A cat lady is a cultural archetype or stock character, most often depicted as a woman, a middle-aged or elderly spinster, who owns many pet cats. The term may be pejorative, or it may be affectionately embraced.
Usage and association
Women who have cats have long been associated with the concept of spinsterhood. In more recent decades, the concept of a cat lady has been associated with "romance-challenged (often career-oriented) women". Specifically, it has also been embraced by lesbians.
A cat lady may also be an animal hoarder who keeps large numbers of cats without having the ability to properly house or care for them. They may be ignorant about their situation, or generally unaware of their situation. People who are aware of it are not normally considered cat ladies.
Depending on context, the ordinarily pejorative word "crazy" may be prepended to "cat lady" to indicate either a pejorative or a humorous and affectionate label. Some writers, celebrities, and artists have challenged the gender-based "Crazy Cat Lady" stereotype, and embraced the term to mean an animal lover or rescuer who cares for one or multiple cats, and who is psychologically healthy.
A 2019 study found no differences between cat-owners and non-cat owners for anxiety, depression or experiences in relationships: "We suggest that our findings are, therefore, not consistent with a description of cat-owners as depressed, anxious or as having difficulty with human relationships."
The documentary Cat Ladies (2009) tells the stories of four women whose lives became dedicated to their cats. The film was directed by Christie Callan-Jones and produced by Chocolate Box Entertainment, originally for TVOntario. It was an official selection at the 2009 Hot Docs Festival, Silverdocs Festival, and San Francisco's DocFest.
Naftali Berrill, Ph.D., Director of the New York Center for Neuropsychology and Forensic Behavioral Science told AOL Health, "These may be people who have a very hard time expressing themselves to other people. They may find the human need for affection is met most easily through a relationship with a pet." This devotion can sometimes signal mental or emotional issues such as depression.
Some studies indicate a link between the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which sexually reproduces exclusively in cats, and numerous psychiatric conditions, including obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and schizophrenia, whereas other studies have showed that T. gondii is not a causative factor in later psychoses.
The compulsive hoarding of cats, a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), has long been associated with "crazy cat ladies". Mass media has drawn on this stereotype to coin the term crazy cat lady syndrome to refer to the association between T. gondii and psychiatric conditions.
- Florence Nightingale had many cats named after famous public figures such as Gladstone and Bismarck.
- Edith Ewing Bouvier and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale had many cats living with them in their decrepit home Grey Gardens. Reportedly, some 30 cats lived in the house by the time Little Edie sold it in 1979.
- Bertha Rand was Winnipeg's notorious Cat Lady, who for years battled her neighbours and city hall to save her dozens of cats. Even years after her death, she still holds a place in Canadian popular culture. Maureen Hunter's play The Queen of Queen Street is based on Rand's life.
Cat ladies in popular culture include:
- "Grandma Puggy" (portrayed by Dana Carvey) is a widowed grandmother who had cats everywhere and whose hair got on the guests. She was also mentioned in a Saturday Night Live "Wayne's World" sketch by Garth (also portrayed by Carvey) who trick-or-treated at the house of "some weird old lady who had about a gazillion cats and their hair got on my candy apple".
- In Codename: Kids Next Door, the Crazy Old Cat Lady (voiced by Grey DeLisle) is a half-human half-feline villainess who lives with thousands of black and white cats and possesses the power to control them.
- In the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode "Cats in the Cradle", a cat lady named Ruth Elliot (portrayed by Ellen Geer) is revealed to have been murdered by a young girl named Jessica Trent (portrayed by Courtney Jines) after she and her sister Jackie (portrayed by Jennette McCurdy) wanted a cat which Ruth was unwilling to part with as she considered it one of her children.
- Angela Martin is a character on The Office who is a cat lady.
- In The Simpsons, the Crazy Cat Lady (voiced by Tress MacNeille) is a recurring character whose real name is Eleanor Abernathy.
- In the Disney Channel series The Suite Life on Deck, schoolteacher Emma Tutweiller has 30 cats in her cabin.
- Jefferson (portrayed by Tyler, The Creator) from the Adult Swim TV series Loiter Squad is a cat person.
- In Futurama, Hattie McDoogal (voiced by Tress MacNeille) is an old woman who lives alone with her cats and often uses nonsense words and phrases, such as "kerjigger". She briefly serves as the landlady of Fry and Bender, and holds a single share of Planet Express, allowing her the decisive vote for its CEO. She has been married twice, surviving both of them, and often dates. She once hired Kif Kroker as a male escort. MacNeille also voices the Crazy Cat Lady on The Simpsons.
- In The Loud House, Rita Loud's aunt Ruth (voiced by Grey DeLisle) is a cat lady.
- In Adventures of Superman, the episode "Olsen's Millions" has Jimmy Olsen receiving a reward for rescuing a cat belonging to Mrs. Peabody (Elizabeth Patterson), a Metropolis cat lady.
- In a key scene in A Clockwork Orange (1971), the violent sociopath Alex DeLarge murders a paranoid cat lady, for which he is convicted and sentenced to a prison term during which he undergoes behavioral training to become a vastly different person.
- In the black comedy The End (1978), Sally Field portrays Burt Reynolds' distracted cat lady girlfriend Mary Ellen, who is too absorbed in her feline pets to react to Burt's news that he is dying.
- In an iconic scene from Tim Burton's Batman Returns, after being pushed to her breaking point by Max Schreck, Selina Kyle (portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer) transforms from a cat lady into Catwoman.
- In Catwoman, Patience Phillips (portrayed by Halle Berry) visits a cat lady who tells her about how to embrace her new identity as Catwoman, claiming an Egyptian Mau called Midnight chose to give her cat-like superpowers.
- In The Lego Movie (2014), Mrs. Scratchen-Post is a cat lady minifigure who is one of Emmet Brickowski's neighbors.
- On Venetian Snares's album Songs About My Cats he features a song called "For Bertha Rand." The album features many samples of cats which are worked into Aaron's distinct breakcore style of Oldschool jungle.
- The Cat Lady (2012) is a psychological horror graphic adventure game developed by Remigiusz Michalski.
- CatCon an event described as "The convention with cattitude" hosted seminars featuring actor Ian Somerhalder and actress Mayim Bialik, meet and greets with celebrity cats Lil BUB and Nala, and an adoption village where visitors can meet and adopt a cat or kitten.
- National Cat Lady Day is celebrated April 19, as a way to debunk the myth that cat ladies are dowdy spinsters. "Now it's chic to be a cat lady!" said CatCon creator Susan Michals.
- Kiri Blakeley (15 Oct 2009), "Crazy Cat Ladies", Forbes
- Pasulka, Nicole. "'Cat Knows How to Ignore Men': A Brief History of Lesbian Cat Ladies". The Cut. New York Media, LLC. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
- Davis, Susan; Flaherty (illus), Jake (2002), "Prosecuting Animal Hoarders is like Herding Cats" (PDF), California Lawyer (September): 26, 28, 29, 67, archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-05-29, retrieved June 26, 2011
- Mark Ramirez (5 Aug 2009), "Do you believe in the Crazy Cat Lady?", timesunion.com
- GOSTIN, NICKI. "Beth Ostrosky Stern: I am a crazy cat lady... and I'm proud of it". nydailynews.com.
- "It's time to smash the 'crazy cat lady' stereotype". MNN - Mother Nature Network.
- Williams, David, Meet The Men Proud to Be Crazy Cat Ladies, ABC News, Retrieved November 12, 2015
- Rob Picheta (August 21, 2019). "'Crazy cat ladies' are not a thing, study finds". CNN.
- Parsons, Christine E.; Lebeau, Richard T.; Kringelbach, Morten L.; Young, Katherine S. (August 21, 2019). "Pawsitively sad: pet-owners are more sensitive to negative emotion in animal distress vocalizations". Royal Society Open Science. 6 (8): 181555. doi:10.1098/rsos.181555. PMC 6731714. PMID 31598218.
- Jeannette Loakman. "Cat Ladies – the Documentary". Archived from the original on 25 February 2015. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- Cat Ladies on IMDb
- Huso, Deborah (November 2009). "Some Live Among Hundreds of Cats". AOL Health. Archived from the original on November 19, 2009.
- "How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy – Kathleen McAuliffe". The Atlantic. 2012-02-06. Retrieved 2013-06-03.
- Webster, Joanne P.; Kaushik, Maya; Bristow, Greg C.; McConkey, Glenn A. (2013-01-01). "Toxoplasma gondii infection, from predation to schizophrenia: can animal behaviour help us understand human behaviour?". The Journal of Experimental Biology. 216 (1): 99–112. doi:10.1242/jeb.074716. ISSN 0022-0949. PMC 3515034. PMID 23225872.
- Gatewood, Johanzynn (February 22, 2017). "Cat ownership not linked to mental health problems, study says". CNN.
- Solmi, F.; Hayes, J. F.; Lewis, G.; Kirkbride, J. B. (July 31, 2017). "Curiosity killed the cat: no evidence of an association between cat ownership and psychotic symptoms at ages 13 and 18 years in a UK general population cohort". Psychological Medicine. 47 (9): 1659–1667. doi:10.1017/S0033291717000125. PMC 5939988. PMID 28222824.
- D.J. Moran and Jennifer L. Patterson (2011-06-16). "When More Isn't Enough". Psychology Today.
- "Celebrity cat lovers". Archived from the original on 2011-08-15. Retrieved 2011-03-30.
- Sally Quinn on life in Grey Gardens Archived 2011-06-06 at the Wayback Machine, W magazine, April 8, 2009
- "Signature Editions". Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- "CatCon". catconworldwide.com. Retrieved 2015-05-18.
- Kelk, Lindsey. "Ian Somerhalder: "If I didn't have an infant, Nikki & I would open a cat café"". Retrieved 2018-05-17.
- "CatConLA Shows the "Crazy Cat Lady" Stereotype Is Completely Wrong". L.A. Weekly. Retrieved 2015-11-21.
- "The Cutest Cats and Humans We Saw at CatCon 2017". L.A. Weekly. Retrieved 2018-05-17.
- "Cute cats, cat wine and cat-print dresses: Inside the cat lover's paradise that is CatCon 2017". Retrieved 2018-05-17.
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