Crazy about cat men

In one of those meatspace conversations, we were talking about crazy cat ladies, each of us trying to do cursory research on our phones. Why are crazy cat ladies a thing in the public imagination, despite none of us knowing anyone like that? Does the crazy cat lady archetype appear in other cultures? Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about the possibility of a distaff spear counterpart, the crazy cat man?

You can find plenty of popular and scholarly articles talking about the crazy cat lady archetype and its long history of association with witch trials, spinsterhood, women’s suffrage, and animal hoarding. On the other hand, to speak of crazy cat men is to speculate on an archetype that doesn’t truly exist.

Oh sure, you can find lots of “crazy cat man” mugs and tees and such. But these are examples of reclamation: feline enthusiasts adopting and subverting a derogatory archetype, poking fun at the idea that we would ever think it was a bad thing. It’s illustrative to consider: how many cats does a “crazy cat man” have? Generally they have about one cat. This is also generally true of women who reclaim the “crazy cat lady” label. And yet, the “crazy cat lady” is someone with a dozen or several dozen cats. The difference is that the “crazy cat lady” is caught between a fictional construct and reclaimed label, while the “crazy cat man” only exists in its reclaimed form.

Soon we identified another trend in search results on cat men. Cat men: Are they dateable?

The general narrative of these articles (for example) is: studies say women are less interested in men with cats, but that’s obviously ridiculous because men with cats are totally dateable. A Vice article even discussed a countervailing trend, where having a cat is considered a very positive dating signal.

The explanation that most people advance, is that cat ownership in men is perceived as feminine.  Therefore, men with cats are perceived as less dateable.  But in some contexts, men with cats are perceived as more dateable, because they’re perceived as sensitive (a desirable feminine trait).

But let’s check out that study.

The study is “Not the Cat’s Meow? The Impact of Posing with Cats on Female Perceptions of Male Dateability” by Lori Kogan and Shelly Volsche, from 2020. The first author is a veterinarian, and the second is an anthropologist, and they both study human-animal interactions. Kogan has several studies on how people respond to the loss of pets and service animals. Volsche has a few other studies relating to the intersection of animals and human relationship practices. (Incidentally, Volsche was also a coauthor on a paper that I’ve read for the ace journal club.) I mention all this because I thought it was a bit ridiculous that this was a subject of study in the first place, but it made more sense in context of the authors’ other work.

The introduction explains that in prior research, pet owners are considered more dateable. But is that both cat owners and dog owners, or just dog owners? Not cat owners, according to the study. Men with cats were more preferred by women who identified as “cat people”, but not by the others. These are, by the way, all straight women age 18-24 in the US. The authors think that this is because men with cats are perceived as less masculine, and they back this up by surveying the women on the men’s masculinity and femininity.

There are a few things we could criticize about the methodology. Basically they had two White guys pose in a photo alone, and then the same two guys pose with a cat. The first problem is, the poses in the photos aren’t the same, and I’m not sure how they have been the same given that one pose has a cat and the other doesn’t. The second problem is that each participant was shown both photos in sequence, and that likely made the purpose of the study too transparent. Finally, I think it’s worth noting the difference between merely owning a cat, and going out of one’s way to include a cat in one’s dating profile photo.

I’m not sure what to say about this, except that it sounds like str8 people being weird about gender again. I think it’s entirely possible that the women who prefer dating guys with cats are more vocal, or feel more strongly about it, while the women who prefer not to date guys with cats are just quietly more numerous. So when researchers look into it, more women perceive men with cats as less dateable; but when journalists talk about it, everyone thinks the very idea is absurd.


  1. cartomancer says

    Technically it’s a “spear counterpart” you mean here. A “distaff counterpart” is a female version of a male-identified thing. A distaff is a spindle for spinning thread; a quintessentially feminine item in most European cultures, while the spear is a quintessentially masculine one.

  2. cartomancer says

    Mind you, from my highly accurate twenty year study (with a sample size of me) I can conclude with absolute certainty that men with cats are utterly repulsive to potential suitors. Fortunately cats are much better than boyfriends, so it’s no great loss.

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