Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Not Your Crazy Cat Lady

"Let me guess. You're like, a crazy cat lady, right?"
I don't remember how I answered him, probably some polite little obligatory response, but I do remember being really annoyed by that question, especially since the tone was notably derogatory.

The crazy cat lady is a pejorative archetype that any woman with a cat or cats has heard. A lot. For a while I tried to embrace it, à la "nasty woman", but ultimately it always struck me as patronizing and sexist. My husband has never faced similar criticism, despite the fact that we share a home and he plays an equal role in the care of the animals. Cats and dogs are so gendered that it's automatically assumed that I'm the driving force behind the cats, while he heroically puts up with them, and by extension, me. Perhaps you've been asked if you're a crazy cat lady, probably by some dude who can't breathe with his mouth shut, but maybe it came from a colleague or acquaintance trying to start a conversation. The motive doesn't matter to me as much as the meaning, and the meaning of that question is designed to make you feel stupid for being a woman.

Just a regular Thursday night. (Source)

Looking back at the history of the crazy cat lady, it seems that the relationship between women and cats has both frightened and intrigued people, particularly in Western society. Cats have been portrayed as the suspected familiars of witches, the companions of lesbians, and the hoarded pets of mentally ill spinsters. During the women's suffrage movement anti-suffrage propaganda depicted activists as kittens in an effort to characterize them as infantile and silly. Cats meowing, "I want my vote!" as though the very idea of women voting was as ludicrous as a cat wearing clothing. Alternately, cat-woman hybrids are also fetishized as hyper-sexual, wanton temptresses. (Catwoman is the obvious example, but also Cleopatra and literally all modern day cat Halloween costumes.) Just the term "cat fight" brings to mind scantily clad women fighting in a manner that's both erotic and absolutely ridiculous.

And I think therein lies the crux of the matter. That the crazy cat lady trope, in all of its many forms, is designed as yet another way to make women feel discredited, dehumanized and inferior.