My husband is a rancher, and we met later in life after I’d had my own children. Being a ranch wife has yielded insights I never expected. One of the stark realizations of my status as a human female has been through the observation of cows. Cows on a ranch have an economic value based on their reproductive quality and health. Can they produce a good calf? Will that calf weigh enough to eventually bring the desired price at market? How many years will that cow be able to provide the rancher a stream of calves? Not to put it too bluntly, but I have decided that there is much to be learned from cows in relationship to my own jaded view of womanhood.
Women have been revered for our many gifts: our beauty, our creativity, and occasionally, our brains. However, the most consistent and predictable value we bring to the table is our ability to reproduce.
Inheritances, legacies, and names being passed down all depend on us—the family jewels.
In some cultures, we are nothing if we cannot do this. Such a woman is likened to the “open” (the continually unbred) cow. She may find herself ostracized at church or in social settings. To the cow, it gets more perilous. The “open” cow eventually goes to the “packer” (certain death, and reappearance in a Happy Meal) if she cannot produce.
In my youth I married a narcissist who turned out to be infertile. When I conceived children with an anonymous donor, this concept emerged in a very personal way: I became a child bearer first and a wife second. My spouse, due to state laws, had to “sign off” on my receiving donor sperm by giving his permission. This avoided the back-to-1948 legal conundrum that might have labeled me an “adulteress” in a court case for my “intaking” of donor sperm.
When I divorced the narcissist, my life became about defending my motherhood, over and over, in the family court system. Well, of course. I was a cow, and I’d produced sons who were assets in the storehouse of the master. I’d gone out to pasture, and my usefulness mainly centered around being a sitter and taxicab driver for when the master didn’t have the kids. I was certainly no equal.
This experience made me realize how rarely we, as women, are free. Our upbringing tells us we must be cows. Our churches center around traditional marriage and “the family life.” Society places value on us that permeates our sense of self. “Have a career to fall back on,” my adoptive mother said. That was the weakest of positioning for a girl who had more than an udder to offer.
Now that I’m a seasoned cow, I like to talk to heifers I encounter. Modern-day heifers don’t always think of marrying and having children as an end-all, be-all. I love to hear that there is more education out there identifying domestic, emotional, and financial abuse. I don’t love it that the rest of the world pretends our struggle isn’t real. And I really don’t like that the court systems still seem to be run by bulls (i.e. men) and that children in the family court systems are viewed as property to be divided. As we chew on our stations in life, I try to parlay some of my hard-earned wisdom.
And I wonder…Do cows get together too and try to imagine which heifers in their herd will be there next year because they have reproduced? Do they know when they fail to be impregnated by the new bull that it means their demise? On some level, I think they do, as I believe all creatures have instincts beyond what we humans can see.
I feel close to the cows. They remind us of our biology. God reminds us that we are more.
Jess Moravian is the author of Road to El Roi: A Journey to the God Who Sees . Road to El Roi is a spiritual memoir which explores domestic abuse and its effects on family court proceedings. In her spare time, Jess paints and creates products. She resides in Texas. Read more about Jess and her story here .