Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The plight of the crazy cat lady

Hi. My name is Kaila and I have a cat.  Her name is Lilly and she is really cute.  Would you like to see a picture?  Wow.  I should probably stop there. I don’t want people to think that I am a “crazy cat lady.” 

I used to periodically post pictures of my cat on facebook until a friend of mine joked that I was on the path to becoming a crazy cat lady.  My first reaction was to take offense.  I am nothing like that cat-obsessed woman who lived down the street from me growing up! 

I decided to take a break from posting cat-related content online, but, alas, I could not escape my cat lady reputation!  Friends continued to post funny cat videos and photos on my facebook wall.  I also fell back into my old ways, posting cute pictures of Lilly from time to time.  The crazy cat lady comments continued.  Over the summer a co-worker told me that he had heard I was weirdly obsessed with cats and that he hoped I wouldn’t become a crazy cat lady. 

This got me thinking: What is a crazy cat lady and why is it such a bad thing to like cats?  An Urban Dictionary entry defines the term as “a woman, usually middle-aged or older, who lives alone with no husband or boyfriend, and fills the empty lonely void in her life with as many cats as she can collect in one place.” 

The association between females owning cats and loneliness is highlighted in this fake e-harmony dating profile:

The crazy cat lady is also generally depicted as unattractive to men and lacking social skills, as seen in this meme found under the tags "cat lady," "cats," and "sad."

Luckily for women, there are helpful guides to teach us how to own cats without society designating us as crazy.  For example, we should avoid talking about our cats.  We should also remember that our cats are not human.

All joking aside, pet ownership is accompanied by various sexist assumptions.  Cats are often linked to women, while dogs are “man’s best friend.”  The problem lies in that fact that dogs are generally associated with positive qualities such as loyalty, while cats are seen as aloof.

For example, in the movie  Homeward Bound,  one of the male dogs, Shadow, is extremely loyal.  The other male dog, Chance, is comical and fun-loving.  In contrast, Sassy, the female cat, is prissy and whined the entire journey home.  The movie Cats & Dogs also emphasizes positive attitudes toward dogs and negative attitudes towards cats, as a group of lovable dogs save the world from evil felines.  Finally, the infamous character of Cat Woman drives home the negative connotations related to cats and the association between females and cats. 

While I have focused on the plight of the crazy cat lady, sexist assumptions regarding pet ownership also negatively affects men.  Most people would not think twice about men (or women) owning dogs.  Yet, men who own cats are somehow seen as less masculine.  At the end of the day, I believe that the underlying issue is that sex-based stereotyping is harmful, even if it is only stereotyping a person based on his or her pet.

The single woman down the street who owns a couple cats is most likely not crazy.  And the fact that she owns a cat should not suggest that she is trying to fill the void created by not having a man.   Although I hope society’s attitude toward women owning cats evolves, I have decided to embrace my crazy cat lady persona for the time being.  After all, how can I not brag about my relationship with this little cutie? 


Pali said...

Even if a man is seen as effeminate if he has a cat, he will never be a "crazy cat man". It will never be associated with being a spinster or crazy, strangely just "gay".

KRB said...

This is so interesting and so true!

I have a really good (male) friend that has a cat and I tried to set him up with one of my friends this past summer, but she said, "There is something wrong with a guy that really likes cats!" I personally have a lot of respect for young adults that have a pet and take good care of it- whether the pet is a dog or a cat and whether the owner is male or female.

It is interesting that having a cat is stereotypically female, while having a dog is stereotypically male, because dogs are so much more work than cats. Having a dog is much more like having a child- they need constant care, supervision, and attention. Cats are generally independent and just need a clean litter box and some food and water left out for them. You would think that the maternal view of women would be more likely to cast them as dog owners.

CET said...

This blog reminded me of a study I read about last year related to animal and gender. The study, published in Gender & Society last year, looked at almost 6,000 children's books published in the 20th century. Its authors found that the number of male and female characters in children's books is only equal among human characters. Among animal characters, including cats, males are represented more than twice as much as females.

Why would authors of children's books choose to depict the animal characters as male rather than female? The study suggests that authors chose animal characters to avoid gender issues, but readers more often than not assume a gender-neutral animal character is male. Perhaps this is because most protagonists are portrayed as strong-willed and ultimately the hero, traits society tends to see as predominately male. Regardless of the reason behind this disparity, this lack of female characters is something to be aware of when choosing books to read to your children.

tzey said...

I really enjoy living alone and have for the past two years. I cannot tell you how many times after telling someone I lived alone their follow up question was if I had a cat (as an aside I am allergic and so do not have a cat). I was also often asked if I found it scary to live on my own. I often felt that I had to somehow explain why I enjoyed living on my own and defend my choice.

Sarah said...

Nice share! I have to stop myself from showing pictures of my dogs with some regularity, because I know others might not find them so amazing. And if they don't I will never be able to speak to them again, which can be a bummer. But recently, I have been told several times when describing my dogs, something to the effect of 'oh, wait until you have kids, then you'll forget about them' or some other comment that implies that I am just filling my clearly gaping maternal void. What if I just want to be a crazy dog lady? Can I start calling my breeder-friends crazy baby ladies? Crazy baby daddies?