So after chronicling the failed first part of my quest to figure out why people hate cats, I found myself still pondering the question.
It isn’t the idea that some people prefer dogs that baffles me so much as the greater social acceptance of outspoken cat hatred. In other words, why is hating all cats a thing whereas most people would only talk about hating certain dogs in particular?
Different preferences make sense, in and of themselves. Some people like Hip Hop music, for example, while others prefer country and still others will only admit to liking bands obscure enough they’re sure, or at least hope, you’ve never heard of them.
This being the case, I’d hardly expect to find everyone on the same page concerning optimal house pets. But I do find the strange pride people take in professing their great hatred of cats peculiar, especially when derogatory dog comments would probably go over about as well socially as loudly insulting your mother’s homebaked apple pie while peeing on the national flag.
Determined to sort out this enigma, I tried to think up some negative associations related to cats. “Aloof” was the first word coming to mind.
I’ve always felt charges of universal cat aloofness were unfair. True, cats aren’t as naturally wired to be pack animals as dogs, and apparently aren’t as domesticated, but that only means cats won’t by default seek your approval. You have to build trust with them instead of automatically expecting it, which makes cats… a lot like most other non-human animals on the planet.
Hmm. It seems to me most zoo animals are rather aloof, yet we don’t invent a lot of memes complaining about them. What gives?
Maybe it’s the fact we take cats into our homes as beloved pets and therefore expect something more from them?
Nah… I’ve owned one too many stuck-up beta fish for this to be the answer. I swear, some of these fish wouldn’t bond with me for love nor money. I’d talk and talk for ages and it was still like all they cared about was scoring another hit of dehydrated shrimp.
Next, I tried scanning Yahoo and Quora answer forums talking about why people hate cats and was surprised to see, again and again, how many people think cats are “silently judging them.”
Okay, I’ll admit the idea of cats silently judging you is funny. Still, people are clearly projecting here, because by what set of cat standards are you afraid you’re falling short? Relative night blindness? Neck-down baldness?
MOST animals can’t talk to us, so why single out cats by assuming they’re secretly thinking mean things? For all you know, that nearby squirrel thinks your outfit looks stupid.
The silent judgement angle being a dead-end, I went back to the drawing board and tried to come up with more negative cat associations. “Crazy cat lady” was the next one coming to mind.
Crazy cat ladies, as we all know, are sad, lonely old women who collect lots of cats. Probably as a feeble substitute for the human companionship they lack, which has driven them batty. They look something like this:
Now, why is it “lady,” specifically? Why are there no crazy cat guys?
When thinking about famous fictional guys with beloved cat pets, I picture evil geniuses. Men like James Bond’s arch-nemesis Ernst Blofeld or Gargamel of the Smurfs. Men with cats seem less pathetic than their female equivalents. They aren’t good, but at least they’re maniacally brilliant. Evil, yes, but not lonely schizophrenic crones.
After pondering this connection deeper, I decided to take it outside America’s jurisdiction by invoking Wikipedia. Let’s look at the long game for the sake of more perspective.
I typed in “cultural depictions of cats” to get a better feel for how felines have been interpreted for centuries. And I got an eyeful…
Their negative associations mostly involved cunning, deviousness, and lust. Yes, lust… According to the Romans.
They were celebrated in other cultures though. The Ancient Egyptians considered cats sacred to the household, under the protection of the household goddess Bastet. They were also linked to Isis, the mother of all Egyptian goddesses.
The ancient Celts thought cats were fairies, or “sith,” which sounds suspiciously like the bad guys in Star Wars.
The Norse linked cats to the love goddess Freya, who ran around in a chariot pulled by two enormous gray cats. These cats fought with her in battle and farmers would leave bowls of milk out for them, hoping to earn protection for their crops.
(A chariot pulled by two enormous cats. How cool is that?)
And… then… during the Renaissance, cats were associated with witches. They were burnt en masse during the Black Death, though they ironically could’ve otherwise eaten many of the very rodents spreading it.
That’s a lot of goddesses, I have to say.
So… am I alone in thinking maybe a centuries-old association with women might explain our cultural rejection of cats?
It would make sense. The lone older woman surrounded by cats sounds as much like the perfect candidate for a Salem-style burning as the “crazy cat lady” nickname.
And I’m guessing cats used to hang out with women a lot. Back in the old days, when people pretty much stuck to gender traditional jobs, women would’ve mostly hung out at home cooking in warm kitchens, weaving by the fire, and being super pregnant half the time. An indoor cat, who could mop up errant rodents and nap by the fire, seems a more obvious companion than an energetic dog, desperate to get outside.
Hmm… is it possible that anti-cat prejudice is somehow linked to vestigial anti-female attitudes, or at least the rejection of traditional female roles?
I decided to rerun my Google experiment to find out:
BAM! The idea that women are like cats is the third most common Google idea. Course, we aren’t sure who exactly thinks this, but it’s nevertheless the third most common thing to think.
Just for the sake of consistency, let’s try the reverse:
Damn. If Google said men were like dogs, that would’ve totally clinched it. I’ll admit I’m a little disappointed, as well as curious about this alleged men’s arena everyone’s talking about.
But I’m convinced I’ve found a most interesting female/feline connection as well as a Pagan one. Based on my informal research, I have a few possible theories about our culture’s longstanding rejection of cats:
- Fears about cats = fears about women and/or traditional femininity
- We think cats are evil because, like snakes, they used to be symbols of paganism (except snakes can actually kill you), or
- Cats are introverted homebodies and we reject them because we don’t trust introverts
And it doesn’t help that we all grew up watching cats portrayed like this:
Lucifer, Tom of Tom & Jerry, Sylvester the Cat, the Siamese cat twins of Lady and the Tramp… most cats aren’t getting good press in the media, to be sure.
So, let me leave you with a final question. Some food for thought, if you will.
What’s up with Puss in Boots?
Seriously, I’m having a rough time thinking up ANY popular cat heroes, aside from Puss in Boots.
Who is this Puss is Boots fellow and what does he represent? How did he manage to rise above common cat biases to become a beloved international hero?
I have no idea, but I’m sure I’ll be exploring it further in future cat-related posts. Because once you start unraveling the great anti-cat conspiracy threads, you’re in it for the long haul.
You can’t just put them down, I tell you. You’re in it way too deep.