Is the comment "he gets the milk without buying the cow" an anti-feminist objectification of women?

In some discussions of marriage or commitment avoiding men who co-habit with a woman, but do not want to get married, it’s commonly said that such a situations should not be allowed to stand because the man is “getting the milk without buying the cow”.

This sentiment is often expressed by women in analyzing the situation, but what does that say about the woman wanting to get married? Doesn’t it some some level objectify her as a dispenser of sex and domestic services haggling to get fairly compensated for her services?

It seems somewhat anti-feminist to cast a male-female relationship and what the woman is bringing to the table in these pay for play terms.


Yup times two.

Though I look forward to some serious tap dancing here.

I hate the phrase because of the subtext that to get married, a woman has to lure a man into an institution he would have no reason otherwise to pursue.

It’s not so much the idea that a woman’s sex and domestic services must be purchased with by a ring that bothers me. It’s the idea that a man won’t marry a woman that he loves just for the sake of wanting to be with her for a long time. He will only marry her if that’s the only way he can get sex and a clean house.

And she gets the sausage without buying the pig. It’s a win-win situation.

I don’t think I have ever heard this expression used seriously. It’s the sort of thing women my mother’s age joke about their mothers (or aunts, or grandmothers) having said decades ago.

It can be read as that, but I think it can also be interpreted as saying ‘if you just keep giving him what he wants in a relationship but you dont stand up for what you want, nothings going to change’. The problem with it of course is the assumption that marriage is some kind of magic commitment fixer upper for these issues.

I do think there is a somewhat common situation of relationship limbo, where the woman wants marriage/kids etc and is ‘waiting’ for it, when the reality is the man is perfectly happy with the relationship as it stands and claims he ‘needs more time to be ready’ when really he just wants the status quo. She trusts that he’s not full of it, and needs to be told that his ongoing behaviour suggests that he is.

But obviously it was originally antifeminist in that it used to be about preserving virginity etc, and it can still be.


It objectifies *both *genders. Not only does it assume that marriage is the end-all be-all for every woman, but it assumes that every man is actively avoiding marriage.

People who say this phrase unjokingly just aren’t very smart about people. And they like dumb catchphrases, which is reason enough to avoid them IMO.

It pretty clearly still refers to sex, and implies that women’s sexuality is a commodity.

So, yeah. It’s slut-shamey and objectifying etc etc.

My mother said that, and she meant it.

But there’s another side to it. Let’s say I’m living with a guy. He decided to propose marriage. I think about it. What I’m thinking is: He wants something out of this that he’s not already getting, is it something I want to give?

Yeah, that was probably a terrible way to look at it. I guess I am a black-hearted non-romantic. (It turned out to be a clean house BTW, and he didn’t get it.)

I suppose it depends what branch of feminism you’re looking at that phrase from. I do see the reading you’re offering, though.

It’s certainly an out-dated term and one that women should most likely avoid using–or at least think a lot more about if they are using it. So beyond simply the commodification of a gender, or the role(s) that come with (certain kinds of?) relationships according to gender, it says, I think, a lot more about how people understand a normative (idealized) relationship. The imagery might speak more to heteronormative-type relationships. At least, I don’t see that expression being especially useful (or meaningful) in gay couples or trans couples, etc. It is an expression more in line with what it means to have a normative relationship. The associations that are drudged up in that kind of relationship then speak to gender roles and so on, so the reading you’re offering or implying has some weight. More to the point though is that I think it also implies what kind of relationship is normal and what it means to have a normal relationship. Its implication also denies the reality of the politicization of marriage (as in certain states/countries where certain types of coupling/marriage are taboo/completely denied).

Again, I see your antifeminist reading, but I think more serious implications are drawn from phrases like that. What (might) be more important is the way that it participates in othering certain kinds of relationships. Beyond simply being a kind of ignorant view of coupling in the 21st century, it continues to deny the diversity of relationships and the social/political realities of them. Feminism’s work is really to broaden itself outward to those areas–but that’s another conversation altogether.

Exactly, and this is something that’s been missing from this dialogue: The fact that it is a dialogue, and, more broadly, the fact feminism is about all genders (which is why it’s a dumb name; just call it ‘gender equality’ already).

There’s no issue that’s valid for one side that isn’t also valid for others, and vice-versa; if something is a problem for one part of the equation it’s a problem, in a slightly different way, for everyone else as well.

Hey, some men are like that, not that I think of my ex-uncle as much of a man… but yeah, in the divorce proceedings, he claimed he was forced to marry my aunt because she wouldn’t put out otherwise :rolleyes:

The judge cut the proceedings short and granted the divorce.

Well I suppose a less anti-feminist viewpoint could be simply that one partner is providing something the other wants or needs, yet they are not getting what they want or need in return.
But if sex is already a barter struggle your relationship is headed for trouble.

Yup, and the whole “buying the cow” bit reminds me of dowrys and the concept of women as property. :frowning:

I quite like the pig/sausage one though, thanks :wink:

So you think any phrase peculiarly relevant to a particular concept inherently denies all other somewhat related other concepts merely by its utterance, even where the phrase in question says nothing about those concepts or their denial?

I remember a thread a decade or so ago, the title and subject of which was something to do with diseases peculiar to penii, I think. Someone dropped into the thread to complain vociferously that a thread about penii was an example of the marginalisation and oppression of women because the thread about penii didn’t talk about diseases peculiar to vaginas.

You remind me of that person.

Even if we wish it were not the case, I do think that many marriages are based at least in part on things like men desiring sex and domestic services and women desiring financial security. I don’t think it’s demeaning to anyone if we acknowledge that it happens.
In my own relationship, I would say that while I definitely value my fiance for his personality and the companionship I get from him, one factor in why I want to be with him is that he does provide services in our relationship that I find valuable
(though in our case, we don’t follow traditional gender roles - he is the more domestic one and I am the breadwinner). We waited a while to become engaged because, for a long time, my general attitude towards marriage was “things are good the way they are. Why do we have to get married?” I can definitely imagine that if my fiance took a stand that he wasn’t going to provide those services unless we were married, it might have seemed more urgent to me to get married.

I definitely thought of the “Why buy the cow” phrase when I was reading this recent relationship advice thread. When a woman is washing a guy’s underpants, providing free childcare/babysitting, providing easy access to sex, yes, I do tend to think that the guy is probably less likely to propose because he’s getting what he wants without having to stick his neck out.

Um, yes? I guess if someone is describing a man like that, you can look at it either as the speaker providing an apt interpretation of the non-gender-equal drives of the man, or as the speaker’s own anti-gender-equal stereotypes, it could be either.

No, it says that’s how the speaker regards relationships. Including possibly the woman in question. As said it “objectifies” the man at least as much; it looks at him merely as a source of profit. And calling what appears to be an employer/employee style relationship “objectification” seems like an exaggeration, anyway.

Except plenty of feminism isn’t about equality, it’s about the hatred of men, the supposed superiority of women, or about controlling women. Feminism has managed to quite thoroughly smear its reputation that way, which is why you get people saying things like “I’m not a feminist, but I do believe in women’s rights”; they are not synonyms.

That’s the point of view of a small (but vocal, sure) minority. Following your example, I could claim that Christianity is about blaming gays for tornadoes and Islam is about flying into buildings.

Feminism is about the notion that women and men should be treated as equals. Sure, there’s jackasses who take it to absurd levels, but that happens with every ideology.