Cats have a strange old history with humans, once worshipped like Gods they fell from grace to be associated with the Devil and then with crazy old women. But it seems they’re having their moment, it’s cool for cats again. Here’s how the crazy cat ladies are claiming back the once pejorative term.
Cats, in particular, black ones, got a bad reputation during the 15th century. They were associated with witches, the original crazy cat ladies, women who were middle-aged, perhaps widowed and of lower social status would be accused of witchcraft. Germany, France and the UK, burned cats en masse thinking them to be witches or the Devil in disguise.
Skip to the 18th century and women and cats were still connected. Older women who were unmarried were portrayed as ugly and lonely, often mad with only cats for company. What better way to deter young women from getting a career or being happily alone than showing them a glimpse of their future were they not to marry, just look at this picture titled Old Maids at a Cat’s Funeral...
In the 19th Century with the keeping of pets becoming popular, stories emerged which lead to the classic picture of the crazy cat ladies hoarding animals. Countess De La Torre was charged with having too many cats, 21 in total, in her flat and ordered to have them destroyed by police.
Queen Victoria began to turn around the stigma, however, when she insisted a cat be included on the RSPCA’s Medal of Kindness recognising that something must be done about the public's aversion to cats which were “generally misunderstood and grossly ill-treated.” The same could be said about the women who liked them.
Famous people began to state their love of cats, Mark Twain, Hemingway and even Abe Lincoln, who was the first president to bring a cat into the White House. Celebrity advocates continue today and it’s often successful young women at that.
Katy Perry’s cat, Kitty Purry, was nominated for a Teen Choice Award for Celebrity Pet and Ellie Goulding frequently posts pictures of her cats on Instagram, even saying “I’m obsessed now. I never thought I was gonna be one of those people who was gonna post photos of a lot of animals, and now I am. I’m Catwoman.”
The Simpsons frequently show the character of the Crazy Cat Lady speaking gibberish and throwing cats, though in her lucid moments speaks eloquently, is shown to have been a Lawyer and a Doctor and even ran for Mayor. However, this also plays into the 18th-century stereotype of the old maid, this is what happens when you choose a career over a husband.
With many women choosing not to marry now, the idea of being a spinster, with only a cat for company, is no longer a terrible thing. Women’s right to vote in 1918, job equality and marriage no longer being the ultimate goal is slowly leaving the idea of the spinster behind. In the 1800s there were at least 50 out of every 1000 women getting married, in 2009 this was down to 19.
Cats, along with all pets, are now seen as family members, people refer to them as their ‘fur babies’ and often talk about their pets as though they were humans.
Having an Instagram famous pet is all the rage. The top 10 Most Followed Pets on Instagram features 3 cats, Nala, Tardar Sauce (Grumpy Cat) and Lil Bub who have over 7 million followers between them. They have their own merchandise, web series, and even do meet and greets…
Cats are so popular now there is even a convention for them, set up by Susan Michals, CatCon last year had over 30,000 attendees all flocking to catch a glimpse of Instafamous cats, see the latest products and meet up with like-minded cat people. Susan also establish Crazy Cat Lady Day, April 19th, to hopefully, along with CatCon, prove that it is possible to be ‘hip, stylish and own a cat simultaneously.’
"I am Catwoman, hear me roar."