Crazy Cat Lady : Casual Prejudice

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.

'Little' Edie Beale
'Little' Edie Beale

(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.

Given a choice between the old eggcrate, which is pretty well demolished by now, and a perfectly good new one –

Bugs prefers to continue to demolish the old one.

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 an essentially wild creature who has consented, who has learned, to refrain from applying his claws to my person.

I think that’s generous of him and I appreciate it.

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.

About nadbugs

Anita loves cats. This must be because she, too, has had nine lives. She’s been dancing since she could walk, she was a commercial artist and advertising producer, she earned a third-degree black belt in Aikido, she is a drummer with the Afrique Aya Dance Company, she is an attorney, and she’s a meditator and a devoted student of Nonviolent Communication. She also spent one lifetime sidelined with a devastating back injury in 1992. Since then – FELDENKRAIS METHOD® to the rescue. The FELDENKRAIS METHOD is all about dreaming concretely – thinking intelligently and independently by way of a gracious and kind physicality. The work affords all who study it a process by which to reach, with movement, into the mind and the heart, to make nine lives into one whole being.
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33 Responses to Crazy Cat Lady : Casual Prejudice

  1. Unfortunately, I have found *most* stereotypes have an original grain of truth; they have to start somewhere, somehow. Having said that, it doesn’t make them any nicer or easier to accept. Maybe that’s why I love Cats so much–they defy labels merely by being themselves.

    • nadbugs says:

      Independence from preconception is greatly to be aspired-to. I hear that. I will keep that in mind, Lounger, when Bugs is showing his particularly independent oats.

  2. So many comments, so little attention span. I’ll begin with the shallow and meaningless and see how far I get…
    – I love the carefully disassembled egg crate.
    – Are those random, floofy, longer white hairs I see scattered through Bugs’ grey coat?
    – I’m sorry Bugs’ ear hair reminds you of nose hair. My human says my ear hair reminds her of her pediatrician. Apparently he had very floofy ears.
    – Isn’t it funny that cats and women have the image of being “impossible” to please? Bugs is thrilled with his old, decrepit egg crate. His favorite perch is a door. My favorite thing in the world is a cardboard box. I am most content when I am leaning on my human, having a little bath… The truth is that cats and most women are so overjoyed by the tiniest, simplest pleasures…
    – The main reason my human (and many others) has cats is so contrary to the “crazy” stereotype: cats are independent and require less attention than a lot of pets, which makes them perfect for a human who wants to spend more time outside the house.

    I have some deep thoughts to mull over about this post, so you might see me back here later. 🙂

    • nadbugs says:

      – Bugs takes care with everything he does. Care to make the biggest, most surprising mess possible.

      – Those are floofy white hairs interspersed with the silver rufousness. They blow my mind. They remind me of a black cat I stumbled upon somewhere in my web-wanderings — called “Snowflake” because the cat had a few of these sprinkled in amongst the black. Like stars in the night sky. As I never tire of noticing, Nature is ingenious and creative beyond belief. I can’t tell you how much I love that. Thank you for connecting me with that!

      – I’m having trouble imagining what it would have been like, as a kid, to be in the hands of a doctor-bean with floofy ears. What a totally scary thought.

      – Overjoyed by the tiniest, simplest pleasures. Oh ay-MEN and halleluyah. My women friends and I, anyway. Although I have to say, dear mckmf, that a diamond here or there would not go amiss.

      – Yes. They seem wonderfully forgiving of one’s attention directed outside the house. At least I hope so.

      – I eagerly await more from you. Or not, as time permits. Head-butts.

      • Not ready for the deep and/or meaningful yet, but wanted to share that I have the same spattering of odd, long, white hairs scattered through my black parts.

        And diamonds are simple – just carbon, right?

        • nadbugs says:

          That’s OK, Pedro. I think your housemate took up the slack. Really, you have those little white hairs? My brother! So — are you seeing me in the movies? Maybe we can collaborate. The Brotherhood Of The White Hairs. What do you think of that? Action | Adventure? Fantasy? Not fantasy. Real Life.

          For we are all made of carbon. Carbon life-forms. We are diamonds. In my case, in the rough. –Bugs

  3. crankyoldkitty says:

    Just a thought – maybe the crazy cat lady stereotype has a function. Maybe instead of obscuring the huge problem of “real” crazy cat people (hoarders), the stereotype allows at least a small portion of intelligent society to open a dialogue about the horrors of hoarders. As a society, I think most Americans aren’t good at talking about the really tough issues. Maybe turning it into a 1/2 joke or something less troubling than animal hoarding makes it safer for society to think about, talk about, act on… And maybe not. Just a thought…

    My human is 38 and she’s been single for a really long time now. She’s decided that if she meets a potential suitor or has a date and spends that time wondering what Pedro and I are up to, then it’s time to run. Not because she misses her cats but because a man worth dating should be more interesting than her cats. Maybe her expectations are too high. 😉

    • nadbugs says:

      Hah! Deep thoughts arrive from Kitty. Hmmm. Interesting dialogue must go on around the breakfast table in this household, right Pedro? But to CK’s provocative point: Prejudice, as making the world safer. (Hmm. I’m noticing my cynicism, which may be (*may* be, like HAH!) preventing me from going with you into the “intelligent society” portion of your thoughtful response.)

      Sure. Prejudice. Why not. Yes indeedy. Because there’s Us, and then there’s Them. We can make jokes, then. Because We are not Them, no no, We are a million miles away from Them. They are getting out of hand, you say? We can no longer turn a blind eye? What shall We do about that unsightly mess? Let’s throw Them in jail, shall We . . . . (and if you have the stomach to read the California Lawyer article linked in the text above, you can see how well that works with hoarders) . . . . But, in any case, surely not understand Them, keep Them away from animals, of course, but, otherwise, find a way to understand . . . . And, through understanding, introduce some potential for truly effective protection of the animals, for change and for healing of all. Surely not that.

      In a not-too-distant way, it seems to me that this kind of helplessly punitive approach is as divorced from reality as the delusions from which hoarders suffer. All “off” together. I read that hoarders actually believe that their suffering animals are “fine.” For another example, Sally Quinn reported that when she and Little Edie were discussing Quinn’s purchase of Grey Gardens, Edie actually did a little twirly dance, trilling that all the house needed was a coat of paint. Coat of paint; bootless prosecution of the body when it’s the mind and heart that’s broken — I see some similarity.

    • minlit says:

      Kitty, tell her there was never a man more interesting than a cat. That’s not to say some of them aren’t worth knowing!

  4. Dianda says:

    I think I’m getting closer of becoming a cat lady.

  5. The other stereotype you did not mention is the one I have been accused of. Actually, I don’t know if it is really a stereotype. Because of my intuitive nature and awareness of things others seem unaware of, I have sometimes been called a witch. Not in a bad sense. People actually appreciate my abilities, they can just be shocked by things they don’t fully understand. So some found it funny when a black cat found me. The witch finally had her familiar. I still haven’t researched that and don’t care to. We are just being who we are.

    • P.S. That is why we (JhaJha and I, her typist) love you and Bugs so much. You are who you are.

      • nadbugs says:

        Oh hugs, JhaJ and Typist. Back at you, no? We totally appreciate you. And on the subject of witches, well, I deliberately left that one off. It’s a really deep subject. I want to see if I can find some references to something I read somewhere about that, and then devote a whole post to it. It’s a fascinatingly awful phenomenon. I’ll see what I can do when I get the time.

  6. Melanie says:

    This stereotype aggravates me to no end! There are so many things wrong with it, and you listed many of them. I hate the implication that I’m a hop, skip and a jump away from hoarding. That attitude doesn’t serve me, my cats, or the community well at all.

  7. Anya says:

    This worries me greatly, especially in these recent weeks. Now that my green wall of privacy has dropped its leaves – I feel exposed and vulnerable with my cats (2 over the municipal limit of 4 – and visited by 4 other “regulars”). Cat Wrangler is away for 2 weeks – and being here alone makes me feel even more anxious somehow. To make matters worse, just after CW left, something happened to my back, so I was alone with the feeding and litter duties. Because of the pain, I didn’t dress properly, and for a week looked generally rather disheveled – very opposite from my usual appearance. At one point I thought – if someone saw this – a half stooped over middle-aged woman, with messy hair and sloppy clothing, with a small army of cats – and a bit of an untidy home (amazing how quick things can slide when mobility is an issue – really scary) – well they just might come to a certain conclusion. Anyway – the back is better now – and CW returns in 2 days (yay)! I still worry though – but that is my natural state. I fear the prevalence of these hoarding TV shows, where one always sees cats, as possibly prompting people to report on neighbors – who may not be hoarders at all- just caring and responsible cat lovers. Thanks for your very thought-provoking post.

    • nadbugs says:

      Oh dear Anya — it’s so chilling indeed, isn’t it, to inhabit one world, but to be aware of how different that world is interpreted by those looking in, from the viewpoint of prejudice — especially when I know the world you inhabit is of such beauty, when you aren’t plagued by back pain — I’m so relieved to hear that support is on the way. May your recovery speed along.

      You write you’re subjected to an arbitrary limit to the number of animals you’re permitted to care for. Isn’t that just one more example of the ham-fisted approach that law takes to such matters. The world teems and swarms with abandoned beings — and we’re subjected to this.

      Your example reminds me of ordinances in this country that outlaw breeds of dogs. Like the pit bull, for example. Have you seen Daddy, the pit bull who assists Cesar Milan? The very image of gentle wisdom. Outlawed — because humans make a practice of torturing his brothers and sisters, of crafting them into beings filled with rage and pain.

      Daddy. The very image of gentle wisdom. To which our species, it seems to me in dark moments, can only aspire.

  8. Wazeau says:

    Another very thought-provocative post. I can see a lot of the stereotype in myself. I can very easily slip into hoarding, although I have managed to direct my hoarding instincts over the years into non-destructive channels. I hoard images on my computer now, and e-books, and blog posts, rather than cats, birds (at one point I had twenty living in my house), real books, food, and other assorted crazes that take up real space. I am single and have been my whole life (other than a rather abortive marriage of less than a year), I have cats and love them and my parrots more than people. I’m not that obsessed with cleanliness nor my own appearance (I do shower every day though. Well, every workday. Hrmph.) I have been called a witch (or was that bitch? same difference, I think). But you know what? I am pretty dern satisfied with my life right now. I’m self-supportive, have my creative outlets, get enough out of my job (besides money) that I’m okay there, and have four living creatures in my house with me to whom I give nothing but love and affection, which is a huge step up from when I was raising my son and had little but anger and hate and bitterness in my heart. Stereotypical as I am, crazy cat lady, crazy parrot person, old maid, bitch, whatever, I smile every day and am thoroughly grateful every time one of my cats hops up on my lap, or Bandit burrows into my neck cuddling under my hair. May not be human, but I love and am loved, so I’m not done yet.

  9. nadbugs says:

    Oh me, oh my — I absolutely love this. You go go go, dear Wazzie!!! Your tone reminds me to feel so totally amazingly happy to be alive in this era — that we women can, we do indeed have the power to, create our lives in the way you describe, in a way that suits us, that brings us happiness we can share with others. I really do believe that this power, to create joy in this way, is a big advance in our species’ evolution. We are so fortunate. I may have to do a post on this.

  10. minlit says:

    I was going to apologies for being late, but I’m actually glad, cos reading everyone else’s POVs first is fascinating. Like Pedro, I’m going to start with the box. Nadbugs, ask yourself: If you’d been working on a project for the most of a day, and someone turned up with a blank sheet of paper hinting that you should maybe start again, well would you? Or would you just finish your nearly-there, pretty darn near perfect original attempt? Of course he stayed with the old box. You don’t know what he was trying to achieve with it!
    For the serious bit: I meet a LOT of people at trade shows who almost breathe a sigh of relief when they realise I will not look at them like they have an extra head when they talk about their cats. Not as posessions, or minions, but as beings of equal worth. Now, I’m pretty sure that the majority of people commenting here live with and love their cats (and/or other animals) on equal terms. But the prejudice – in the wider sense (rather than in the particular ‘crazy’ / hoarder sense), is not, I think, about cats per se, or even the mental health issues. Tragic as they and their consequences are, I don’t think many people even realise that this is a reality. HOWEVER, I think prejudice is actually against people who do not presuppose that humans have some kind of enhanced right to life over everything else on the planet. I haven’t quite worked out if this is because of ingrained societal Old Testament sensibilities or if our general rat race precludes anything that requires a share and share alike attitude to a species not our own – sharing the planet means less for the humans, or something like that.
    I’ve also wondered why ailurophiles (to give the love of cats its correct term!) get so much more grief than say, dog lovers. And I think that it is because cats are not perceived to have a function or be biddable. It’s bad enough to love an animal, but one that doesn’t even do what you tell it? That’s just crazy, cos we all know that if you love something, then you must exert control over it right?
    What wouldn’t I give to know what cats think of us and our inexplicable society…..

    • nadbugs says:

      Oh! I am a terrible person! I did not appreciate the pain Bugs must feel at my insensitivity toward his oeuvre. The torn edges. The carefully expressed chaos. Eloquently depicting the loss and disregulation of our current (non)ethos. The jagged gouges. Dismemberment of a previous order. Deconstruction of the containment that previously kept social order safe from breakage. I am a philistine. I simply lack the imagination to appreciate the current language of bleak dislocation.

      Hmm. Prejudice against those who do not share the (non)ethos that the world is made for plundering. I hadn’t considered that. A very interesting thought exercise. They don’t like it when we point out the convenient insensitivity, which makes the comfortably numb cushioning against the pain of the world from entering into awareness. Yup, I can see. That might give rise to some pretty vigorous resistance on their part. That might explain the edge I sense behind the jokiness.

      All about control? Can’t control cats? How could anybody possibly appreciate that? When control conveys such a comforting sense of personal power? Oh yes. Do as I command. I *hate* when I see dogs treated like that. (I love when I see how Cesar Milan understands dogs, and the peace and happiness that result.)

      Honestly, I hope cats don’t devote a single second of their beautiful selves to any of this. May they just continue to be themselves, and to be adored by moi. That is all.

      • minlit says:

        Huh….I thought he was making a butterfly….

        • nadbugs says:

          Great art is like that, isn’t it. Especially nonrepresentational art. It leaves so much room for the imagination. And the interpretation says so much about the beholder. The artist is just the vessel. The viewer supplies the content. A butterfly. Really? It must be that origami thing.

  11. minlit says:

    PS – I am happy to flaunt the stereotype, for the very reason that it allows people to voice things that they generally feel they must silence or be labelled. I’m probably the kitty pride wing of this discussion. And I agree 100% with you on the living with a wild animal point. I describe living with cats as a privilege. There is not a single day that they do not bring me joy, if I exclude Stripey, that is. Only joking….I love him too.

  12. I think the Crazy Cat Lady stereotype originated with the hoarders, but it’s evolved into something so much more. Hoarders are mentally ill, no doubt about that. But to lump all women who love cats into the category with them is just wrong. I just don’t find anything funny about the thinly veiled jokes. People can feel sorry for me all they like, though. I’ll take the company of my cats over a GREAT many humans I know.

  13. littlemiao says:

    There are so many powerful thoughts here – to say nothing of the gorgeous Bugs photos.

    I’m a pretty shy person, but cats and food are two topics that help me break the ice. If they’re still talking to me after five minutes, then I know they’re okay. I even keep a couple wallet photos of Chun to show off (and I need to add Sprocket’s to my bag). Yes, I’m proud of my kitties, and if that makes me crazy then so be it.

  14. artistlaure says:

    I am a single lady, an artist and creative soul, and I have a cat. If this makes me a cat lady, I wish more people could be cat ladies. I have a coworker who pities my single life, and at a social event she introduced me to her husband who’s first question to me was , “How is your cat?” (I also have a lovely and accomplished grown daughter.) At first I was thrown a bit, but decided to take the bait. “My cat is great, and I am lucky to have found such an intelligent animal to share my home.” Seems if a single woman has a dog, that is fine…because we all know she needs protection. That’s just as ridiculous. I’ve also let my hair start to grey, which is another casual stereotype that seems to confound many women. Labels and stereotypes reduce the person assigning them much more than the intended target. It’s a shame people can’t see that.

  15. De De says:

    While I technically am approaching middle age, my love of my cats AND my dog, AND my kids, AND my boyfriend does not make me crazy. I am a more compassionate person for having had the opportunity to indulge my love of living creatures. =^..^=

  16. Pingback: Two Years To The Day | catself

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