Crazy Cat Ladys – Our Tendency to Punish Women Who Break From Societal Expectations

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Over 40, female, no kids or a man? If you have more than two of these, welcome to societal judgment ville.

Women get called crazy a lot in our culture. You have the “crazy ex” and the “psycho girlfriend,” sometimes shortened to “psycho chick” because of a supposed long history of nightmarishly psychotic dating behavior, and then you have the “crazy cat lady” designation, which seems to be reserved for a slightly different category of “crazy” woman.

But let’s examine that tendency to call females “crazy” first. Yes, there are lots of women out there who suffer from various mental or personality disorders, and they can often act erratically. Dating anyone who suffers from real mental problems can be incredibly difficult, and only a handful of people are probably up to the task.

And there are also women (although men are just as guilty of all of these behaviors) who have anger problems, or are extremely jealous or controlling. The types of people who instantly think of vengeance when they perceive they’ve been slighted. I can’t make any excuses for those people. Anyone whose just wired to be selfish and mean is going to have to work through their problems or face a life of diminishing returns. But in most cases, they’re probably not actually suffering from mental illnesses. If they are suffering from a mental condition, it may be the real reason they seem to be set off so easily.

It’s a difficult thing to say with certainty that a woman is “crazy,” and the real reason people do that is because it’s a way to marginalize that female, and to call into question all of her actions. It’s a strategy employed by people who will benefit from either silencing her, or by devaluing her opinion to the point that no one will take her seriously. Nine times out of ten, it’s not a valid warning that a female is actually suffering from a mental disorder, but a way of turning others against her because she has made a person’s life difficult in some way.

Then there’s the “Crazy Cat Lady”, a uniquely female designation, and a disparaging one, despite the fact that there are probably as many male animal hoarders as female. And yes, there are people who suffer from mental conditions that drive them to collect animals the same way someone else might accumulate aluminum cans. It’s usually a psychological disease, unless they’re some sort of twisted pet breeder who is just abusing animals through neglect.

But why is there a disparaging stereotype regarding “crazy cat ladies” and not men?

I think it’s a form of sexism for sure, but also a form of scapegoating and marginalization that goes back hundreds of years, maybe since the beginning of human society. People who, for whatever reason, don’t conform to society’s normal rules have always had a difficult time of things. As a male who doesn’t like sports, I get viewed with suspicion by many people. For what? Not enjoying watching ball games played by adults. Snoresville.

We’re all expected to grow up, and to walk a straight path, avoiding things that might cause disruptions in the status quo. Listen to boring music, stay in school, get a job, get married, have some kids, eventually die. Anyone who steps out of that expected course too much is looked at as potentially dangerous and irresponsible, despite some weird societal double standard that places rock stars and other “rebels” on a pedestal.

But as hard as it is being a weird guy who doesn’t always play by the rules or meet other people’s expectations, it’s got to be doubly hard for women.

A few hundred years ago, a woman who acted unconventionally might be accused of witchcraft. Maybe she just didn’t want to get married, and chose to live away from others, maybe she suffered from some minor form of antisocial disorder, or maybe she just hated Pilgrims. Who can blame her? But not all that long ago, being a female outsider was a good way to end up hanging from a tree.

Not to be dramatic, but I think we’re still devaluing and marginalizing women who step out of line, or who are “difficult” or antisocial today. They aren’t usually murdered by suspicious and superstitious neighbors anymore, but instead ostracized and ridiculed.

What’s a crazy cat lady anyway?

It seems to me that we lob that unflattering moniker at almost any woman beyond the age of 35 or so who doesn’t have or want kids, and who doesn’t have a man in her life for whatever reason. The joke is that the cats are just waiting for her 40th birthday before they’ll invade the house in droves. Har De Har Har.

But I know just as many males who are in the same boat. Middle aged, no mate, no kids, and a few pet cats that they care for. But you rarely if ever hear about “Crazy Cat Men.” No, it’s a way of poking mean spirited fun at women who haven’t conformed to society’s expectations of them.

We (and by “we” I mean other men and women, it’s not just guys who do this) treat women like they’re crazy when they’re young as a way to control them and to devalue them as people, and then when they hit a certain age, we’re just as happy to marginalize them as crazy ladies who have a bunch of cats because men won’t have them.

It’s fucking bleak and not right.

And on another note, there are plenty of single men and women who have a lot of pets because they work with animal rescue groups, and because they care about the welfare of animals. That doesn’t mean that they’re “crazy” or should be treated like mentally deficient outcasts.

I’m a very introverted person most of the time. Shy even. I have five dogs, should I be cast out of society because of those things, or because I’m “weird”?

Why should women be treated worse? It doesn’t make sense and it’s not fair.

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One comment

  1. G. B. Marian · January 11, 2016

    Reblogged this on In The Desert Of Seth and commented:
    All of this is, sadly, very true.

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