Embracing My Not-So-Inner Cat Lady
I have two cats that I love very much, so, naturally, I get called a cat lady often. Okay, that might actually be because of the bags I carry with cat faces on them, or the cat knick knacks that take up my bookcase, or the Facebook profiles that I’ve made for my cats (Goose has 81 friends!). And yes, I know it’s not supposed to be a compliment. I know cat ladies are smelly, disheveled spinsters that wander around in a haze of depression, isolation, and pet dander; this is definitely a derogatory term. It’s really just a way of telling me that it’s obvious that I’m so lonely that I believe that the only things that will never let me down are actually four-legged creatures that poop in a box. I get all this. But I don’t care. I love cats—they’re pretty and they’re good company. And what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with loving something that’s cute and fuzzy and makes taking multiple naps in a day seem socially acceptable? Why are we so caught up with labeling any single female with a cat a “crazy cat lady?” Does that mean that us feline-lovers should call it quits in love, friendship, and all other acceptable social endeavors? Does it mean we already have? I decided to research other female cat lovers to find out the truth.
Photo courtesy of Sonju Photography
I started by doing what every mediocre non-journalist does; I typed “cat lady” into Google. I was overwhelmed by the amount of hits I found. Apparently, there are a lot of women who, like me, love their cats, but hate the “cat lady” stereotype. There is also a shocking amount of research and media on the topic. Here’s a rundown of what I found.
Both women and cats haven’t always had an easy time in society. We all know about the persecution of women in association with witchcraft but did you know that cats were also executed en masse during this period? They were often burned alive for being believed to be possessed by the devil. Now, cats are described as aloof–at best–and mean by many. This leaves people wondering why cat-lovers would ever want to associate with such animals. According to one woman featured in the Canadian documentary, Cat Ladies, “I think I’m a lot more sane than the people that can handle leaving a cat out in the middle of winter to freeze to death or starve to death.” Because of this, Sigi says she has rescued close to 3,000 feral cats from the streets of Toronto. When you listen to Sigi’s story, it does not seem to be that different from the ones of the feral cats she rescues. Sigi describes being pushed to the margins of society and taking solace in the ability to take care of her hundreds of cat housemates. She continues her operation despite her practices being ridiculed and complained about by her neighbors.
The other women featured in Christie Callan-Jones’ powerful documentary all have similar and heartbreaking stories. These women suffered through bullying, ostracization, and abuse– all at the hands of humans. Their cats, however, have given them love, safety, and kindness which they haven’t gotten anywhere else.
So is this just a matter of two underappreciated sectors of the population finding solace in one another? Maybe, but maybe not. According to an article published in the journal Behavioral Processes, cats form human-like bonds with their owners, coming to depend on them for more than just food and shelter. The study goes on to show that cats are more likely to form this kind of bond with women than with men. Could there be a genetic reason for female-feline attachment?
Further studies show that among pet owners, there is usually a preference between dogs and cats. That preference coincides with certain personality characteristics. Cat owners tend to be more open to new ideas, introverted, and less dominant, according to a study at the University of Texas, while dog owners are more sociable and conscientious. These characteristics would seem to fit in with the cat lady stereotype as being solitary. It also goes on to say that the most common cat owner is a single woman, living alone.
Perhaps the most compelling bit of research on the maintenance of the cat lady stereotype, though, is the discrepancy between characteristics attributed to cat owners by people who have cats in their household and people who do not. According to a poll done by Ipsos Public Affairs, a non-partisan survey company, people without cats in their household are more likely to attribute adjectives like “disheveled,” “homebody,” “lonely,” and “anti-social” to cat owners, while people with cats in their household attribute far more positive adjectives to their fellow cat owners, such as “generous,” “well adjusted and fulfilled,” “caring and loving,” and “energetic.”
The wealth of information available on cat ladies, both positive and negative, does not seem to provide any concrete conclusions on why the stereotype exists and to what degree it is of merit. However, research on the topic provides an interesting look into the way this stereotype manifests and is maintained in our society. Either way you look at it, cat lovers exist and are, apparently, a digital force to be reckoned with. Maybe from now on, I should take “cat lady” as a compliment.
Written by Sarah Garner
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