It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman in possession of a cat must be crazy. You’re familiar with the stereotype – an old woman wearing a threadbare shawl and tottering around her apartment filling bowls of food for more cats than a one-bedroom should legally be allowed to contain. Somewhere along the line, cat ownership became black mark on a woman’s record, indicative of loneliness and mental instability. A man with a cat is sensitive and responsible, but a woman with a cat is “crazy” – why?
Some historians speculate that the association is rooted in 12th-century Christian superstition, specifically the belief that Satan often took the form of a black cat. Witches, believed to be worshippers and agents of Satan, were commonly depicted with feline familiars. In the late 1700s there was a shift from cats being linked to devil-worshipping sorceresses to sad, lonely spinsters. Convents disappeared with the Protestant Reformation, and so rather than becoming nuns, unmarried women were shuffled off to become wards in their relatives’ homes. To add insult to injury, artists and authors degraded these women by portraying them as using cats to fill the holes in their lives they had failed to fill with the socially acceptable figures of husband and children.
The twentieth-century fascination with hoarders and their connection to cats further reinforced the cat lady archetype. Cats were represented as yet more objects compulsively collected to fill a void that older women were unable to fill in conventional ways due to personal inadequacies. By that point, it was simple math: a woman possesses traits that make her undesirable, therefore she is unable to find a romantic partner, therefore she must adopt a cat as a consolation prize. Working backward, if a woman owns a cat, she must have been able to find a romantic partner because obviously she would rather have one of those and was forced to settle for a cat, and if she couldn’t find a romantic partner she must be crazy.
Most of my female friends with cats wear the title proudly. They love their cats as much as if they were their children, and they don’t care what anyone thinks. Nor should they! Cats are not a fallback, they’re a conscious choice. Besides, it’s 2017 – cats and romantic partners are not mutually exclusive! I know, I have both, and the cat came first. Fortunately, the social climate is beginning to catch up to us enlightened ladies who take pride in our kitty companions. People are using the term “pet parents” instead of “pet owners,” and Taylor Swift’s cat is almost as famous as she is. You aren’t wrong, broken, unfeminine, or unlovable because you choose to have a cat, or three cats, or a whole house filled with cats. As long as you care for them properly, you can have as many cats as your lease says you can! So ladies, go forth, and love what you love, especially if what you love is cats.