Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Cat lady" vs. Cat Woman

Over the last couple days, the universe seems to be telling me something. First I read Bella DePaulo's post about a 20/20 segment on "Cat Ladies", a documentary about women with cats. As you can imagine (especially if DePaulo is covering it), the segment does not portray such women in a particularly flattering light. Then I finally got around to watching an episode of Private Practice from, I think, two weeks ago (I'm way behind on my crap TV watching), in which one of the main characters, Addison, ends up with the cat of a patient who dies from cancer. Addison is torn about taking the cat, in no small part because she fears being a 'cat lady' and part of the storyline concerns her fear that, like her patient, she will die alone. The title of this post was inspired by a line from one of Addison's colleagues, who wonders why being a 'cat lady' seems sad while Cat Woman is totally hot. That line, in particular, got me thinking about the cat lady stereotype.

And then, yesterday morning, I finally had a cat door installed for my indoor/outdoor cat. I've been meaning to do this for a while but kept putting it off. I was finally motivated to do it because as low-maintenance as my cat already is, I still have to be around to let her in and out. And that means that if she's outside and I'm gone for too long (for example, if I want to stay over at my boyfriend's place), I feel guilty; or if I know I'll be gone, I try to keep her inside, and I feel guilty. So installing a cat door means more freedom for both of us. And that's when it occurred to me that the stereotype of cat ladies as lonely and pathetic makes absolutely no sense. If I were really lonely and pathetic, I wouldn't have a cat; I'd have a dog! No one gets a cat for devoted companionship, unconditional love or any other dependent feeling that one would assume from the cat lady stereotype; cats are way too independent. The reason Cat Woman is hot is because she's like a cat: independent and not giving a crap about what anyone thinks of her. And any woman who is like that is going to prefer having a cat, not a dependent, needy dog who can never be left alone and will piss on your shoes if you don't give it enough attention.

So where the heck did the 'cat lady' stereotype come from?!?!


Anonymous said...

You're right--it could be argued that people who get a dog are looking for adoration, whereas people who get a cat are looking for friendship on more equal terms. It's a little Freudian for me, but I definitely think that "cat ladies" often have a lot going of them in terms of independence. Also, people who tend to have lives outside of the home get cats, because they *tend* to freak out less than dogs when left alone (although I must say that I'm not a huge fan of leaving cats alone either, at least not for weekends and such).

Congrats on installing your cat door. Today I just assembled an insulated cat house for three feral kittens who live in my yard. Yay us!!


The Singlutionary said...

I am definately a dog lady. Or a dog woman. What would dog woman be like if she were a super hero? Hmmmm. Not sure I really want to know the answer to that. Dogs are much more like children than cats are and they're a lot more work.

I think there is an underlying attitude in our culture that women shouldn't do anything which limits their options in finding an appropriate man to couple with. Since there is also a stereotype that men prefer dogs and loathe cats, it makes sense that by getting a cat a single woman is limiting her choices. But I feel like I limited my choices in getting a dog for sure. Some men don't like dogs. I can't just take off on a whim to go someplace for days at a time, etc.

But there is something really great about limiting choices. Oh yes.

Oh and Jenn! You are the winner of my giveaway from two weeks ago. The tea sampler. I need your snail mail address!

Clever Elsie said...

I like your take on this! I also have a cat, and one of the things I love about having him (as opposed to a dog) is that he's not a lot of work. He's a very affectionate cat and doesn't like to be left alone, but if push comes to shove, I know he can take care of himself for a little while, and he certainly doesn't need the constant walking, exercise, and obedience training that dogs require. I like dogs, but they're just way more needy.

Maybe the stereotype just comes from the association that women have always had with cats. Traditionally, dogs are man's best friend, and cats are female companions, so the "cat lady" stereotype is more about what the lady doesn't have (i.e., a man and children) than what she does (i.e., a cat). Maybe, too, women who hoard animals are more likely to hoard cats than dogs because there are more stray felines than canines, and it's easier to pack a bunch of them into a house because they're smaller. So, if women tend to hoard cats more than other animals, the stereotypical hoarder also becomes associated with cats. Finally, I think there's a stigma toward cats in general because they're seen as aloof, and humans tend to reward sociable behavior and punish those who separate themselves from the group. In this way, cat ownership works as a handy metaphor for the single woman; she is perceived as antisocial, so she's paired with an antisocial animal in the popular consciousness.

How to get a girl to like you said...

Can't believe I found your blog, I kinda feel the same as your headline!

T said...

Hi there! I have a blog called I HAVE CAT about living in NYC as a single 30-something year old woman, with cat (s).

Loved your post, can't believe I've never run across it before. I couldn't agree more. I think it takes someone who is confident and independent to love a cat. It's DEF the opposite of the CAT LADY stereo type. I think I'm going to try to rename myself as a CRAZY CAT WOMAN! I like the sound of that better.

Your theory is the exact one I apply to the cat-loving man versus the dog-loving man. A Cat loving man is secure enough with his sexuality and can appreciate an independent being! You can read more in my post WANTED: A MAN WHO LOVES PUSSY(CATS).

Can't wait to read more of your blog! Hope you check out I HAVE CAT!


mel liles said...

yes! why are there no "dog ladies"/"dog men" or even "cat men"?

the whole label and it's associations are unfortunate and extreme.