Animal Farm Revisited: A Feminist Allegory

by | 14 Mar 2022

Life on Nettle Farm was not easy. Patrick Arkey was a less than sensitive human farm owner. Still, the animals had tended to stick together, to find common cause in the face of their daily grind. Of course, there were gripes. The pigs sometimes felt their feed was inferior to the feed provided to the other farm animals. The sheep sometimes felt umbrage at being singled out for shearing. And the cows were sometimes less than enamoured by the clumsy way some human farm hands handled their udders. Nevertheless, it was solidarity, not division, that characterised life on Nettle Farm, at least among the non-human animals. Indeed, more than solidarity. The animals had, as long as any of them could remember, sought to test Farmer Arkey and his lackeys, and their victories, though minor, had acquired the status of animallore. 

Moreover, and as Shetland pony, Sugar, liked to point out, the animals, by and large, subscribed to animalism, a philosophy that captured the unpleasant conditions of their lives and pointed to solutions or at least to improvements. Of course, there were exceptions. Dottie, a feisty old goat, thought animalism was bunkum. And Truffle, a young pig, had more important things to do than waste her time with animalism. After all, there was always wallowing to be done before sunset and Nettle Farm had wet mud aplenty. But, in the main, the farm animals embraced animalism, the chief commandment of which was ‘whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.’ That is, while they recognised their differences, and while they sometimes squabbled, they recognised that what they shared was a whole lot more. Things began to change however, when Farmer Arkey purchased two new cows, Big Juniper and Buttercup. 

Before long, Big Juniper and, the more shrill Buttercup, were having private meetings with the other cows. Sugar, Truffle, Dottie and the other farm animals were a little perplexed by these meetings, as the animals had always met together to discuss issues arising on the farm. Their fog of puzzlement however, soon lifted. One day, Big Juniper announced that the farm cows would no longer be following animalism. ‘While we cows respect you other farm animals,’ she said, ‘and while we understand your lives are made unnecessarily difficult by Farmer Arkey,’ she added, ‘it is important for us cows to focus on the particular nature of our oppression as cows,’ she concluded. To that end, she revealed, the cows would in future be following what she described as ‘Critical Bovineism.’ Truffle and Sugar looked at each other and then at Big Juniper. Big Juniper sensed confusion, and possibly some resistance. She was about to continue when Buttercup pointed out that critical bovineism was not new. ‘Big Juniper and I have been critical bovineists for donkey years,’ she said, ‘since we were young heifers on Manor Farm,’ she added. ‘Indeed,’ said Big Juniper, in agreement. ‘Critical bovineism is not some sort of fad.’ 

Clucker, one of the farm hens, objected that critical bovineism would divide the animals and play into the hands of Farmer Arkey. But Big Juniper said that the minds of the cows were made up. ‘We are critical bovineists now’ she said, her voice raised, though not as high as her hackles. Buttercup added quickly, ‘and not the fun kind,’ lest any of the other farm animals fail to grasp Big Juniper and Buttercup’s earnestness. Truffle inquired as to what this might mean. Big Juniper explained that the cows were oppressed on the basis of their cow-ness, and while they felt some affinity with the struggles of the other farm animals, it was their cow-ness, not their animal-ness that was most important. In future struggles against Farmer Arkey, Big Juniper pointed out, ‘we cows need to focus, not on our animal status, but on our status as cows.’ ‘On. Our. Status. As. Cows’ she repeated. Buttercup chipped in again: ‘we are biologically different from you other animals and we have been socialised to be more compliant than you.’ She added quickly, ‘our udders make us especially dependent on humans and our grazing needs provide us with less scope for freedom on Nettle Farm.’ ‘It is the cows,’ Big Juniper interjected, ‘who bear the brunt of human misdeeds and it is around the cows that a politics must be built.’ 

Sugar was not persuaded by these new-fangled ideas. She did not see why her limp, and the physical pain that accompanied it, was any less significant than the obstacles faced by the cows. Pippa, one of the more confident sheep, pointed out that the sheep too had been raised to comply with the demands of humans and that they too perhaps should be allowed to be part of critical bovineism. Big Juniper snorted. ‘Don’t be ridiculous, sheep cannot be part of critical bovineism,’ she said. ‘Sheep only have 54 chromosomes, not 60 like we cows.’ Pippa struggled to grasp why chromosomes had suddenly assumed significance in the animals’ struggles against humankind, but she could see Big Juniper’s mind was made up. ‘You can’t argue with chromosomes,’ Buttercup said. The other farm animals looked at each other. Some were confused. Others nodded. ‘You can’t argue with chromosomes,’ some farm animals thought. Big Juniper repeated the mantra. The farm animals were beginning to see it her way.

But then, just as most sheep on the farm were beginning to think their desire to be part of critical bovineism was folly, a farm pig, Trotter, piped up. ‘What about the goats?’ she asked. ‘What about the goats?’ said Big Juniper. ‘Well,’ started Trotter, somewhat tentatively, ‘I believe goats have 60 chromosomes too.’ With this, there was mooing in the cow shed, bleating in the goat paddock, and other animal sounds began to be heard. Big Juniper looked Trotter in the eye. She knew a trouble maker when she saw one. She pointed out that the views of pigs needed to be treated with caution. After all, of all the animals on the farm, pigs, she said, were closest to humans. Their porcine ways might scupper critical bovineism. Some of the farm animals looked at Trotter, suspiciously. Trotter had always been a fierce advocate for animalism and had always expressed solidarity with the other farm animals in the past, at least as far as any of them could remember. Yet, now, some of them wondered whether Trotter, and perhaps other pigs on the farm too, had been working secretly against the animal good.

However, the animals’ attention was soon brought back to chromosomes. Tinkerbell, one of the oldest cows on the farm, and who had initially been in favour of excluding the goats from critical bovineism, such was the power of Big Juniper’s oratory, now stepped forward. ‘If we and the goats both have 60 chromosomes, then surely the goats should be included in our new movement,’ she said. Big Juniper glared at Tinkerbell. ‘You, silly old moo, chromosomes are only one element of critical bovineism,’ she said. ‘Critical bovineism is much more than chromosomes,’ she added. Tinkerbell was put in her place. She lowered her eyes. Buttercup nodded and added: ‘goats only have two teats. We cows have four. We are exploited two-fold by our human oppressors.’ The mood of the farm continued to shift. More and more animals began to see the logic of critical bovineism.

Clucker was confused, however. ‘What are we other animals to do?’ she asked. ‘Are we to continue to fight within the existing framework of animalism, while you cows pursue critical bovineism against our common enemy?’ she added. Big Juniper explained, ‘only cows can be critical bovines. Critical bovineism recognises the unique quality of the cow and her unique oppression on this farm and on all farms.’ ‘We must not deny cow-ness,’ she added, though none of the other farm animals had denied cow-ness. Aware she had not answered Clucker’s question, she continued, ‘other animals, while not being critical bovineists, can, and should, assist the cow’s in their monumental struggle against humankind.’ She paused for effect before adding, ‘All animals will be liberated by critical bovineism because it challenges the human-animal hierarchy in which all non-human animals are laid low, with the cows at the bottom.’ Clucker, somewhat reassured she still had a role in the animal struggle, asked Big Juniper to explain the principles of critical bovineism. 

‘The central principle,’ Big Juniper explained, ‘is to challenge human control of bovine sexuality. What this means, not to put too fine a point on it,’ she continued, ‘is that, we cows must withdraw our sexual labour. Critical bovineism is against sex, for it is through sex that we are kept down.’ Buttercup nodded, before adding, ‘sex is our undoing.’ ‘Next time, Farmer Arkey introduces Prince, the bull, to our meadow’ Big Juniper insisted, ‘we must refuse to show him any favour.’ ‘Are we too to renounce sex?’ asked Clucker. ‘Yes’ said Big Juniper. ‘It is the only way to bring Farmer Arkey to his knees,’ she added. All this talk of sex had excited some of the farm animals. The implications of Big Juniper’s radical ideas were beginning to sink in, especially for the rabbits. Thumper raised his paw. ‘Yes’ said Big Juniper. ‘Rabbits can’t give up sex, rabbits love sex,’ said Thumper. ‘We must all make sacrifices’ said Buttercup, aware that Big Juniper was losing the little patience she possessed. ‘Pleasure is the enemy of all farm animals,’ said Big Juniper. Cacophony ensued on the farm. It was clear that not all farm animals were convinced on this point, at least not yet. But then Big Juniper and Buttercup had not been on Nettle Farm long. Their ideas would take time to take root. 

Big Juniper, aware the cows needed the other farm animals, at least if the aims of critical bovineism were to be achieved, started to see she would have to be patient. What she needed was something to galvanise the farm animals around critical bovineism. As fate would have it, she would not have to wait long. Within weeks of the big talk about critical bovineism, three new animals arrived on the farm. Farmer Arkey’s latest purchases, Cleo, Coco and Cookie trotted through the main farm gates. The other animals looked at them in astonishment. They looked like horses, only bigger, and with strange black and white stripes. While most of the farm animals did not know it yet, the new animals were Zebroids that had been purchased to help plough the farm’s fields. Farmer Arkey had been informed these animals were more disease resistant and therefore he considered buying them to have been good business. 

The arrival of Cleo, Coco and Cookie led to a lot of talk and considerable excitement on Nettle farm. The farm animals had never seen such wonderous beasts. Two farm animals, however, were less excited by the arrival of the three newcomers. Big Juniper and Buttercup had seen Zebroids on other farms and felt they had the measure of them. They saw Zebroids as interlopers, as a threat to critical bovineism and indeed to animalism more generally. They became concerned about the way many of the other farm animals had quickly become so accepting of them. Big Juniper put this down to animal, and in some cases cow, false consciousness. She saw an opportunity, not only to exclude Cleo, Coco and Cookie from cow and other animal spaces, as well as from animal politics more generally, but to use them to build wider support for critical bovineism as an animal priority. She called a general farm meeting in Bluebell Meadow to which all the animals were invited, all except the three Zebroids. 

Big Juniper looked down from the meadow’s high ground. It was a sunny day and all the farm animals were present, except the three Zebroids and Truffle, who had decided the day was too good to pass up an opportunity for some serious wallowing. Big Juniper paused and surveyed the animals gathered in the meadow. She thought to herself, ‘Buttercup and I are the only grown-ups in the meadow. We must impress on the other farm animals the seriousness of the situation.’ ‘Zebroids are not proper animals,’ Big Juniper began. ‘They are not part of the natural animal order, like pigs, sheep and goats or like ducks, rabbits and cows, all of whom suffer at the hands of humans, especially the cows.’ ‘Zebroids,’ she continued, ‘are terrible animal experiments in which a Zebra, a strange horse-like animal from another land, far, far away, is bred with another equine species, usually a horse.’ Some farm animals looked at Big Juniper in amazement. ‘What fantastic beasts these Zebroids are,’ thought Sugar. Titan, a farm horse, thought Coco, was very fetching, but sensed this was not the moment to share this particular thought. 

‘They are our enemies,’ Big Juniper continued. ‘They are part of the animal husbandry empire that threatens all animalkind.’ Titan listened intently, though couldn’t quite shake the desire he felt for Coco. Pippa found Big Juniper’s words to be at odds with how gregarious she found the Zebroids, while Thumper thought about how much Cookie had made him belly laugh. For a moment, Thumper’s memory of shared laughter seemed to break Big Juniper’s spell, but only for a moment. ‘These Zebroids are not our friends,’ Big Juniper said. ‘They are hybrids, mutants, who threaten the coherence of all animal categories. Without a clear meaning of the concept of cow, critical bovineism will founder,’ Big Juniper insisted, warming to her theme. ‘The same is true for all animal politics. We MUST exclude the Zebroids from Nettle farm.’ Big Juniper preferred not to use Cleo, Coco and Cookie’s names, and displayed considerable irritation when other farm animals chose to conform to the rules of animal etiquette. ‘They pose a threat to the smaller animals and to the integrity of critical bovineism, as well as to the animal movement more generally,’ she concluded, striking her front left hoof down hard on the dry ground. 

What happened next, I cannot say. The last thing I heard, was that Big Juniper had garnered quite a following and that critical bovineism had assumed political primacy on Nettle farm and had spread to neighbouring farms. What I will say, is that my thoughts are with Cleo, Coco and Cookie, as they are with Dottie, Sugar and Truffle, and most of the other animals on Nettle Farm. I pray they find their way.

The End

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