The Many Shades of a Crazy Cat Lady

crazy-cat

It is no secret in my cat-centric world that a lot of my friends and colleagues despise the term “crazy cat lady” and based on its loose definition, i.e., that a “crazy cat lady” is a woman, usually middle-aged or older, who lives alone with no husband or boyfriend and fills the empty, lonely void in her life with as many cats as she can, I can understand why. The definition has expanded into part of our mainstream language and has become a popular cliché to describe just about anyone who is a cat person in a derogatory manner.

I personally do not have a problem with the term if it is directly said about me because I know how ludicrous the premise is. I am lot of things, but crazy has never been one of them. I am a multi-dimensional person who happens to love cats, but they are not the only facet of who I am as an individual so it is hard for me to entertain the label in a serious fashion.

I do, however, understand the inherent danger in the term and why many would take offense. Throughout much of my grade and middle school years I was labeled as being “different” even though there was nothing wrong with me. I was bullied and called names for being shy, the shortest girl in class, wearing thick glasses, and not being pretty or good in sports – it was extremely hurtful and took me much of my adult life to get over it. Labels can cause serious emotional damage and perpetuating the crazy cat lady stereotype hurts not only devoted, caring, and compassionate cat loving people, but it hurts the feline species in general because it buys into the false stereotypes about cats in general – that they are not friendly and don’t make good pets.

I have seen several sitcoms recently during prime-time that featured cats in a way that was meant to be humorous (according to the canned laughter response). The setup was identical – lonely person can’t fit into “normal” society. Next scene, said apartment is overrun with cats to fill the void in that poor, hapless, and eccentric person’s life. Not only is it not funny, it is lazy, tired, hackneyed, and poor writing. Why can’t writers embrace reality and have cats seen in a positive light on these shows – studies clearly show that a cat can improve a person’s health, happiness, and well-being, so why not share the news?

all-cats

Yeah… I have a lot of cats… so what. This picture hardly evokes an image of crazy in my opinion.

And the craziest thing about the crazy cat lady label is that in all my years of being around cat ladies, never once have I actually met one. All of my cat loving lady friends are strong, devoted, and intelligent people. I’ve never seen any of them with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth, wearing a bathrobe and curlers, with cats crawling up their legs. And the single women that I know who also happen to have cats are single by choice. They lead lives just like everyone else and while they might have crazy tendencies, it does not go hand in hand that it is related to the ratio of cats they have.

But is should be noted that not everyone is offended by the term. Some cat loving ladies (and men) wear the crazy label as a badge of honor. Kind of like, yeah, I take care of 30 outdoor cats and have 12 cats of my own – what of it? I’m proud of who I am and if that makes me crazy, then bring it on!

I just try my best to be respectful and fair. I don’t use the term in my everyday language and I don’t use it to describe myself or my cat loving peers. If someone were to call me crazy, I would just take the opportunity to politely extol the virtues of cats and let them know that they are confusing crazy with love, dedication, and devotion to the species. On more than one occasion with a naysayer, my rationale viewpoint has resulted in a cat adoption with them, so I consider that a victory. I just don’t ever want people to feel that they have to apologize for loving their cat(s) or to feel ashamed to tell someone how many cats they have for fear of being labeled crazy. That just needs to stop regardless of whether you call yourself a crazy cat person or not. I have 7 cats and I would never feel embarrassed to tell anyone that.

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And let’s face it – as a nation we can be a zealous bunch and the shades of our crazy are not just limited to cat ladies. From mild behavior to extreme fanaticism, we honor, celebrate, and worship such things as sports, shoes, decorating for the holidays and celebrating Halloween to name just a few. I consider my blatant affection for wearing cat ears a mild form of expressing my celebration and love of the feline species, although some may disagree and deem it crazy, unprofessional, or immature for my age. I say that it is my best conversational tool to opening the door to positive cat communication. Clearly I know I can’t wear my cat ears to my day job, but when I go to book signings and adoption events, I always wear my cat ears because it breaks the ice – people feel I am approachable and then I can share important information on such subjects as spay/neuter that I would not otherwise be able to do if people just walked past me.

And what a shame if we judged people solely based on appearance, because behind those cat ears is a warm, loving, kind, caring, and intelligent person who has done considerable advocacy work for cats. Or what about Jackson Galaxy? Clearly on the surface he looks like all shades of crazy. Yet there he is, tattoos and all, breaking all kinds of stereotypes and doing an incredible job teaching the world to love and accept cats.

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Jackson Galaxy and I at last year’s Cat Writers’ Conference. Say what you want about our outward appearance, but the truth is, together we are a powerhouse team of cat sanity.

I worry more about the anthropomorphism of cats – in other words, giving cats human characteristics. Talk about crazy – cats have been elevated to such status on the Internet by the mainstream that the species has become detached from reality. Cats playing the piano, Grumpy cat, cats who blog as cats in a special cat language, cats wearing clothes, and so on. I’m not saying it’s bad per se, I’m guilty of anthropomorphizing my cats on more than one occasion and I’ve even seen the most serious of cat bloggers engage in the practice themselves to one extent or another. I worry more about cats getting hurt in the process as people try to “one-up” each other in search of fame and glory. For example, I for one found very little humor in the owner who turned his dead cat into a helicopter for YouTube.

Cats are not people, nor are they disposable, nor should they be exploited in any way that could harm them. It is up to us to make the world a better place for them. So, for me, I find the best label for me is to be myself, Deb Barnes, someone who just happens to love cats and does the best she can on a daily basis to help inform, educate, and entertain people on the species. Perhaps a few letters are in order to some of the big wigs at the networks to hire new writers…

Anyhow, what about you? How do you feel about the crazy cat lady label?

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  1. Caroline Horne says:

    I refer to myself as a cat person but I don’t get all hissy if someone calls me a crazy cat lady. I just gently let them know that there are worse things to be crazy about. And if I’m feeling particularly in an educational bent I let them know how having cats has quite literally saved my life. I have depression that even with medication rears up it’s ugly head and during one of my worst spells the only thing that stopped me from taking an overdose of codeine was the realization that the only person who was going to truly care about the purring lump on my lap was me.

    I also let people know that I’m a responsible pet owner and don’t have more cats than I can afford to care for. I’d love to have more than two, but with food, toys, litter, vet bills….

    • Deb says:

      Oh boy, do I ever empathize with your story, Caroline. It is because of my cats that I am here today as well. They saved my life and gave me the drive and strength to follow my dream of writing a book. Now, years later, I am an award winning blogger and cat advocate, educating others. Cats are extraordinary healers and it is a message that needs to hit the mainstream loud and clear, rather than the tired and old stereotype of the crazy cat lady.

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your comment.

  2. Ms. Phoebe says:

    My human does not like the stereotypes the media and film industry portrays about ‘crazy cat ladies’ either. I feel it insults not only our human’s intelligence, but that of we cats as well. I prefer to refer to my human as a ‘certified cat lady’ and she seems fine with it. Certified referring to the hours, days, years I have put in training her to perform at MY standard and desire, and only if she passes the training does she get to be a CERTIFIED cat lady. We felines cannot make it too easy!

  3. I, purrsonally, believe the term CCL does more harm than good. And it also attributes interest and care for cats to the female gender…implying cats are ONLY for women, not real men. Hah! Say my Dad Peter. So, Mom Linda here…I agree with Savannah, the terminology does more harm. If I were to ask people this question “describe what the words ‘crazy cat lady’ mean to you…what do you see in your mind when that set of words is used together?”…I can guarantee you that what I would hear in general would not be complimentary to either cats nor women. I spent my entire career working with group development and coaching groups and individuals through behavior change. The “meaning” of words is not shared without inherent assumptions we each place on the word or set of words. Unless the CCL set of words is given a new meaning…it will remain basically derogatory in the general population at least in the USA.

  4. Carolyn says:

    I am way behind with this discussion, but thanks for your thoughtful, considered piece on the CCL debate. FWIW I am not bothered about the label mainly because no one to my knowledge has ever called me that and also I only have, at the moment, one cat! Maybe as I blog about him and nowadays do it mostly in his voice, I could be considered a bit crazy, or more likely, sad! It still doesn’t bother me, though! I think the CCL badge has been given prominence by the Simpsons, which I haven’t seen, but have seen pictures of! If I end my life, alone and surrounded by loads of cats, I shan’t mind what anyone calls me! :)

  5. MaryAnn Mings says:

    Thoughtful writing to enable us cat loving women to view ourselves in a position of value rather than putdown. I agree that educating people about the noble art of raising kitties is so important a task rather yhan diminishing ourselves at the expense of someone’s laugh. I have six kitties who lean on me to open cans at appropriate times but I also enjoy one stopping over to snuggle, a gift of the Spirit. Thank you for your blog!

  6. Rhionda says:

    My boyfriend (yes i have one!) always says that “sanity is not determined by the number of cats!” He’s jokingly trying to say that Im a crazy cat lady w just one cat. I do tend to elevate my cat’s status to head of the household and I use a funny voice to make her talk! The things i can make her say are really funny. Sometimes I’ll ask her a question about what type of decision I should make and then I’ll have her answer me in her/my cat voice. I know its my subconious actually talking, but the answers she gives me are not answers I could come up w on my own.