There are a plethora of stereotypes about singles out there. Most solos can probably testify to experiencing the stigma of being single and living alone at some point in time. Amongst the many, one of my personal favourites is the ‘crazy cat lady’. As the stereotype suggests, this is a woman with one or more cats. Beyond the obvious though, there is an embedded implication she is single, shares her closest/only bond with feline creatures and she’s not exactly playing with a full deck.
I’m sure all of us have been acquainted with this particular character through the screen. Among the most extreme versions of the archetype, we have Eleanor Abernathy from The Simpsons. I would also add the subtle portrayal of Barbara Covett played by Judi Dench in “Notes of a Scandal” and in the comic world, the less subtle villain, Catwoman. And on that note, I find it strange there’s no male equivalent to the crazy cat lady. The closest I can recall involving men and cats are movie villains such as Blofeld in the Bond series and from what I’ve heard, Don Corleone from The Godfather.
So where did the dots connecting single women, cats and far from complimentary traits originate? According to Lucy Jones’s article “Claws out! Why Pop Culture Clings To The Crazy Cat Lady”, the history behind the stereotype dates back to witches and their close-knit relationship with cats who were assumed to have connections with the devil. To cut a long story short, the witch part was eventually dropped to be replaced by the single woman with the bad rap of the combo clutching on.
I have to admit, my impression is of one where singles favour cats over other pets and humans too. In one Facebook group for singles, (I’m not referring to Solo Living’s Super Solos Group by the way), I’ve noticed a pattern where cat topics, cute pictures and funny memes are by far amongst the most popular. Interestingly, a research poll by Facebook seems to support this, saying singles are more prone to be cat people. However, there is a twist revealing age and gender are irrelevant in the single-cat equation, according to their research. Now that alone, should burst the stereotypical bubble.
Let’s zoom in on the modern and real-world ‘cat lady’ who may sense the repercussions of the age-old stereotype. It’s not uncommon to assume loneliness as the primary motive for having a cat. Living without a partner or family in the traditional sense somehow pushes a single woman to turn to a cat. To put it bluntly, the meowing creature represents a kind of final stage of singleness, band-aiding the situation as a sort of consolation prize. I’m blowing up this stereotype if only to squeeze the gist out of it.
Examples confirming the stereotype may very well still exist. But I’m absolutely convinced there are many other reasons and favourable personal qualities explaining cat ladies of today. Feeling empowered is just one. I’d like to propose a few plausible alternatives challenging the stereotypical premise between singles and cats.
Cat ladies are independent women
Selecting feline family members could simply reflect a ‘like attracts like’ situation. When I think of cats, my immediate association is they are ‘independent’ and able to ‘go about their own business’ without too much attention or interference from others. The ageless solo (which is by far, a more accurate term) may well identify with and value the same traits and voilá! we have a perfect match. I would not be surprised if the same logic followed outside the home environment too. When choosing company and friends to socialise with and form bonds, one of the central building blocks is feeling empowered in doing so and being able to maintain a sense of independence.
Cats are independent too
Single or not, we all require affection and comfort, and of course, it’s only natural to seek out both. It’s part of being human. For some of us though, a free-flowing life of freedom is equally as precious and will not be jeopardized easily. Deep commitments, which are usually accompanied by constraints and compromise, may not be perceived as appealing. Obviously, cats require responsibility, care and nourishing; but generally speaking, rarely to the same extent as let’s say humans or dogs.
Opting for a cuddly cat and maintaining a sense of freedom presents a tempting win-win arrangement! This bargain not only provides a companion but also the flexibility to invest in oneself, other relationships and the pursuit of personal interests and activities. Another major plus is the space for spontaneity when detouring from everyday routines which do not necessarily have to be a hassle when caring for a cat.
It is not a Plan B
Lastly, I’d like to mention a strongly held misconception. It’s the belief that all solos want a relationship above all else. In my opinion, there is a huge disregard for those of us choosing to be single (which is not a myth!) and those open to meeting a partner but who will not settle unless it’s truly adding to their lives. Having a cat to snuggle up and share a home with, is for this crowd a preference and number one choice and not a plan B.
All in all, choosing a solo lifestyle despite the fluttering stereotype attached to the life of a cat lady, in my opinion, signals a misunderstood sense of individual strength and independence, but at the same time, is setting a clear example for the rest of us.
This article is dedicated to Jen and her 15-year-old cat, Cooper.