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Of Cows and Women: Gendered Human-Animal Relationships in Finnish Agriculture

Taija Kaarlenkaski


In the Nordic countries, the tending of cattle was regarded as women’s work in agrarian culture. This was also the case in Finland, where the gendered division of labor on farms was fairly strict until the mid-20th century. The purpose of this article is to discuss the gendered representations of animal husbandry and cows in written narratives collected in a public writing competition. The writing competition about the cow was arranged in 2004 by the Finnish Literature Society and the Union of Rural Education and Culture, and an exceptionally high number of stories were sent to the competition. It will be argued in the article that gender, embodiment and emotions are often intertwined in the practices of animal husbandry. According to my interpretation, one reason for the division of labor was the bodily relationship with cows, which was allowed for women but not for men. In addition to the division of work, there are other aspects of cattle tending in which gender and embodiment emerge in the narratives. For example, the cows are also frequently gendered: one typical way for especially women to represent cows is to emphasize their gender and to articulate solidarity between females.


Gender, human-animal relationships, animal husbandry, cows, embodiment, emotions, empathy, agriculture, writing competition, narrative

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7358/rela-2014-002-kaar

Relations. Beyond Anthropocentrism
Registered by Tribunale di Milano (04/05/2012 n. 211)
Online ISSN 2280-9643 - Print ISSN 2283-3196

Executive Editor: Francesco Allegri
Associate Editor: Matteo Andreozzi 
Review Editors: Sofia Bonicalzi - Eleonora Adorni
Editorial Board:
Ralph R. Acampora - Carol J. Adams - Vilma Baricalla - Luisella Battaglia - Rod Bennison - Matthew R. Calarco - Piergiorgio Donatelli - William Grove-Fanning - Serenella Iovino - Luigi Lombardi Vallauri - Christoph Lumer - Joel MacClellan - Dario Martinelli - Roberto Marchesini - Alma Massaro - Barbara Muraca - Serpil Oppermann - Simone Pollo - Paola Sobbrio - Kim Stallwood - Sabrina Tonutti - Jessica Ullrich - Federico Zuolo