I blog as my cat which means I’m in a lot of groups with other women who blog about cats or as their cats. Recently a retailer has had a “Crazy Cat Lady” contest and many of them hate this term and are taking offense. Considering one of them gets to appear in a photo as “the” crazy cat lady, while she stands in a room full of cats (she’s actually at a shelter), I can understand her distress. In the discussions, I started to see some parallels between the concept of the “witch” and the concept of the “Crazy Cat Lady.”
Witches are taking back that term. While there are still Halloween witches with warts on their noses and narrow black hats, we also know that there are lot of women (and men) who practice a nature religion called Wicca and are witches. The term is still often used pejoratively, but there are enclaves where this is an acceptable term and those who practice Wicca tend to know that the “witch” in Halloween terms is really just a cartoon.
For those who don’t take back the term witch, they have chosen the term, “Wise Woman” or “Wise One” to self identify with. The original witch was a wise one who offered healing and aid to those in need.
Today, we don’t have many wise women in shacks selling herbs (to say we have none discounts some wonderful acupuncturists and herbalists I know, although they do not really live in shacks!). Instead, we have compassionate, wise women. And some of these compassionate wise women take care of cats. The mythical Crazy Cat Lady has a lot in common with the witch, both in how it came to be a pejorative term and who she represents. Let’s look at the stereotypical Crazy Cat Lady.
Our mythical Crazy Cat Lady is usually found living alone with a lot of cats. Her hair is either still in curlers or she hasn’t bothered to comb it. If she has bothered to comb it, perhaps the cats have attacked it because it’s a mess. She’s probably in a bathrobe or something equally unflattering. She’s typically over forty.
We are told that this woman takes to her cats because she can’t find a man to marry her. After finding all these cats, she carelessly lets herself go because as we all know, not having a man is the worst thing that could happen and if you’ve given up, why take care of your appearance? And really what else is there but a cat?
The witch was just an ugly woman who took her shack in the woods living with nature and giving out herbs to try and eek out a living. Surely if she had been nicer or more pleasing to look at, she would have married and had children and be spared living with that ugly wart on her chin and wearing that very unbecoming hat.
The real witches, of course, came in all sizes and shapes. They made choices. They were wise women who understood the healing properties of plants and made the choice to utilize their knowledge for the good of the local people. Some were married. Others weren’t. Some were older but there were younger women who were learning this.
The Crazy Cat Lady might have made choices too. Let’s look at what the cat symbolizes in our culture: feminine independence. Yes, that’s right, the most common thing that cats symbolize is independence, especially feminine independence. If we look at the Crazy Cat Lady like that, perhaps she made a conscious choice not to get married and loves her independence, working at things she wants to work at, rather than what society says she should. Perhaps she is dressed down in her bathrobe or sweats because she has more important pursuits than how she looks. It could be her symbolic way of telling society that she doesn’t care what it thinks of her.
The Crazy Cat Lady is the modern version of the woman who doesn’t set her sights on marrying someone. She does not live her life as a second class citizen. She is taking the world in her hands, embracing her independence (via the cats) and going her own way. She is not going to be told what to do.
Like the Wise Woman, the Crazy Cat Lady can claim another term for her own. How about Compassionate One? Beyond the symbolism of the cats being independent, the woman is caring for something that can return nothing to her. Instead of working her way up in (dare I say it?) this dog eat dog culture of more, she uses her talents to care for those that can offer little back when it comes to material wealth and success. Instead, she takes her successes as saving lives and making the lives of as many of those she comes in contact with, better.
This sort of compassion and love is placed on the feminine side of the scale. As patriarchy took over, men were always competing to see who can be the best. This self aggrandizing pursuit is patriarchy at its worst. The Crazy Cat Lady is the matriarchy at its best. Is there any wonder that the woman who cares for cats is the Crazy Cat Lady? In a society that values competition, caring for another is crazy.
When we hear Crazy Cat Lady, let’s own her positive aspects and remember that the pejorative is merely the latest attempt at a patriarchal society that is floundering about trying to find it’s strength and power again, to negate feminine. While that doesn’t mean embracing the term, it means honoring what the Crazy Cat Lady stands for and proudly standing up to remind them that she, like each of us, is “The Compassionate One” and let her take her rightful place beside the witch/Wise Woman and other powerful feminine archetypes.