Crazy Cat Lady is the New Old Maid

Monday, July 16, 2012

When I recently remarked to a guy that I had the potential to become a crazy cat lady, he chastised me. "Why do women say that?" That's a good question, actually. Why do women say that?

The myth of the "crazy cat lady" seems universally accepted these days. But where did it come from? It's origins are difficult to pinpoint. Though the Edies of Grey Gardens were pioneers of the cat lady persona, it's taken on a different connotation in the here and now. With some basic Googling, I was able to find mentions as far back as the early 90s, but the phenomenon certainly seems to have gained ground and more widespread adoption in the last 10 years. The Simpsons' Eleanor Abernathy may be one of the first mainstream media manifestations of the crazy cat lady. The stereotype was further addressed as the subject of a 2009 Canadian documentary Cat Ladies.

There's a marked difference between Abernathy's elderly character and the extreme cat-obsessed behavior of the women in Cat Ladies and what people mean when they use the term now. The crazy cat lady has morphed from the AARP age bracket and eccentricity to articulate the fate of women who don't marry. Women who find themselves single, over 30 and in possession of more than one cat. One entry on the ever popular and accurate (user-created) reference source,, defines a "crazy cat lady" as "a woman, usually middle-aged or older, who lives alone with no husband or boyfriend, and fills the empty lonely void in her life with as many cats as she can collect in one place." There's less crazy in the crazy - it's less about behavior and more about status.

In today's interpretation, the cats are merely the trappings of single woman needing to fill the "empty lonely void." In fact, the similarly accurate and user-generated reference behemoth that is Wikipedia suggests "spinster" under the "See Also" section.

See also spinster. And so we arrive at the essence of the crazy cat lady moniker. It's the new old maid. Except it comes as an action figure.

During my research - such as it was - I found a couple of articles in which women were warned not to get cats or hesitated in adopting because of how it would look to be a single woman with cats. I'm certainly no stranger to someone making the quip since I adopted two cats back in January. And obviously as noted at the beginning of this story, I have said it about myself because crazy cat lady is oddly easier to say than I might be single forever and own cats. Not to mention that it's funnier and makes other people less uncomfortable about my singleness.

The truth is, the crazy cat lady isn't really about any of those things anymore. It's not about an actual mental state. Or even owning cats. Women who don't even own cats - don't even like them - fear falling under the curse of the crazy cat lady column. It's beyond single - it's irredeemably single.

So am I a crazy cat lady? I am single, over-30 and in possession of two cats who right now are fighting over one of the bows from one of my birthday presents and systematically destroying it beside me on the couch. There's the fact that I live alone with said cats and that I probably intimidate the neighborhood children for whom I don't turn on the light at Halloween because I don't want strangers knocking on my door and asking for candy. And let's face it: I couldn't be categorized as normal.

But I'm not irredeemably single. Or hopeless. I'm just someone whose awesomeness is undiscovered who happens to love two very mischievous cats. As for crazy...well, that's I label I can't deny.


Anonymous said...

This may be my favorite blog entry ever. People first started calling me a crazy cat lady when I was just 25 and only had one cat -- and I was not happy about it. Now, in my thirties with two cats, I own it. Let's just hope the day doesn't come when I also own an uncountable number of cats ...

Lynn Maria Thompson said...

So true! I'm over 50 & single with two kittens I just adopted after fostering them when my elderly cat died in the spring. A few years ago, she and I had been featured in a front-page news story in the local paper on pet longevity...she was 21 at the time. Huge photo of us on page 1, above the fold. It was a few months after my mother had passed away, so was a nice little pick-me-up...until I read the comments underneath. Some anonymous guy (who I like to imagine as an obese, middle-aged man in his underwear, surfing the web from his mother's basement) posted the comment, "There's nothing worse than an old maid cat lady." WELL! At first I was kind of hurt and insulted...and then I started to think it was kind of funny. After all, who uses the term "old maid" any more to refer to single ladies of a certain age? Now we're sexy "cougars" - still not a flattering thing to be called, but certainly preferable. And I had one did that make me a "cat lady"? And then I started to think that it would make a good brand for a new venture I was thinking of launching. So I named my retail site On it, I carry over 2,000 products from over 70 suppliers for cats and people who love cats. I've sold to plenty of ladies...but to just as many men, single and married people, and all who love their cats like their children. It hasn't made me a millionaire just yet, but it's slowly growing and I'm proud of what it has grown into. And proud to be an "old maid cat lady".

Catnips said...

Great bit of writing... have featured it on my page:

Anonymous said...

"I'm just someone whose awesomeness is undiscovered"
and I am fortunate enough to live with two cats also. Great post!

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