasure, men conditioned to objectify and farm women will continue to do so until their awareness is raised or until forced to change. No wonder 90% of single parents are female; men have throughout history exercised their self-awarded right to abandon the children they have created to the care of their mothers. More recently, since DNA testing, the paternal abandonment is often emotional or financial rather than physical, but it still exists, and under the farming model seems perfectly reasonable. Farming readily separates bulls from cows and young offspring from parents. There are also, of course, the vast, world-wide and hugely profitable systems of sexual financial exploitation of women (including their wives) and girls (including their daughters) by men: prostitution, pornography, strip clubs, and surrogacy, all of which bolster the view that women are there for male consumption, production, profit and pleasure.
The growing industry of surrogacy has close parallels to farming, although farms are called ‘clinics’ and the actual herding after embryo implantation may be ‘outsourced’ or ‘farmed out’ to the surrogate’s husband as it is cheaper to keep her at home (Bindel 2016). We need a new word here: ‘simp’ is a person who profits from surrogating a woman to have a baby for another. Joanne Ramos has explored this issue in a novel: ‘You’ve got to understand what this place is. Okay? It’s a factory, and you’re the commodity,’’ says Lisa, one of the characters. Bindel (2018) has also investigated the newer, slightly narcissistic development of gay surrogacy and poignantly asks ‘Would commercial surrogacy exist at all if it were not for the increasing acceptance of the financial exploitation of the female body?’ Ekman has pointed to the close links between surrogacy and prostitution: ‘The prostitute says, ‘My body is not my self’, the surrogate says ‘the child is not mine’.’ This is a lot of dissociation, a common response to the trauma caused by both prostitution and surrogacy, and one with serious ongoing health implications (Van der Kolk).
Finally we have to mention zoophilia, the paraphilia involving sexual activity with animals. Clearly zoophiliac men feel that animals with vaginas are as sexable as women with vaginas although zoophilia is now illegal in many countries. Recently a terrified orang-utan was rescued from prostitution in Borneo. She was chained to a couch shaved and covered in sores, with lipstick applied. Not only are women farmed, animals are also prostituted.
Prostitution, pornography, surrogacy and zoophilia derive from Latin or Greek roots which obscure their real meaning in English. Prostitution (Latin pro+ stit = instead of + stand), pornography (Greek porne + graph = prostitute + write), surrogacy (latin sub + rog = instead of + ask). In German surrogacy is: mietmutterschaft = rent-motherhood, a much clearer description. Zoophilia (Greek zoo + philia = animal + love) is a contradiction in terms much like paedophilia (Greek child + love) — forcing yourself sexually on an animal or a child is the very, very, very last thing anyone should do as an act of love.
THE GASLIT MILKING PARLOUR WITH PIPED MUSIC
Of course, most women are not aware that they are being farmed, and many men may not be aware that this is the system still operating. Like other animals, we are not all farmed in the same way, and fortunately some of us are still in the wild resisting capture, breeding and exploitation: Lesbians, independent women, rebels, women who dedicate their lives to seeking justice for themselves and other women. So strong is the crazy, harmful stereotype of the ‘nice’ woman who puts others first and herself last that we still hear the arguments that women in prostitution are there ‘to help poor disabled men’ and that surrogates are there to ‘help poor women who can’t have children’. These naïve and partial narratives conceal the main features of these industries, which is profit and the subordination of women. If men can ‘have sex with’ a woman casually for money, why need they cultivate mutual respectful relationships with us? If men can farm ‘surrogates’ to acquire babies and pay for childcare, what need have they for equal long-term partners to collaborate with in bringing up their children?
We are gaslighted into not seeing that we are farmed. We hear the farming language again and again and tune it out. We study history, and imagine that it is over. Robin Stern identified 3 types of gaslighter: the glamour gaslighter, the good-guy gaslighter and the intimidator gaslighter. All 3 are present here: the glamour gaslighter will idolise the role of mother, be a great provider for his family and treat you well until things go wrong, when he may leave you bankrupt or alienated from your children: ‘But Dad was always such a good dad!’. The good-guy gaslighter is perhaps the commonest kind. Especially since the MeToo movement, we have learned that good guys are often bad guys. The intimidators continue to exert what is now termed ‘coercive control’. All are backed up by religions, the law and public services which will always give the benefit of the doubt to a woman-abuser if he came from a ‘good family’, or ever passed an exam or volunteered for a day somewhere.
Farmers who play music to their cows get higher milk yields from them (BBC news 2001). We also play music in the milking-parlour to gaslight ourselves that everything is fine. From Mozart to Sting, from church hymns to rap, the challenge is to find lyrics that don’t gaslight us, not ones that do. Which do you like best? For me, it’s Mozart’s divine ‘La ci darem la mano’, and Sting’s ‘Every step you take, I’ll be watching you.’ Wonderful music, creepy scary messages. Life seems easy when a man is holding your hand, when you are safely (?) enclosed, watched over and dependent, but protection and control are two sides of the same coin. Beware.
The colonisation of women by men has been established by Mies et al. I would go a step further and say that as well as being colonised, we are also farmed like cows, and that the lack of awareness of this leads to its perpetuation and, as biotechnologies develop, its massive expansion. Demand for surrogacy is already growing, although there are no answers to the difficult questions it poses, for example the rights of the child. What should the limits be? Was Mr Shigeta justified in obtaining 13 children via surrogates because he could afford to pay for round-the-clock ‘childcare’? What about children later abandoned by surrogate parents? What about ‘defective’ children rejected by the surrogate parents? As more gay male couples marry, and as teenage transgender people mature and regret the infertility caused by the puberty-blockers they took, demand for surrogacy will grow and under-regulated woman-farming will grow with it (Bindel).
Of course, the old religions are alive and well, playing god to the advantage of men. Liberal humanist western ideologies also function as religions which, albeit unconsciously, worship the great old gods Penis, Male Orgasm and Male Power (possibly under other names: Liberty, sexual expression, human rights), to the detriment of women, children and even of men.
What can we do? Have you been sold the romantic myth (your husband is wonderful, the one ‘meant’ for you and your love will last for ever, or similar) and the motherhood myth (motherhood is your true fulfilment, and an interesting and well-paid job is nowhere near as much fun; your children are best served by you putting them first and yourself last)? Think, read and act outside the myth box. Find women who have made a great life away from their sex partners, or are fulfilled by interesting careers. This will balance out the myths you have been fed. Get involved in online feminist activism, read up about the sex industry, surrogacy and transgenderism. Switch on your critical thinking button which farming has rusted up from disuse. Find a radical feminist organisation which interests you and get involved. Ask questions, read books, take action, reflect critically on your own experience and find your sisters. You will find a whole new dimension to life which will make you happier, healthier (mentally and emotionally) and you will even have a lot of interesting stuff to share with your kids!
Adams, Carol J. ‘The Pornography of Meat’ 2004, 11–12, passim.
BBC news — milk yields, music http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/1408434.stm
Bindel, J. 2016 https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/apr/01/outsourcing-pregnancy-india-surrogacy-clinics-julie-bindel
Bindel, J 2018 https://www.spiked-online.com/2018/08/08/the-problem-with-gay-surrogacy/
Ekman, K ‘Being and being bought’ 2014
Ehrenreich, B. ‘Blood Rites’ 1994, p24.
Fisher, E. ‘Woman’s Creation: sexual evolution and the shaping of society’ 1979
Harman, C. ‘A People’s History of the World’ 1999, p13
Jarman, MR ‘Early Animal Husbandry’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B, vol. 275, pp 85–87
Lerner, G. ‘The Creation of Patriarchy’ 1986, pp30, 51.
Levy-Strauss, ‘Elementary Structures of Kinship’ 1949
Lewis-Williams & Pearce, ‘Inside the Neolithic Mind’ 2018, pp138,141
Mies, Maria ‘Patriarchy and accumulation on a World Scale’ 1986, p202
Penny, Laurie, ‘Meat Market’ 2010
Pryor, F ‘Britain BC — Life in Britain and Ireland before the Romans’ 2003, p264
Ramos, J. ‘The Farm, a Novel’ 2019
Stern, Robin ‘The Gaslight Effect’ 2007
Stop Surrogacy Now http://www.stopsurrogacynow.com/#sthash.L4aF07sV.dpbs
Van der Kolk, B. ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ 2015
Wilkinson, R & Pickett, K. ‘The Inner Level’ p 18 (Penguin ed) pp18,82,224
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43140285 90% of single parents are women
Written by Janice Williams