- Just as Bukowski intended.
On Friday, my colleague Rich Smith, esteemed arts and politics writer at our sister paper The Stranger, called into question the study I cited last week in a post advocating that Portlanders adopt more cats to ensure we don't lose our status as America's greatest cat-lady stronghold. I stand by the statistics I referred to, and I'll let you know right now that Smith's assertion that Seattle has more cat ladies than we do is simply untrue. The data bears this out. AND YET. I will cede this: Smith brings up one cogent point that needs to be addressed head-on.
Amid a stream of baseless accusations leveled at me—namely, that I, a kindhearted section editor at an alternative weekly, somehow have the power to launch a "scare campaign"—Smith said, "I have to say that I don't get the connection between a woman's marital status and her relationship with cats. To define one's relationship with cats against one's relationship with a romantic partner seems like some kind of perpetuation of the patriarchy."
Here, at least, is something that we can agree on! In fact, in the days following my initial post, many Mercury readers reached out to us on social media, arguing that partnered women who have cats should not have been left out of the initial count, and that men who live alone with one or more cats should also be given the opportunity to stand and be counted. "What about single dudes with cats? Cause [sic] that's me," wrote one Facebooker. "Hey! How about women who live with someone, and have FOUR cats? I think I should count, too!" wrote in another. Fair point, single dudes and cohabitating ladies with cats! As with most things, we can trace the omission of these critical members of the cat-owning community to the insidious nature of—that's right, Rich!—the patriarchy.
For, indeed, what does one's relationship status have to do with the ineffable, some might even say eternal, state of being a cat-person? After all, the most common familial analogy pet-owners I know like to draw is between their animals and human children, not spouses. Who among us has not met a proud cat-dad or dog-mom? Dig a little deeper, and another question emerges: What of the cat men? While the cat lady is an accepted—and, to me, even aspirational!—archetype, we seem overall less tolerant of single men who live alone with at least one cat. This is a depressing, gender-based stigma. For shouldn't gender equality extend to the right to cohabitate with the friendly creature of your choice? Is our discomfort with cat men not simply an extension of the sexist notion that men cannot be nurturers but that women must be?
If the cat ladies of the world are warned that their faces will be eaten when they die, does the cat man not also face judgment for his predilection? A quick Google search reveals the following: "Here are ten reasons to date a man who has a cat!" shrieks one thinkpiece. "I could never date a guy who's into cats," yells another. "Can a man who owns a cat ever be trusted?" frets the Telegraph. I don't know, the Telegraph, CAN HE?
But history shows us another way. Was it not Charles Bukowski himself who once wrote of being photographed with his cat during interviews, "I am proud sometimes when I see the pictures later and there I am and there is the cat and we are photographed together. he too knows it's bullshit but that somehow it all helps" in "The History of One Tough Motherfucker," the titular motherfucker being his cat? Or consider 18th-century poet Christopher Smart's fragment that begins, "For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry. / For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him."
Bukowski may have had his problems, but they stemmed largely from being a raging misogynist, not cat ownership. Indeed, in both of these poems, we see a long-established precedent for blissful cat-owning men.
And so I will amend my call towards cat ownership—but not because, as Smith so misguidedly suggests, to stir up panic—but because the suffering of the world's nontraditional cat owners has gone on for far too long. And here's a tantalizing thought: Could it be that Portland's secret weapon in the battle for cat ownership dominance lies in our high volume of single, male cat owners? Could it be that what we're looking for has been here the whole time?
Well, could it? Your move, cat men.