From the cute but shy Janeane Garofalo in the 1996 movie The Truth About Cats & Dogs to the deranged character simply called Crazy Cat Lady in The Simpsons, the stereotype about lonely women with only their cats as company permeates popular culture. But is there any truth to the stereotype?
Research Into the Crazy Cat Lady Phenomenon
Unfortunately for non-crazy cat lovers, statistics show that real-life cat ladies make up a large proportion of animal hoarders. A survey in New York City in 1981 found that as much as two-thirds of obsessive animal collectors were women, 70 percent of which were also single. While animal hoarders mostly accumulate both cats and dogs, the women were more likely to stock up on cats compared to their male counterparts.
Even after confrontations with animal control authorities and convictions from the court, animal hoarders usually continue their animal collecting habits. Much like compulsive gambling or alcoholism, it seems to be an addiction. Real-life crazy cat ladies often have a violent past involving parental neglect or abuse, which could cause their psychological problem.
Or maybe cats do have the effect of making lonely old ladies turn strange. According to Science Daily, the toxoplasmosis parasite, transmitted by cat feces and undercooked meat, could trigger schizophrenia and other bipolar disorders. About 10 to 20 percent of people in the UK and about 22 percent of people in the USA carry the parasite. In the past, toxoplasmosis has been thought to be mostly harmless except for people with suppressed immune systems such as pregnant women. But its sinister link with mental illnesses could change the way we look at cats and their crazy ladies.
The Simpsons, Plastic Surgery and Action Figures
These seemingly unrelated subjects have one common denominator: crazy cat ladies. They have appeared numerous times in popular culture.
The extreme personality of the crazy cat lady makes her an ideal character for caricature. In The Simpsons, a character known only as Crazy Cat Lady regularly appears on screen, mumbling indecipherable words under her breath and hurling feral cats at people. It’s unlikely that any parent would name her baby daughter Crazy Cat Lady, but it’s The Simpsons after all. Much like the Comic Book Guy, she seems to have no real name or personality other than the stereotype.
Unrelated to any TV show, another crazy cat lady character enters the consumer market as an action figure. Accompanied by her six cat action figures, the crazy cat lady action figure also has another small cat attached to her shoulder. With her unruly hair and wild eyes, she shows how society perceives the stereotype. It’s no wonder the stereotype often bothers cat lovers. In fact, some hate the stereotype so much that they started the Crazy Cat Ladies Society movement, which aims to reclaim the offending phrase, presumably much like the homosexuals did with the word “gay.”
However, their attempts to paint cat lovers as normal folks are being undermined single-handedly by the ultimate cat lady, a.k.a. Jocelyn Wildenstein. Infamous for her series of plastic surgeries, Wildenstein gradually turns herself into a literal cat lady. She often appears in gossip magazines or celebrity websites with titles like “Plastic Surgery Disasters.” It’s definitely much more publicity than the Crazy Cat Ladies Society gets.
Dealing with the Stereotype
But why cats? And why us, good citizens who happen to love felines? Perhaps cat ladies just don’t get much opportunity to appear in public taking their cats out for a walk and end up getting bad press. Or maybe dog ladies find it unfair that cat ladies don’t have to spend too much time toilet-training their felines and scheme an evil plot to make cat ladies suffer. Or it could be that the research got it right and cats do turn normal people into schizophrenics.
Whatever the reason behind the stereotype may be, it’s not going away any time soon. Not-so-crazy cat ladies (and gentlemen) should make the best of the situation and try to enjoy the hullabaloo. Go on, sit on the sofa with Fluffy on your lap, turn on the TV and laugh at Crazy Cat Lady tossing another stray cat at random passers-by.