Dawn O'Porter's Cows: A very middle-class exploration of motherhood. A Review.

June 14, 2018



Some books are to be read at certain points in your life, in the same way that Dolly Alderton's Everything I Know About Love, spoke to me, as a woman in my early twenties, I believe Dawn O'Porter's Cows will speak to me when I enter my thirties. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the book and that it didn't spark a resounding amount of thoughts and feelings that I already have about motherhood, its just not there for me yet. Maybe that's just me, being a twenty-one-year old who's obsessed with only reading about single women in their twenties, either nailing it or failing it, just because that is what I identify mostly with; maybe its because Cows sparked a fear in me that a lot of women have, no matter what age, and that is the fear of whether they will become a mother or not.


I've always been unsure of whether I want children or not, stressing that for me, my career is more important than having a family. That's not me making a bold, feminist statement, and its not because i'm not maternal or that I don't love kids, its that I have always dreamed of leaving a legacy that goes beyond what my womb can produce. This idea of legacies is explored in Cows, with the character Stella in particular, obsessing over the idea, like a lot of women, Stella believes that it is her responsibility to leave something behind, to prove that her and her family existed, and she believes this is best done in the form of reproduction. 


Cows explores a range of modern day forms of motherhood, from the overworked single mother clutching onto her career in the misogynistic world of the media, to a conservative mother of a rebellious 'feminist', to the childless out of choice and the childless out of circumstance. I suppose another reason why I didn't identify with these characters therefore didn't have an emotional connection to the novel, is because, they are all middle class representations; none of these women struggle financially, they all live in London, they're all white and heterosexual. Its not that they're not fair representations of women, and maybe its just me being too 'millennial', but this book doesn't speak to the working class.


The novel is told from the points of view of three different women, all exploring and expressing their opinions of motherhood. Ultimately, no matter how little or how much these female characters identify with the word feminist, each of their opinions all factor in a woman's right to choose, an important representation in the current cultural climate.


Once again, I'm not sure whether its because I failed to identify with these women, but I didn't impulsively read the novel until the very last few chapters, where a dramatic event kept me up well after I'd switched off Love Island. It wasn't until this point that I realised the that the main point of the novel was to expose the way women in society are valued only as reproductive 'stock' (very pre-Gillead, Handmaid's Tale vibes). I stupidly missed this as I appreciated the prologue only for its humour and not for its social commentary, which reads:


"Cows are destined to be in a constant hormonal state, either pregnant or producing milk. A heifer is a piece of meat, merely a potential source of produce. Beyond that, they don't offer much . . . Apparently. Some might say that is reflected in human society and the way that it regards women. Some might not."


Mind blown as you realise now why women are often referred to as "old cows", women who can no longer reproduce, have little hormonal balance so become naggy and annoying. It may have taken me 439 pages to get to the whole point, but it was 439 pages of entertaining wit and humour. A novel that explores female sexuality through stories of embarrassment and exposure, offering social commentary of the way women are treated in the work place and on the internet. 


I will reread this book in the future, maybe in fifteen, or twenty years time, when I am sat in bed exhausted from chasing my children around all day, or when I am sunning it up on a beach in Bora Bora, childless and totally ok with it. 

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