Cat Lady: A Few Ladies with Cats

By Bailee Noella April 04, 2019

What comes to mind when you hear the term “cat lady”? Does the caricature of an elderly woman who never accepts visitors and spends her days spoiling her kittens and collecting knick knacks materialize? Or perhaps a career-driven young lady who is too obsessed with her work to find a man like others her age? Whatever you imagine, cat ladies have been a subject of parody within our culture for many years. Let’s delve into the history of the cat lady and find out how this came to be.

Society’s definition of a cat lady tends to be a woman whose life seems completely consumed by felines. She usually opts out of contact with the outside world in favor of spending the majority of her time in the company of her numerous cats. She doesn’t bother with dating or has immense trouble finding a romantic partner. The obsession with cats frequently sneaks into other aspects of her life. Everything from the blankets to the dishes is decorated with the adorable faces of fluffy kittens.

As many people use the expression “cat lady” in a pejorative manner, it may come as no surprise that the term itself has a pretty dark origin. While cats contributed to our budding agricultural society by keeping out troublesome pests such as rats and mice, it didn’t stop humans from holding bleak opinions about felines. With the early Christian church claiming cats to be the embodiment of the Devil himself and witches later being linked to feline companionship, people inevitably became suspicious of those who were affectionate toward cats. This formed an inextricable link between deranged individuals and cat owners. Women and felines alike were persecuted as they were believed to be a source of evil and witchcraft.

While most of us don’t think of cackling witches when we think of cat ladies today, the term still carries on as an insult, and there are still various stereotypes that live on with the term. When it comes to stereotypes, there is none as accurate as Eleanor Abernathy, the eccentric cat lady of The Simpsons. She was a determined young girl with admirable aspirations, but she later found herself alone, reliant on alcohol, and her pet cat to get her through the years. She admired the closeness she shared with her cat so much that she began hoarding countless numbers of them, spiraling into mental illness. She was no longer recognizable as the woman she once was, and her goals were forgotten forever.

This trope of previously successful women plummeting into solitude with their cats is not an uncommon one. Carrying on with the tradition of making a laughing stock out of cat ladies, Saturday Night Live produced a sketch titled “Christmas with the Cat Lady,” featuring Robert De Niro as a senile elderly woman named Margie. At one point in the skit, she tells her family of felines a story: “Once upon a time there was a woman named Margie, and she had dreams. Then one day she was kicked by a horse. Now she has cats.” (Eighty, to be exact.) This exhibits the popular belief that cat ladies are failures who have given up on being productive members of society.

Cat ladies aren’t always portrayed as unsuccessful old hermits, however. The Suite Life on Deck, a Disney show featuring the lives of twins Zack and Cody Martin, featured its own take on what makes someone a cat lady. A character known as Emma Tutweiller is a successful teacher and bachelorette who is plagued by her inability to find a husband (which her mother was more than happy to point out). She often cried about how she would never find someone to love or have a family with. She fills the void by taking in many cats, allegedly getting one “each time she was dumped by a man.” The difficulty she faced in her romantic life is what made her a cat lady, but she was still an attractive and sociable woman with a career.

Successful cat ladies aren’t only a thing of fiction. They exist in real life.  Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, proved that cat lovers can be just as compassionate to fellow humans. She boldly pursued her dream of becoming a nurse despite her parents’ disapproval and despite a marriage proposal from a well intention suitor. She went on to inspire worldwide health care reform and stunned everyone with her published work that showcased her extensive medical knowledge. Many would never guess that such an honorable lady owned over sixty cats in her lifetime, and as many as seventeen at once! She believed that cats were more sympathetic than humans, which possibly inspired her in her work of caring for wounded soldiers.

With prime examples such as Florence Nightingale, many women today are embracing the title of “cat lady.” They freely express the importance of feline companionship and note how much easier their furry friends make it to traverse some of life’s hardships. Whether they have one kitten or seventeen, they are proud to be cat lovers. After all, there is no denying the bond between a feline and their human. There is an inexplicable joy and sense of purpose that comes with taking care of animals. For some, cats are their only friends. For others, they are merely a nice addition to the family. But wherever you receive your love and affection, remember: Time spent with cats is never wasted.

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