Blog-friend Julia recently protested the “crazy cat-lady” stereotype. I was stung to add my own two bits. I’m going to intersperse the pain involved here with pictures of Bugs. How he makes me pay attention. Why he makes me laugh.
“Ma. I require you to play. You are cooking instead. This is unacceptable.”
Here’s the stereotype: Women like me, who love cats, are quitters and lonely romance-challenged sad-sack spinsters who never leave the house. At the outer edge of the stereotype are animal-hoarders like the Edie Beales, of Grey Gardens | aunt and cousin to Jacqueline Kennedy fame.
(The HBO version of the original 1975 movie is outstanding; see it for a primer on what female despair is all about.) Mother and daughter living for twenty to thirty years with uncounted numbers of cats, no kitty litter, fleas, raccoons, raccoon skeletons, and no running water.
I love Bugs because he makes me laugh.
The creepy misogynistic roots of the crazy-cat-lady stereotype have been nailed by Kiri Blakely: “Women, just like cats, are often branded as sneaky, slinky, mysterious, hard to read and impossible-to-please.”
At the outer edges of this “crazy cat-lady” snideness, there is the mental illness of animal “hoarding”: Addiction, obsession, compulsion, and unspeakable cruelty and suffering. There are no jokes to be made. I refrain from furnishing details of the “crazy” part of this stereotype. Just two facts: (1) The animals victimized at animal-hoarders’ hands suffer horribly and appallingly. (2) One California municipality and one Virginia county have spent close to $200,000.00 to ameliorate the grievous damage in the wake of three – just three – hoarding cases.
So those who do not know any better – the casually ignorant, the stupidly thoughtless – sling around this crazy-cat-lady stereotype.
Those like me, who might be the butt here, are free to say things like “I don’t care what you call me . . . .”
But I do care. These stereotypes bother me. They hide a lot. It behooves us all to take prejudice seriously, no matter in what form it rears its ugly head. Prejudice hides misunderstanding, criminal indifference, and scapegoating. Smears like “crazy cat-lady” trivialize prejudice, they turn it into sloppy juvenile namecalling, they obscure the truly frightening mental-health and animal-welfare horrors of hoarding – and that bothers me a lot.
I love Bugs because he is a miracle of nature. I find him endlessly and stunningly beautiful.
I love Bugs because he is essentially mysterious. Caring for him requires that I set aside my prejudices, that I seek, as best I can within my own limited imagination, to see him as close to truly as possible.
I would appreciate the favor returned by my own species.