More men are becoming cat-owners, but it still rubs Ashley Davies up the wrong way when people think cats are ‘women’s pets’.
In the utterly made-up battle between cats and dogs – a skirmish of which none of the supposed protagonists are aware – the purry ones appear to have made some serious gains, following recent reports that a million more men in the UK have become cat owners over the past year.
According to new figures from the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, around 17 per cent of men (5.5 million) now own a cat, compared with 13 per cent last year.
Providing they’re kind men, this is good news, because cats are hilarious pets and their paw pads look like little baked beans. But it doesn’t half rub me up the wrong way (tip: try doing this to a cat to see just how vivid a metaphor it is) when people deploy the dreary old pet binary about cats being pets for women. That’s as much furry bollocks as saying dogs are men’s pets.
Metaphors relating to cats have long been used to insult women, from their associations with witches to being a key component of the ‘mad cat lady’ (never ‘mad cat man’, even though they do exist) lifestyle.
“I’ve had partners in the past who didn’t like cats and, frankly, that made me suspicious of them. Imagine thinking that liking cats was a stain on your masculinity.”
Cat tropes are great shorthand for misogynist language too: do you ever hear men described as being ‘catty’ or ‘getting their claws out’? Of course you bloody don’t. Remember when the prime minister David Cameron was overheard saying that the Queen had “purred” on hearing the result of the Scottish referendum. Do you think he’d ever have said that about a bloke?
I think the myth of cats being part of the women zone has been perpetuated by premium pet food advertising, which for too long churned out ads depicting single women using their cats as man substitutes. “Feed your darling this pricey little pouch and he won’t stray for treats like that other BASTARD.”
In recent years more creative cat food advertising has tossed that cliche into the litter tray, focusing instead on what’s brilliant about cats: they’re funny, mischievous and very blimmin’ nice to look at and listen to when they’re relaxed. None of those attributes have anything to do with whether the admiring human stands up or sits down to piss. (However you do it, your cat will stare.)
Tom Cox, the guy behind the Twitter phenomenon @mysadcat and the author of books including The Good, The Bad & The Furry and Talk To the Tail, is probably partly responsible for the rise in cat ownership among blokes. I imagine his amusing and astute observations about his pets on Twitter have helped millions of men realise what excellent and entertaining little creatures they can be, particularly if you’re inclined to anthropomorphise for lols.
As I write this, my cat, Stockwell, is upstairs with her favourite person, my husband. The three of us have been a tight unit for more than 16 years.
She follows him around, headbutts his feet, rolls on her back to expose her softest vulnerabilities and appreciates the fact that he (unlike me) doesn’t try to scoop her up against her will while singing, “I’m gonna pick you up” to the tune of Color Me Badd’s creepy classic I Wanna Sex You Up.
I’ve had partners in the past who didn’t like cats and, frankly, that made me suspicious of them. Imagine thinking that liking cats was a stain on your masculinity. That’s very very weird, is it not? Unless you have an allergy or a genuine phobia, I do not understand you.
And yes, most cats are selfish creatures, but that’s what makes them so interesting. Everything is strictly on their terms, which is why it’s so wonderful when they do choose to be with you.
We know someone who says he prefers dogs because he doesn’t understand how anyone would love an animal that doesn’t give a toss about him. I like my husband’s response to this, which is: “Are you saying you don’t enjoy looking at the Mona Lisa because it doesn’t love you back?”
If anyone is worried that being a man might get in the way of liking a cat, I’ve prepared an entry-level questionnaire:
• Sometimes cats yawn in the middle of a meow and it’s really cute. Will being a man hamper your enjoyment of this noise?
• Most cats go mental for catnip, rubbing their faces on it, dribbling and looking confused and wild. Will being a man prevent you from finding this amusing?
• When cats sit on a transparent surface you can see their paws all tucked up underneath them. Are you less curious about how this will look because you’re a man?
• When a happy cat sits on you and purrs, you feel very lucky and calm. Is this likely to be less enjoyable because you are not a woman?
• When you blink slowly at a cat they’ll see this as a sign of affection and might do it back. If you have a good bond with the cat, repeating this action might send it to sleep. Will the fact that you’re a man make this a revolting experience?
If you are a man and answered mainly ‘no’, congratulations – you too could enjoy the company of a cat.
If you are a man and answered mainly ‘yes’, you need to seek expert advice.
Ashley Davies is an Edinburgh-based writer and editor and the human behind animal satire website thelabreport.co.uk.