If our beloved pets can defy gender stereotypes, shouldn’t we be able to do the same?
While running through my repertoire of jokes about the new trend of Cat Cafes — do they serve cats or serve cat? — I decided I needed to visit one and see what all of the fluff is about.
The Denver Cat Cafe sits on up-and-coming block of hip bookstores and brewpubs. Perched purring in the cafe’s corners, windowsills, and laps are around twenty felines up for adoption. However, it is not the pointy ears that draw my attention, but rather the pointed lack of men inside the bustling cafe.
I asked the management what the deal was, and they told me that roughly 75% of their customers are solo women, 10% are couples and 5% are solo men. After digging a little deeper on the interwebs, I found a study conducted at the University of Melbourne which found that out of over 500 participants, 64% of females prefer cats compared to only 35% of males. According to these data points women like cats far more than men do.
I wondered why this was. After all, Mike Leary, a marital counselor, recently made my blood boil when he commented on a question asked on Quora about why women generally prefer cats while men prefer dogs. According to Leary:
“Men tend not to like cats as they are more like them. Males are less likely to put up with that style of doing what ever cats want, when ever they want, and not getting a lot in return…Cats are a bother as they basically are loners unless they want something from you…Women on the other hand seem to prefer cats as they are a lot like many of the men they’ve been involved with. Women gravitate toward wanting something to take care of and tell them what to do. Cats expect to be taken care of completely on their terms. They want to be fed and their crap cleaned up of for them…The cats are finicky and the women have to decipher what it is they want by being alert. If not, cats will crap on your pillow, even when the litter box is available. Like dogs, Women have been abused with everything from shame (stupidity) to appearance and then are used as objects for men’s gratification and they put up with it. They come when expected and are traded in when they’ve out lived their usefulness.”
I have some ideas about who might have lived out his usefulness. Leary’s statement reeks of bias not just about cats, but also about people who love them. Happily, his is not the only voice in the mix.
Sociologist Lisa Wade, Phd. recently wrote a blog post titled “My Cat Person/Dog Person Rant,” in which she said:
“After all, don’t we stereotype women as cat people and men as dog people? And don’t we think men with cats are a little femmy or, at minimum, sweeter than most… even, maybe, gay? And don’t we imagine that chicks with dogs are a little less girly than most, a little more rough and tumble? The cat person/dog person dichotomy is gendered.”
Many people, dog and cat lovers alike, seem to disagree with this binary, gender-stereotyped relationship in a big way. The comments following both Leary and Wade’s statements are filled with men pledging their love for cats, women speaking up for dogs, and people of both genders sharing stories of homes filled with love for both of (hu)man’s best friends.
While the data I found may show that women care more about cats than men do, this explain the stories of those men who are, indeed, cat people.
Gender Focus’s Jarrah Hodge attempted to dig deeper into the issue, asserting the following theory:
“So maybe the whole idea that there are cat people (vain, demanding, intuitive) and dog people (high-energy, affectionate, but maybe not all that smart) is just another way to ask whether people are more masculine or feminine. Maybe it’s just a way of reinforcing a gender binary. Anyone who’s owned dogs or cats know that there are animals with many different personalities. I’ve definitely known some high-maintenance dogs and some pretty relaxed cats.”
Hodge is not the only one telling the story of dogs and cats breaking species stereotyping. Many commenters chimed in, and I know I can add my cat to the list. She fetches rubber bands, retrieving them and then sitting patiently until my husband, sons or I throw it to her again at our leisure. This same cat accompanies us for walks around the neighborhood, typically thought of as something you can do with your dog, but should never even attempt with a cat, unless you want to spend your next few weeks trying to hunt her back down.
In his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, author Charles Duhigg advocates for “small wins” when working towards large scale change.
As an early step towards upending gender stereotypes, I suggest we follow his suggestion and start with each of our own personal pets. If our beloved animals can act as the individuals they are rather than simply sticking to what is expected of their species, surely we can do the same.
It is time to overthrow the idea that a pet represents the epitome of masculinity or femininity for either itself or its owner. Welcome cat men — or, even better — men who love cats. Allow me to welcome you to the Denver Cat Cafe.
Photo credit: Flickr/6yJgzp