Feline fatale On cats, love and loving cats



Valentine’s Day serves as an annual reminder that I will likely, one day, turn into a cat lady. This concerns me for a couple of reasons, the most important being that I despise cats. If their condescending, territorial stares aren’t enough to detract from their appeal, then consider that they’ve been known to eat their dead owners’ bodies. Valentine’s Day might incite oozing feelings of passion for some, flowery declarations of love for others or even just a general indifference. Whenever Valentine’s Day swings around, I usually think of myself not alone, per se, but surrounded by two dozens of cats all feeding on my decaying body. Happy Valentine’s Day, indeed.

Perhaps you’ll spot the obvious flaw my brain tends to miss when it conjures up these imaginary soap operas. If I don’t like cats, then I don’t have a problem because I’ll never actively decide to own a cat in the first place–let alone two dozens. No one sane would, which is maybe where the parasite Toxoplasma gondii comes into play. T. gondii alters rodent neural systems so that a rat becomes attracted to the scent of cats (specifically, cat pee) and is more likely to get eaten. Once in the feline digestive system, T. gondii can happily complete its life cycle. That’s not all: T. gondii has also been shown to use humans as hosts.

Although largely asymptomatic in humans, some have suggested T. gondii is to blame for extreme ailurophilic (cat loving) behaviour. The more cats you own, the more waste they produce and the greater the likelihood of T. gondii infecting your brain. It’s a very convoluted kind of feedback, and without any empirical evidence, hard to accept as anything but a conspiracy theory. Along with the cats comes the “crazy”: despite the minute number of historical cases, studies of people with an acute T. gondii infection show they exhibit psychological symptoms that resemble schizophrenia.

The association of female cat owners with the “crazy cat lady” stereotype only reinforces the unequal perception we are trying so hard abolish: that a person’s worth based on their achievements … cannot compare to the worth of someone who has established a committed relationship.

A pseudoscientific basis for the “crazy cat lady” phenomenon, however, still fails to explain its inherent association with a pathetic and fornlorn soul, particularly one who lacks enough social skills to find a significant other. My friend recently recalled an instance where she had been playing Neko Atsume on her phone, a highly addictive game where the player purchases products to attract and collect a variety of virtual cats. When her brother saw this upon passing by, he commented (I imagine, in a snarky “you should punch me in the face” tone) on it being good preparation for her real life.

No one denies that my friend’s story made for a good laugh, but her brother’s association of a cat lady with spinsterhood, and ultimately, failure, is proof that a stigma still exists surrounding solitary living.

Yes, the world has come a long way in terms of recognizing that a woman can be successful in both self-acceptance and her career, even if it means she is not romantically involved, but it is essential that we continue to move away from outdated ideals as a unfounded basis for criticizing other people.

The association of female cat owners with the “crazy cat lady” stereotype only reinforces the unequal perception we are trying so hard to abolish: that a person’s worth based on their achievements, such as someone who puts their career first, cannot compare to the worth of someone who has established a committed relationship. Everyone is unique, and as we all have different ideas of what makes us happy, it is far from our place to judge someone by the traditional standards of a fulfilling life.

When I say Valentine’s Day serves as a reminder of my probable future as a cat lady, what alarms me is not literally being forced to live alongside domesticated animals so much as the irrational fear of growing old and dying alone. With Valentine’s Day approaching, we tend to forget that we are constantly surrounded by the people (and pets) we love. So love the things you love without reserve. Love yourself (although not in the way Justin Bieber suggests). If that makes you “crazy,” then so be it. All the best people are.



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